Looking for Special Snowflake Sunscreen
October 12, 2017 8:46 AM   Subscribe

I have rosacea, and everything I put on my face is bad. Sunshine is also bad. Help? Snowflakes abound.

I have the variant of dermatomyositis that only affects skin, not muscle. For years my dermatologist thought the skin issues on my face were symptoms of that, and treated accordingly. A biopsy recently confirmed it is actually rosacea, and it's pretty bad. It's not the open sore/acne variant - more the extreme redness, dryness, and rough skin and small bumps variant. I've tried stuff. Doxycycline, azythromycin, metrocream, metrogel. Nothing helps, and the azythromycin ripped up my stomach as a bonus. The next step is accutane, but we're not starting that until she gets back from maternity leave in November. In the meantime, sunshine makes everything worse. But everything - literally everything I put on my face stings or burns. This includes most skin cleansers and every sunscreen I've ever tried.

Right now my only sun protection is to wear a hat whenever I'm outdoors, and try not to be outdoors very much - but this bothers me. I've just had gastric bypass surgery (a month ago) and as a result I've gotten TONS of mobility back after being basically bound to my house or places I can get to in my car (and then sit down again) for years. And the more I walk, the more I can walk, so I want to do it as much as possible. I love going outside, I love going for walks now that I can walk long distances again, I love Fall, I love afternoon light, I want to be in the world -- not stuck in my house all the time! It was bad enough when I couldn't get around easily -- it's intolerable now that I can.

I've tried Elta MD, Vanicream, La Roche Posay mineral, California Baby and other harsher, more commercial sunscreens. Any chemical sunscreen stings badly, so I have to use the physical sunscreens.

I'm looking for recommendations for a superincrediblygentle physical sunscreen (titanium and zinc) to try that will protect my skin (needs to be at least SPF 50 according to my dermatologist) but won't burn my face off. Preferably something that costs less than $30 per ounce, though at this point... I'm not sure I wouldn't pay that much for something that works. I don't wear coverup or foundation at all - makeup also stings or burns - so I don't get the benefit of a sunscreen boost from any kind of foundation. I don't mind the typical mild whitish cast most physical sunscreens leave behind, as long as I don't end up look like a whitewashed fence.

Hope me?
posted by invincible summer to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Before I discovered Japanese sunscreens for my face (which I do not think would work for your situation, despite how wonderful I think they are) I achieved the most success with baby sunscreen, and still use baby sunscreen on my body. They tend to be far more gentle and heavy duty with the physical blockers than other sunscreens, in my experience.

Aveeno Baby with the purple cap is pretty good and there used to be a Coppertone Baby one with titanium in a white bottle that I liked but haven't seen around in a while. There's also a Neutrogena Kids in a stick form that I like for emergency travel size sunblocking, in a blue twist up container, but it's got chemical blockers. It comes in a physical blocker Baby form in a pink container but I've never used that one. YMMV.
posted by phunniemee at 9:01 AM on October 12, 2017

Have you tried Badger Baby Sunscreen? It's zinc oxide only, and I've heard good things about it for kids with sensitive skin.

On the other hand, it has Other Stuff in it that might set off the rosacea. And I've been reading about how non-nano zinc oxide offers less protection against some UV radiation.

Is straight-up diaper creme for sensitive skin like this Aquaphor product too thick/paste-colored? Because I've smeared it on Kid Machine as emergency sunscreen, and it's worked. Full ingredient list here.
posted by joyceanmachine at 9:04 AM on October 12, 2017

Best answer: I've used and liked the Australian brand Invisible Zinc in the past.

You could also try topping up with a powder sunscreen like this one, but I wouldn't recommend it as your only sun protection.
posted by nerdfish at 9:08 AM on October 12, 2017

Best answer: Hi fellow Rosacea sufferer. I hear you about the reaction to chemical sunscreens. I have had good luck with Clinique City Block, both the regular and Super. The Super City Block is SPF 40, but if you're careful about wearing a hat and reapplying if you're out for extended periods it might work okay. I currently use Badger SPF 25 Rose Tinted Face Sunscreen on a daily basis, but I might be a bit wary in that your skin might react to the essential oils. Do take a look at their Baby & Kids line.

As an aside, has your derm completely ruled out some kind of sun allergy?

(In my case I get papules and redness, and been there done that with doxycycline, metrocream, metrogel, and none of it working. My derm has had me on Soolantra this year and it's toned down a lot of the redness for me, enough so that we both agreed on putting off laser treatment for now to see how much better my skin got just on the Soolantra. Oh, and it may be my own physiological quirk, but my rosacea symptoms were at their worst, including my face looking like I had chemical burns, when it turned out my vitamin D level was below the cutoff point for being considered deficient. I had to be put on a regimen of prescription vitamin D.)
posted by needled at 9:16 AM on October 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

Another recommendation here for the Clinique. The sun and wind are triggers for my rosacea, so for me, if I can find something to cover my skin during the day when I'm out, that always helps. Going bareskinned on a windy day is bad news. Clinique sunscreen and also their makeup for redness coverage are both gentle enough for me to tolerate.
posted by backwards compatible at 9:29 AM on October 12, 2017

I have red irritable screen that may be rosacea. I do very well with Clinique sunscreens, and put Aveeno Baby on if I forget that, since that's what I use on my daughter.
posted by notjustthefish at 9:31 AM on October 12, 2017

Best answer: I don't have rosacea, but I am genetically susceptible to melanoma; I have clog-prone, combination skin, and I also prefer physical sunscreens. So I've been on the hunt for a while.

This 2016 xojane article by a woman with sensitive skin and rosacea lists six 30+ SPF physical sunscreens that she likes. I've tried only one of them -- Dermaflage Scar Screen SPF 30, 15% zinc oxide, non-nano, $25 for 2 oz. -- and I really liked it. No white cast, no breakouts, no clogging. So of course it's out of stock.

Her other picks are all at least $35 for no more than 1.7 oz. of product. No thanks. So right now, I'm using Derma E Natural Mineral Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Oil-Free Face, 20% zinc oxide, non-nano, $17.78 for 2 oz.

It does leave a little white cast, so I pat Meow Cosmetics Mineral Foundation over it. Derma E contains phenoxyethanol and glycerol stearate, so if you're allergic to either of these ingredients, keep that in mind when you make your choice.

The excellent and ethical Gingerrama of the blog The Praise of Folly has sensitive, dry, easily irritated skin and uses only physical sunscreen.

Her current favorite
(as of July 5, 2017) is BurnOut SPF 30 Sunscreen for Face & Body, 18.6% zinc oxide, non-nano, $17.99 for 2.4 oz. It's "elegant, lovely, and light on the face" and doesn't cause reactions, clogs or zits, per Gingerrama, though her skin is dry enough that she applies moisturizer before putting on sunscreen. YMMV. Good luck!
posted by virago at 10:01 AM on October 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Well, I get an F in reading comprehension -- I overlooked that your sunscreen needs to be at least SPF 50.

Here are a couple of mineral sunscreens that have gotten good reviews from people with sensitive skin and/or rosacea:

Vanicream Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50+
, titanium dioxide 5%, zinc oxide 7%, non-nano, $18.99 for 4 oz.
Per Gingerrama: Even when I’ve been using other sunscreens and they’ve worked, I’ve still always made sure to have a tube of this just in case. This is what I use if skin goes into irritated intolerant eczematic disasters ... No reactions, no burning, in short it works. On this sensitive skin anyway, which is photosensitive, and without protection produces hives in under a minute and burns in under five. I’ve used this and its predecessor (SPF 60) successfully in more extreme climates (tropics & Antipodes).
Topix Replenix Ultra Sheer Physical Sunscreen Cream SPF 50+, zinc oxide 13.75%, non-nano, $32 for 2 oz.
Per RobChester on Makeup Alley: I have spent £100's trying to find a non irritating sunscreen with only Zinc Oxide, and this is by far the best. Does not leave the same nasty white cast of other sunscreens so phenomenal from a protection and coverage perspective. Just used it all day in the Canary Islands where it was 36 degrees [96.8 F] and my skin looks great. I also have mild Rosacea and this product protected me from the sun and didn't cause breakouts. It is as close to perfect as you'll find for an all mineral sunscreen.
posted by virago at 11:04 AM on October 12, 2017

I use cliniderm. It's non chemical, and costs $30 in Canada. It's for sensitive, allergic, reactive skin according to the label.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 11:49 AM on October 12, 2017

Best answer: I am probably going to be shouted down, but as a sensitive pale person with PMLE I'm going to suggest that since it is Fall and you've put your skin through a lot already, maybe just wear a hat for right now.

If everything burns, there is a reason. I spent a lot of time comparing all of the skin products I can and can't used and have compiled a list of ingredients that I either know or suspect cause my skin to react. It has come to a point where I don't trust natural physical sunscreen, or anything labelled natural really, because natural usually means they add some plant extract. Or it uses one of the two ingredients that I know I can't tolerate. Or it is white and sticky and I want to scream and can't stop rubbing my face to get it off.

I'm all about the pure pure chemicals now, using a fragrance-free alcohol based Japanese sunscreen or the one fragrance-free Japanese kids sunscreen that I found if I need it to be sweat-resistant, or the one Elta MD I mention below if I have to. And I can get away with it because I've gotten rid of everything that I reacted to. Doesn't stop the sun reaction I get, but doesn't make it worse. And for PMLE the treatment is literally just keep on exposing yourself until you stop reacting, or stay out of the sun and find a sympathetic doctor to give you steroids if you're taking a vacation somewhere sunny.

I will say that if the Elta MD UV PURE is the one you tried and it bothered you, then I suspect that it doesn't matter what you put on your face and everything will burn. And probably will until you get the rosacea under control maybe. That stuff is pretty much the blandest and most neutral formula I've ever seen. If it was a different Elta MD, the culprit could be the preservative they use in all but three of their sunscreens. I can (and do) use one of the other two that don't contain it, which are almost identical but one is a pump and the other an aerosol. But they are chemical, and you are not looking for that. But if you're curious, the UV SPRAY is what I use.

I hope that you find something that works so that you can enjoy being outside. I understand the frustration. I wish I had a better suggestion for you.
posted by monopas at 12:45 PM on October 12, 2017

Best answer: I'm following this thread, because although my skin isn't as sensitive as yours, I haven't found a sunscreen that works for me.

But I'm commenting to say: I get a lot of mileage out of parasols. I hate wearing hats, so this has been my go-to for a couple of years, and I find them very fun. This is one I have that folds up to fit in my (not super giant) purse, and it also means I never get caught without an umbrella.
posted by spindrifter at 12:49 PM on October 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Is laser treatment an option for you? My rosacea has responded extremely well to v-beam laser treatment. It works better than any topical medication I've ever been on, and I have tried so many! And the results last so long.

Also, Bionect may be helpful to rehydrate your skin. It's prescription only and I get it through a specialty pharmacy to take advantage of the patient savings card. It is truly a miracle product.
posted by FergieBelle at 1:08 PM on October 12, 2017

The best medication I've found for rosacea wasn't on your list: Soolantra. It's an expensive prescription topical cream form of the same ivermectin that is used to kill parasites in both humans and animals, and works by killing the tiny mites that cause rosacea. It's very non-irritating, and it helps a lot.

My current sunscreen favorite is Neutrogena ultra sheer liquid SPF 70, but it does contain chemical sunscreens.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 1:48 PM on October 12, 2017

I love the La Roche Posay mineral sunscreens (I've tried a couple of different ones), but you already mentioned these, so I have another reason for replying:

If you have the ability to put money in a flex spending account, these sunscreens are covered by FSA. Being able to buy them pre-tax is a huge money saver on an expensive item!
posted by beyond_pink at 1:52 PM on October 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

I think I have mild rosacea (mostly persistent redness around the nose and some acne) and I was wondering if you have tried azelaic acid? I apologize if that is in one of the treatments you've already tried, I'm not familiar with the product names.

I guess it's probably pretty expensive in the US - it's become steadily pricier in Europe as well - but Bioderma makes a sunscreen called Photoderm AR 50+ which claims to be specifically for easily irritated skin, and I have used it with no problems in the past. I think it does have chemical filters, though, so proceed with caution.

There are a few physical, alcohol-free sunscreens from Japan, that are probably cheaper than Paula's Choice, which I know some people really like.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 5:19 AM on October 13, 2017

Best answer: I use Cotz Face Lighter Skin Tone 40 SPF, it's pretty much just the minerals and silicones, if those are okay for you. This leaves a soft white cast on my face that I don't mind as it evens out my skin; there's also a tinted version that I have not tried. It's not 50 SPF, but once you get above 30 SPF you're not going to see much difference in effectiveness: SPF 15 blocks 93 percent of UVB rays. SPF 30 blocks 97 percent. The increase in protection is even more gradual after that, 98 percent for SPF 50 and 99 percent for SPF 100.
posted by oneirodynia at 8:15 PM on October 13, 2017

I will say that if the Elta MD UV PURE is the one you tried and it bothered you, then I suspect that it doesn't matter what you put on your face and everything will burn.

Well, there's ascorbyl palmitate and citric acid in the top five ingredients of that sunscreen, and those can be irritants or allergens:

Two examples, ascorbyl palmitate (a modified form of ascorbic acid, also known as Vitamin C) and idebenone (a modified form of ubiquinone, also known as CoEnzyme Q-10) demonstrated increased levels of free radical damage to skin and produced severe allergic reactions, some requiring hospitalization.
posted by oneirodynia at 8:20 PM on October 13, 2017

Hmm, and LaRoche Posay has salicylic acid pretty high up in the list (butyloctyl salicylate). I'm not surprised that one was irritating as well. Honestly I think you should check any ingredient lists and go for the most simple list you can find. A lot of sunscreens, even if they say "mineral" or "natural" may well have irritants in them.
posted by oneirodynia at 8:29 PM on October 13, 2017

Response by poster: Many thanks, everyone! Coming back after a few days to share that I've found my One True Sunscreen. The winner is monopas, who correctly guessed that I might have used the wrong Elta MD sunscreen - at least, wrong for me.

I realized when I looked it up that I had not been using Elta MD UV Pure; I'd just been using regular MD. So I bought some of the UV Pure variety, and it works like a dream. My skin doesn't even seem to know it's there. No irritation, no stinging, no breakouts - if they ever stop making this, I will cry bitter, bitter tears. So thanks, monopas!

Oneirodynia - thanks for the research! I bought the UV Pure before I saw your posts, so I'm happy to report that in my case at least I've had no adverse reactions to it; I've got your Cotz sunscreen on my list to try as well, just in case I run into trouble down the line. The UV Pure also gives my skin a bit of a whitish cast over the red parts, which helps even me out; the rest of my skin is white as a vampire's naturally.

I'm also taking under advisement all the great advice about dealing with rosacea; plus, I now have several lovely parasols on my amazon wish list (Christmas is Coming! as they do not ever say in Westeros.)

These responses have all been hugely helpful; I'll be referring back to them often.
posted by invincible summer at 11:15 PM on October 16, 2017

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