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How Do I Prevent a Rash from Sunscreen?

Jessica Ellis
Updated Jan 25, 2024
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Getting a rash from sunscreen can be nearly as unpleasant and uncomfortable as getting a sunburn, and should be avoided if possible. A rash from sunscreen is usually caused by an allergic or irritant reaction to one or more of the ingredients in the lotion, and can lead to itching, burning, or reddened skin and hives. In order to avoid getting a rash from sunscreen, look for brands that do not contain irritants, track down the source of the rash with medical assistance, and make sure the rash is truly coming from the sunscreen and not another factor.

Several of the most common ingredients in sunscreen can cause rashes and skin irritation. Some of the active ingredients, such as para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) are known to cause allergies in some people. Ingredients that end in "benzophenome" or "salicylate" may also be active sunscreen components that may be causing a rash. Choosing sunscreen made of zinc oxide is usually the best option for people allergic to active sunscreen ingredients; although zinc oxide does not blend into the skin as well as other types of sunblock, it is rarely linked to allergies and provides adequate sun protection.

In addition to the active ingredients that make a sunblock work, several inactive additional ingredients can also cause a rash from sunscreen. Fragrances, preservatives, nut oils, and artificial ingredients such as parabens can all be responsible for an allergic reaction. Nut, fruit, flower, and spice ingredients are all commonly used in sunblock, and should be avoided by anyone with existing allergies or sensitivities to a specific substance. Some sunblock companies offer a fragrance free or natural ingredient formula that may be suitable for those with certain allergies.

In order to track down exactly what is causing a rash from sunscreen, it may be necessary to visit a doctor for allergy testing. Allergy testing for skin reactions is often done through a patch test, in which small patches of the skin are treated with potential irritants and monitored for a reaction. In some cases, a blood sample may also be taken and used to test for specific allergic reactions. If switching brands or formulas still results in a rash from sunscreen, allergy testing may be a good idea.

Finally, it is important to determine if a rash is truly caused by sunscreen, or may be occurring due to another issue. Some people have an inherent sun sensitivity, which can cause rashes when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Others may be developing rashes due to a different cosmetic product, such as a new soap, shaving cream, or moisturizing lotion. Determining if sunscreen is a causing a rash is a process of trial and error; a person may want to try sitting in the sun for a brief period without sunblock to determine if a rash occurs, or showering with no additional products, then applying sunscreen and seeing if the rash suddenly appears. Allergy testing can also be a good way to figure out which products may be culprits behind a rash.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for WiseGeek. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
Discussion Comments
By Raynbow — On Jun 17, 2014

Sometimes using a cortisone cream following sunscreen will help prevent a rash from developing. You can use this over-the-counter medication proactively, or use it as soon as you begin to see red bumps or develop itching.

By Ocelot60 — On Jun 16, 2014

If you determine that a rash you have is the result of using a sunscreen, you do have natural options that are not as likely to cause this problem.

Many natural and health food stores carry entire lines of skin care products that do not contain parabens, artificial fragrances, chemicals, or preservatives. Sunscreens are in these lines of products. Those containing titanium dioxide are good choices, because they often blend well with different types of make up.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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