How to Treat a Reaction to Sunscreen

How to Treat a Reaction to Sunscreen
A skin reaction to a sunscreen product develops when a person is allergic or sensitive to a chemical in the sunscreen. Contact dermatitis, irritant dermatitis or photocontact dermatitis may develop from sunscreen use. Both contact dermatitis and irritant dermatitis are reactions to ingredients in the sunscreen product. With photocontact dermatitis, the skin reaction only develops on areas of skin exposed to both the sunscreen product and the sun. Skin reactions to sunscreen can be as minor as an itching or burning sensation or they can be more severe and include rashes, hives, blisters and swelling.


Difficulty: Easy

Things You’ll Need:
  • Mild soap
  • Water
  • Protective clothing
  • Over-the-counter cortisone cream
Step 1
Wash the sunscreen off your skin using a mild soap and cool water. If you do not have access to soap, use water alone. Bottled water will suffice if you are not near running water. If you are only able to use water to wash off the sunscreen, wash the area again with a mild soap as soon as you have access to it. Do not apply any further sunscreen.
Step 2
Protect skin from the sun to prevent further irritation. Some sunscreen chemicals absorb into the skin and increase sun sensitivity in select individuals. Wear a hat, long pants, and a long-sleeved shirt or jacket. If you do not have access to protective clothing, use a towel or any other piece of fabric that you have available.
Step 3
Apply an over-the-counter cortisone cream to the freshly washed irritated skin as soon as you get home. This cream helps to reduce itching, pain and swelling. You can also take an over-the-counter oral antihistamine to reduce swelling and itching.
Step 4
Wear protective clothing whenever you venture outside, until your skin irritation disappears. Avoid the use of lotion, sunscreen, perfume and harsh soap---these can increase irritation when dermatitis is present.
Step 5
Visit a doctor if the irritated skin is extremely painful or does not get better within five days. The doctor may prescribe a prescription-strength topical medication to treat the dermatitis.

Tips & Warnings

The Environmental Working Group recommends the use of sunscreens that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, both to better protect against UV radiation and to reduce the risk of unpleasant skin sensitivities.
To soothe rash symptoms, apply a cold compress or a washcloth that has been moistened with cold water to your skin.
See a doctor if rash, hives, blisters or swelling cause severe pain or irritation or if the skin irritation is accompanied with a fever. Seek immediate emergency treatment if you experience difficulty breathing.

Article Written By Rose Kivi

Rose Kivi has been a writer for more than 10 years. She has a background in the nursing field, wildlife rehabilitation and habitat conservation. Kivi has authored educational textbooks, patient health care pamphlets, animal husbandry guides, outdoor survival manuals and was a contributing writer for two books in the Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Series.

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