Sunscreen woes
November 6, 2018 11:50 PM   Subscribe

At the start of the summer, I used a spray-on sunscreen that a guest had left behind. In true allergic style, the second time I used it, I broke out into a rash. I don't remember what the sunscreen was, and stupid, stupid me threw it away.

Anyway, I assumed I was allergic to one of the active sunscreen ingredients, so I went and bought a zinc sunscreen for infants. Damned if I didn't break out into a rash all over again. That's when I realized that I'm allergic to one of the 'inactive' ingredients. I read the list of inactive ingredients on the second sunscreen and there are a whopping twenty (on a formula for tender baby skin!). The only recognizable chemical on the list was water.

It's not feasible for me to find a sunscreen that doesn't have any of the nineteen inactive ingredients in common with the second sunscreen, in order to avoid the ingredient that I'm allergic to. The only alternative that I can see is to buy a really hypo-hypo-allergenic sunscreen. It's that or turn into a vampire and only go out at night. So, my question #1 is: does anybody have any recommendations for a good hypoallergenic sunscreen?

Second part of my question is this: both times that I got a rash from the sunscreen, the rash took a looooong time to go away. In fact, the rash really hasn't entirely gone away yet, and it's been at least two months since I used the second sunscreen. Fortunately, in both cases, I only used the sunscreen on my arms, so the extent of the rash is limited.

So, question #2 is: does anyone have any ideas for why this rash is so lingering, and any suggestions for what I can do to get the skin on my arms back to normal? (Note, I stopped putting anything on my arms--even soap--just to be sure I'm not doing anything to aggravate my skin.)

In case it's relevant, I'm not a very allergic person, in general. The only other thing I'm allergic to is poison ivy. And I should say that the sunscreen rash is totally different from poison ivy rash. In my experience, poison ivy causes an awful suppurating rash that is so itchy I want to tear my skin off. The sunscreen rash is much milder. On the other hand, the poison ivy rash disappears entirely after a reasonably short time, while this damn sunscreen rash just goes on and on.
posted by Transl3y to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Can you point us to the ingredients of the second sunscreen? Are you sure the baby sunscreen you used has zinc as the *only* active ingredient? Often they'll put some zinc but also add a chemical sunscreen to beef up the SPF or hit other parts of the UV spectrum or whatever.

My son's dermatologist recommended Neutrogena sunscreens for him, and he is an actual baby with sensitive skin. But they have a lot of different products, some of which may be more or less problematic. I'd look at Vanicream's sunscreen as a possibility as well. My daughter is allergic to many sunscreens - I suspect her allergy is to avobenzone, so maybe not your issue - and the Vanicream didn't give her a rash.

I'd go to a dermatologist and see if they can prescribe a steroid for your rash. They might also be able to help you narrow down what's causing it.
posted by potrzebie at 12:15 AM on November 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I've got the second sunscreen in front of me. It's No-AD Naturals clear mineral formula for babies. SPF 50. No fragrances. The only active ingredient listed is titanium dioxide (not zinc, as I wrote). As for going to a dermatologist, I'm not ready to take that step, since it will cost so much--at least until my new insurance kicks in next year.
posted by Transl3y at 12:27 AM on November 7, 2018

I have similar-sounding issues with sunscreen, and I've only had mixed results with “baby” versions. A friend with extremely sensitive skin swears by Techniblock® (a brand name I can't help but say in a exaggerated robot voice) and it was great for me and my small person this summer. Some caveats: it may not be easily available outside southern Africa and the UK; it's an aerosol, which some people are not keen on; and it stung when I used it on broken skin.
posted by wjt at 4:12 AM on November 7, 2018

I've had issues with mineral sunscreens causing itchiness in the past, but I've never had issues with chemical sunscreens. I regularly use the incredibly chemically Nivea Water Gel on my neck, body and tattoos with no issue, and my skin is a bit on the sensitive side. I also find most mineral sunscreens to have these super thick, greasy, tacky formulations that just feel gnarly on my skin, but of course YMMV.

Have you tried taking an antihistamine for the rash yet?
posted by nerdfish at 4:35 AM on November 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Foreign sunscreen is best. Most US sunscreens use one of a handful of ingredients known to provoke allergic reactions fairly frequently. Other countries do better, especially Japan and Australia
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 4:54 AM on November 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

I’m also allergic to sunscreen and have tried SO MANY as I live in a very sunny climate. My face can’t take any chemical sunscreens and the only one I’ve found that breaks me out only slightly is Supergoop Mineral Matte. It’s expensive but feels really good on the skin and I can actually tolerate it. You can try it at Sephora before you buy to make sure it doesn’t give you a rash.
posted by tatiana wishbone at 5:47 AM on November 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Check out Japanese Sunscreens or Asian Sunscreens in general. They are a lot less greasy to start with. Nivea has come out with a Japanese style one called Water Gel which I hear is very good but I haven't tried it. Also look into Australian sunscreens, I love love love this stuff. .

Remember too that a hat & a shirt are also excellent sunscreens.
posted by wwax at 8:29 AM on November 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Possibly a dumb question, but are you sure the rash is caused by the sunscreen and not something else? Since it sounds like you don't use sunscreen that often, I'm assuming it's for special occasions and wondering if it's whatever you're doing when you use the sunscreen that is causing it instead - e.g. funky water in a lake or something. I've also gotten sunburns before from using spray sunscreen where they sort of looked like a rash because I didn't rub in the spray, so it was a splotchy red pattern (and sunburns can last for weeks on me).
posted by jouir at 11:02 AM on November 7, 2018

I also have super duper sensitive skin. I always patch test sunscreens, lotions, foundation, etc., on the inside of my elbow for a week first.

For the face I like Elta MD UV Clear. For body I use Banana Boat Simply Protect Sport.
posted by radioamy at 1:45 PM on November 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

I only bring this up because it happened to me - I thought I was reacting to sunscreen when in fact it was Polymorphic Light Eruption, colloquially called a sun allergy. Basically the first time of the season when you get a good amount of sun, your skin reacts with a rash. It also happened to be the first time of the season I used sunscreen, so like you I thought that was the culprit. On me, PLE is itchy as HELL and lasts a few weeks. Yours doesn't sound the same, but I wanted to bring it up as a possibility. I get it on my arms, and it first appeared in my late 30s. After the first rash of the season I'm usually fine until the next spring/summer.

In case it helps, my favorite sunscreen is LaRoche-Posay cooling water lotion, but it's a chemical sunscreen with lots of ingredients. As a product, sunscreen ingredients vary widely so it's going to be tough to narrow down the ingredient giving you problems. Good luck!
posted by misskaz at 5:50 PM on November 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Blue Lizard makes sunscreens for people with sensitive skin. Vanicream and other products by the maker of that cream are also very good for people with sensitive skin. Worth noting, however, that there is no substitute for covering skin. Use of sunscreen does not conclusively protect against all types of skin cancer. In the 1850s, when close weaved cotton and wool were the only fibers used in clothing, and people covered up, squamous cell carcinomas, basal cell carcinomas, and melanomas were orders of magnitude less common than today. Polyester weaves have gaps that leave skin vulnerable, so much so that skin cancer risks increased noticeably following introduction of these fabrics.
posted by metasunday at 8:42 PM on November 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Same thing happened to me. My dermatologist recommended Vanicream sunscreen. No more allergic reactions. Unfortunately it's only a cream and I prefer spray but at least I don't itch.
posted by SyraCarol at 1:39 PM on November 8, 2018

Response by poster: Through the post on Dr. Bronner's soap on Metafilter (here), I found a blog on the Dr. Bronner's site that referred to Badger sunscreen--which is EXACTLY what I was looking for. Badger's sunscreen has very few ingredients, and the few ingredients it has are hypoallergenic. So, if anyone is looking for a truly hypoallergenic sunscreen, look at Badger suncreen.
posted by Transl3y at 11:36 AM on December 8, 2018

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