Sunscreen & Skin Irritation

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Long-term exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun can lead to a number of skin conditions ranging from wrinkles and discoloration to skin cancer. According to the Minnesota Poison Control Center, nearly 600,000 new cases of skin cancer are reported every year. Sunscreens are rated by their sun protection factor, or SPF, which refers to the ability of the lotion to protect the skin from harmful UVB rays. Many of the ingredients in sunscreen products can cause skin irritations.


Sunscreen is not appropriate for use on children under 6 months old because the ingredients can penetrate the developing baby's body and cause developmental delays. According to the Minnesota Poison Control Center, certain chemicals found in commercial sunscreens, such as oxybenzone and aminobenzoic acids -- also known as PABA and cinnamates -- can cause skin rashes and allergic reactions.


The most effective sunscreen products provide broad-spectrum protection from both UVA and UVB rays. Sunscreen products are available in gel, lotion, cream or alcohol solutions. Alcohol-based and gel sunscreen products typically are easier to apply and spread evenly over the skin, especially for men who must apply the sunscreen over thick patches of hair. Alcohol and gel sunscreen products usually do not aggravate acne breakouts but can dry out skin quicker than more moisturizing sunscreen lotions.


Sunscreens can irritate sensitive skin and cause rashes. A burning or stinging sensation may ensue following the application of sunscreen on people with sensitive skin. The skin around the eyes is particularly vulnerable to irritation from sunscreen. Sunscreen also can clog pores and cause folliculitis, a skin condition that mimics the symptoms of acne. Allergies to fragrances added to sunscreens cause allergic reactions in some people, and many people react adversely to the preservatives used in the manufacturing process.


While ingredients in many sunscreen products may cause allergic reactions in children and adults, you must weigh those risks against the risk of developing skin cancer. According to the Minnesota Poison Control Center, regular sunscreen use between the ages of 6 months and 18 years can decrease the incidence of skin cancer by as much as 78 percent over a person's lifetime.


The Australian College of Dermatologists recommends you experiment with various brands and applications to find a sunscreen product that doesn't irritate your skin. Fragrance-free options are available. Sunscreens formulated specifically for sensitive skin, usually made with zinc or titanium oxide, can reduce adverse reactions.