There I was, lathering sunscreen all over my body on the white sand beaches of coastal North Carolina.
The sun was beating down on the sand, creating a glare that obstructed my vision. I heard kids playing by the shore, waves crashing in the distance. It was paradise.
After making sure I was completely coated in that greasy skin protectant, I proudly looked down at my arms and stomach to witness my accomplishment.
Through the glare, it appeared that my skin was turning red. A trick of the light, perhaps? I couldn’t be burning already, I thought anxiously.
In fact, I was having a photoallergic reaction caused by my sunscreen, the very substance I was applying to protect my eczema from flaring up.
As one of the 31.6 million Americans affected by eczema, I have to be extremely careful about what I put on my skin. That fateful day in the sun motivated me to learn what ingredients trigger this skin condition and how to find the best sunscreen for eczema.
What Ingredients Should You Avoid in Sunscreen for Eczema?
There’s nothing more uncomfortable than a skin flare up at the sandy, salty beach. Fortunately, you can avoid triggering an outbreak by learning what ingredients to avoid.
After talking to Dr. Sandy Skotnicki, a Toronto dermatologist and skin allergy expert, I learned that sunscreens can be divided into two types: physical and chemical blockers, with the latter being the ones to avoid.
Dr. Shotnicki added, “If you have eczema, you have a higher threshold to become irritated by chemical sunscreen filters.”
Eczema-friendly sunscreen never contains the following chemical blockers.
Oxybenzone, also called benzophenone-3 or BP-3, is a chemical compound commonly found in sunscreen that prevents UV damage by absorbing the rays. You can recognize oxybenzone in your lotion by its yellowish tint.
Oxybenzone offers sun protection by absorbing UV rays, converting them to heat, and helping them leave the skin.
Does heat sound soothing on dry, itchy skin? Absolutely not. This chemical action can cause burning, irritation, redness and itching in people with eczema and contact dermatitis.
There’s more than one reason to avoid oxybenzone. While oxybenzone is a naturally occurring compound in plants, it can also be synthetically manufactured. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently raised concerns regarding the fast absorption rate of oxybenzone, especially among children.
Oxybenzone is a known endocrine disruptor, meaning it mimics hormones. This side effect can lead to higher hormone levels and decreased fertility.
Octinoxate is another chemical UV blocker. It’s used because it is quickly absorbed by the skin. However, it is so effectively absorbed that traces of octinoxate have been detected in urine, blood and breast milk.
Octinoxate may be photoallergic or allergenic, meaning it may cause skin irritation and itching, especially when exposed to sunlight. Skin allergies tend to be especially aggravating to people with eczema or otherwise sensitive skin.
This chemical is not only found in sunscreen, but also hair products and cosmetics. Like oxybenzone, octinoxate is an endocrine disruptor — affecting estrogen in particular — making this chemical harmful to the reproductive system.
Parabens are synthetic chemicals used to preserve ingredients in sunscreen. While they are typically hypoallergenic, they can cause problems for people with eczema.
Dubbed the “Paraben Paradox” by dermatologists, parabens rarely cause allergic reactions in people with normal skin, but can cause them in people with open wounds or eczema. That’s why you won’t find this commonly used chemical in antibiotic ointment — or high-quality sunscreen.
Parabens are known endocrine disruptors that have been linked to breast cancer. Your best bet is to avoid these chemicals.
If you have eczema, you probably already know to avoid synthetic fragrances.
Synthetic fragrances are the number one cause of allergic reaction in cosmetics and household products.
The main problem with synthetic fragrances is that the FDA does not require manufacturers to list their ingredients. A single fragrance can be made up of a hundred chemicals, but manufacturers can simply label it as “fragrance” or “parfum.”
Common ingredients found in synthetic fragrances are phthalates, according to the EWG. Phthalates are also used to melt PVC pipe. Talk about a harsh ingredient to apply to your skin!
Because there is no way to know what chemicals are in synthetic fragrances, it’s best to opt for unscented or naturally scented sunscreen.
What Ingredients Should You Look For in Sunscreen for Eczema?
The following ingredients are not only much safer for you, but for the ocean as well. According to Dr. Shotnicki, mineral-based sunscreen is the best bet for eczema sufferers. Let’s get into why.
Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide
Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are common physical UV blockers found in sunscreen for eczema. Instead of being absorbed by the skin, they adhere to the surface of the skin and reflect UV rays.
Also known as mineral-based sunscreens, these ingredients are broad-spectrum SPF, meaning they block all UV rays as opposed to octinoxate and oxybenzone, which only block UVB rays.
Zinc oxide (especially non-nano zinc oxide) is a topical protectant that can reduce inflammation and protect against rashes and acne.
Some mineral sunscreens for eczema include calming ingredients that double as natural fragrances.
The Best 5 Sunscreens for Eczema
This sunscreen for eczema is safe enough to be used on babies, children and adults with sensitive skin. It’s even reef-safe and vegan!
Formulated with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to reflect broad-spectrum UV rays, it also has calming chamomile, hydrating jojoba oil, and zesty lemon balm.
Leave worry behind as you and your family enjoy a safe and fun day in the sun. This mineral-based sunscreen is chemical-free, which means its paraben-free and has no oxybenzone, octinoxate, phthalates and synthetic fragrance.
This blend of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide is fragrance-free and dye-free, making it a fantastic hypoallergenic solution. Neutrogena claims its SPF 60 lotion is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes.
Don’t like the greasy feeling of sunscreen? This product is also oil-free.
CeraVe’s Sunscreen Body Lotion is oil-, fragrance- and paraben-free. This 100% mineral-based SPF 50 formula is a life-saver for people with eczema because it contains three ceramides that lock in moisture, protecting your natural skin barrier from the inside and out.
Another good option for people with sensitive skin and skin conditions like eczema is this SPF 60 formula from Roche-Posay. Offering a dry texture, the producer uses an antioxidant complex to combat free radicals caused by UVA and UVB rays. This non-comedogenic product is completely free of oil, parabens, fragrances and oxybenzone.
While plenty of adults must deal with this unwanted skin condition, between 10% to 20% of children in the U.S. are affected by eczema. In fact, 70% of these cases first start showing up in children younger than five years old. So, for those parents out there who want to keep their kid’s skin protected, it’s important to find child-friendly options.
AVEENO Continuous Protection Sensitive Skin Baby Sunscreen is a tear-free and water-resistant mineral sunscreen that provides broad-spectrum SPF 50 sun protection. Formulated with oat and zinc oxide, this baby sunscreen nourishes and protects sensitive skin.
Additional Safety Tips
How much sunscreen should I apply?
Dermatologists recommend that you use one ounce (think a shot-glass full) of sunscreen to cover your entire body. Be sure to hit those commonly missed spots, including the back of your neck and knees, the tops of your feet, and your ears.
Can I use sunscreen during a flare-up?
Yes, you can use it during a flare-up. However, the National Eczema Association advises against using sunscreen on open wounds caused by cracking skin or excessive itching. Instead, cover these areas with clothing or bandages.
Test It First!
If you’re unsure if your sunscreen is safe for eczema, test it out on a small patch of skin first. Try a dime-sized portion on the soft skin of your inner arm or behind your knee to see if you get a reaction. Also, remember to consult a dermatologist.
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