Hypoallergenic Sunscreen: What It Is And Why You Need It
Keeping your skin protected from the sun’s rays is important. But it can be a real downer when your sunscreen leaves your skin irritated, red, or stinging. This is where hypoallergenic sunscreen swoops in to save the day!
In this article, we’ll discuss why hypoallergenic sunscreen may be the perfect fit for your whole family, as well as ingredients to avoid to be sure your sunscreen agrees with your skin.
We’ll also take the guesswork out of choosing the right one and give you a couple of sunscreen recommendations. But first, let’s define hypoallergenic sunscreen.
Table Of Contents
- What Is Hypoallergenic Sunscreen?
- Why Your Family Needs Hypoallergenic Sunscreen
- Sunscreen Ingredients To Avoid
- What You Need To Know About “Natural”
- What To Look For In Hypoallergenic Sunscreen
What Is Hypoallergenic Sunscreen?
“Hypoallergenic,” by definition, describes something that is less likely to cause allergic reactions. When applied to sunscreen, this means that a sunscreen is made with ingredients that will cause fewer reactions (think irritated, red, stinging skin).
However, the word “hypoallergenic” is not actually regulated by the FDA (Food And Drug Administration).
Essentially, this means that companies are using their own definition of “hypoallergenic” when they put it on a product’s label, and you have to take their word for it or do an ingredient-check yourself.
But let’s back up a little bit. What’s the big deal about hypoallergenic sunscreen anyway? And why go through the trouble of finding it? Here’s what we think.
Why Your Family Needs Hypoallergenic Sunscreen
We probably don’t need to tell you how important it is to wear sunscreen to protect the health and beauty of your skin from the sun’s damaging UV rays. In fact, while many of us only use sunscreen at the beach, many experts recommend wearing sunscreen every day.
What you may not know is that a significant number of people are allergic to ingredients found in some sunscreen products.
Here’s what you need to know about sunscreen-related allergic reactions.
Understanding Sunscreen Allergies
When it comes to allergic reactions to sunscreen, there are two different types of reactions we need to consider.
The first type of allergic reaction is a contact allergy. This type of reaction happens simply by having the sunscreen applied to the skin. The symptoms appear regardless of whether you actually go out in the sun.
The second type of reaction is called a contact photoallergy. “Photo” here refers to light. In a contact photoallergy, the reaction doesn’t take place until you actually go out in the sun because it’s caused by an interaction between the sunscreen chemicals and sunlight.
Whether your sunscreen allergy is a contact allergy or a contact photoallergy, you’ll need to avoid using a sunscreen you have a reaction to, since a sunscreen you can’t wear out in the sun isn’t much use.
Still, it’s important to understand the difference between the two types of reactions so you can properly test yourself and your family for sunscreen allergies.
The best way to test yourself or your child for a sunscreen allergy is by doing a patch test.
Apply some of the sunscreen to a small area of skin where you aren’t using any other new skincare products. Make sure you use a part of the body that will get sun exposure, since as we’ve seen, some allergies happen because of a reaction between chemicals and sunlight.
Of course, under normal circumstances, you would want to apply sunscreen to any part of your body that will be exposed to the sun. But if there’s a chance of a reaction, you’ll want to minimize the affected area.
Next, wait and observe the results. If you or your little one have a sunscreen allergy, it won’t be difficult to tell. Symptoms may include:
- Red, irritated skin
- Fluid-filled blisters
It’s important to remember that not all skin is the same. The skin on different parts of your body has different characteristics.
This means you may need to do more than one patch test. Just because there’s no reaction to a product applied to your arm, for example, doesn’t mean the product will be safe to use on more delicate facial skin.
Although it’s extremely unlikely, it is possible for an allergy to some sunscreen ingredients to cause anaphylaxis, a more severe, whole-body reaction.
If an allergic skin reaction is accompanied by symptoms like chest tightness, difficulty breathing or swallowing, swelling of the throat or any other part of the body, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or stomach cramps, you should call 911 immediately.
Causes Of Sunscreen Allergies
Several factors can make a person more likely to have an allergic reaction to sunscreen.
Many allergies are genetic, and allergies to sunscreen ingredients are no exception. If you or a family member have a sunscreen allergy, be particularly careful about the products you use on your little ones because there’s a good chance they may have inherited the sensitivity.
People with a sensitive skin type are, unsurprisingly, more likely to have a bad reaction to sunscreen than people with other skin types.
You might think that an allergy is something that you’re born with. However, it’s possible to develop a sunscreen allergy even if you’ve never had a bad reaction to sunscreen before.
A history of other skin conditions, like eczema or rosacea, is also a risk factor for sunscreen allergies. And if you’ve had a contact dermatitis reaction to another product, this can also increase your risk of developing sunscreen allergies.
In addition, young women may be more likely to have sunscreen allergies than men. Research has also shown people over age 40 are less likely to have allergic reactions to sunscreen than younger people.
Treating A Sunscreen Allergy Reaction
What do you do if you suddenly find yourself having an allergic reaction to sunscreen when you haven’t had a problem before? Or what if your child is having a reaction to a new product?
Don’t panic! Start by immediately cleaning the affected area of the skin. In most cases, you can simply let the irritation go away on its own or use a gentle moisturizer. But in more severe cases, you could apply some 1% hydrocortisone.
In addition, try to stay out of the sun for a few days — or however long it takes for the affected skin to heal. Sun exposure can make skin irritation worse for an allergic reaction.
If your or your little one’s irritated skin doesn’t improve within a few days, consult a medical professional. However, in the unlikely event the skin reaction is accompanied by any of the signs of anaphylaxis we noted above, seek immediate medical attention.
Should a reaction occur, take a close look at the ingredients in the product so you can avoid using anything with the irritant again. Ideally, you’ll be able to identify the particular ingredient that caused the reaction.
The Value Of Hypoallergenic Sunscreen
While we’ve talked about what could go wrong with sunscreen chemicals and allergic reactions, there’s good news: You have another option for sun protection.
Hypoallergenic sunscreen doesn’t contain questionable ingredients, making it less likely to irritate your skin when you lather up. This is especially important for anyone with eczema-prone skin, sensitive skin, or your little one’s delicate, kissable baby skin.
The right hypoallergenic sunscreen can be both effective enough to provide protection from the sun and also soothing — not irritating — to your skin.
But here’s the thing: Hypoallergenic sunscreen isn’t only for people who have easily irritated skin. What makes a sunscreen hypoallergenic also makes it better for your overall health and for the oceans, too.
How so? Here’s an example: Oxybenzone, an ingredient in traditional sunscreens, can seep into your body through your skin and disrupt your hormones.
And, as far as the ocean goes, this ingredient is also one of the chemicals that can bleach the coral reefs when your sunscreen washes off as you splash in the sea.
As you can see, hypoallergenic sunscreen is a must-have for sensitive skin, but it’s also great for anyone else in the family and, of course, our friends in the sea.
If hypoallergenic sunscreen sounds right for you and your family, you’ll want to look for a “hypoallergenic” label. But you’ll probably want to do a little sleuthing yourself, too, since hypoallergenic is not a regulated term.
Because the point of hypoallergenic sunscreen is to avoid irritants, we will cover a few of the ingredients that you should stay away from when looking for the right sunscreen.
Sunscreen Ingredients To Avoid
Remember that just like every body is different (and uniquely beautiful!), every person’s skin is different as well. This means that what irritates your skin may not bother the next person and vice versa.
Below, we’re going to list three ingredients that often cause skin irritation. Just remember that if any other ingredient doesn’t jive with your skin, you’ll need to avoid it, too.
We always recommend doing a patch test before using any new skincare product.
In order to understand why these ingredients should get the boot, you’ll need to know a bit about how sunscreen works.
There are two types of sunscreen: chemical sunscreen, which uses chemical blockers to ward off the sun’s rays, and mineral sunscreen that uses — you guessed it — minerals! (Note: Some sunscreens use a combination of chemical and mineral blockers.)
Chemical blockers are ingredients such as oxybenzone (which we mentioned earlier), octinoxate, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene, and avobenzone.
While a combination of these chemical blockers can effectively keep you from sunburn and sun damage, there is a dark side to them that makes them less than desirable.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) says that octisalate can cause allergic contact dermatitis (read: skin reaction), and it “may have endocrine effects, weakly binding to the estrogen receptor.”
They go on to say that octocrylene “causes relatively high rates of skin allergies” and is frequently contaminated with benzophenone, a carcinogen. And we already talked about oxybenzone, which can irritate your skin and throw off your hormones.
All in all, chemical blockers are no-no ingredients for the sake of your skin as well as your overall health.
If you’re aiming for a non-irritating, hypoallergenic sunscreen for your sensitive skin, you’ll also want to stay away from synthetic fragrances.
Typically listed simply as “fragrance” or “parfum,” these are umbrella terms used for a variety of ingredients. It may smell wonderful, but all sorts of chemicals can be hiding within the one ingredient called “fragrance.” And they can irritate sensitive skin.
Avoid products with “parfum” or “fragrance” in the ingredient list or an “unscented” label on the bottle. Instead, for the most hypoallergenic sunscreen, choose one that’s fragrance-free.
Click here to read more about the difference between fragrance-free and unscented.
If you’ve never heard of this ingredient, let us tell you a bit about it. Phenoxyethanol is used as a preservative in products like shampoos, lotions, and the like. It helps stop bacteria in its tracks and keep your product fresh.
Fresh is good, but phenoxyethanol isn’t exactly the best way to go about it since it can cause your skin to react.
We won’t do a deep dive now, but if you want to read more about phenoxyethanol, click here.
Methylisothiazolinone (sometimes abbreviated MI) is a compound used to prevent bacteria growth in solutions that contain water. In simple terms, that means it’s another preservative. And it’s a common inactive ingredient in many sunscreens.
It’s also a common skin allergen that can cause rashes, even in people who don’t have sensitive skin. Worse, methylisothiazolinone is present even in some products that are marketed as “hypoallergenic.”
After research showed a surge in allergic reactions from exposure to MI, some countries (including the United Kingdom) have enacted new regulations that ban MI in “leave-on” skin products, like sunscreen.
However, MI may still be an ingredient in some products sold in the U.S., so be on the lookout for it in the ingredient list of any product you apply to your or your family’s precious skin.
What You Need To Know About “Natural”
In recent years, people have become more and more aware of the number of artificial ingredients in many of the products that we put into or on our bodies. While it’s a good thing that consumers are more conscientious about these things, it’s also led to some misconceptions.
Because of heightened awareness about artificial ingredients, some companies are now marketing their products as “natural” or “organic.” Consumers may incorrectly assume that products labeled this way are safe. But when it comes to allergies, that isn’t always the case.
While you might not think about it, some people with food allergies can have a reaction to “natural” ingredients used in sunscreen. For example, many sunscreens are enriched with soy to prevent damage from UV rays, but that can be a problem for people with soy allergies.
In addition, arachidyl glucoside and arachidyl alcohol are peanut derivatives and should be avoided by people with peanut allergies, which are relatively widespread.
Argan oil, sweet almond oil, and ginkgo biloba are all somewhat common ingredients in sunscreens and other skincare products, and all can potentially cause a reaction for people with tree nut allergies.
Now you know why a product simply being marketed as “natural” doesn’t mean you should trust it with your family’s skin!
But while you’re clued in about what type of ingredients to avoid, how do you pick out a sunscreen that you can truly trust to be allergy safe? Let’s dive into that now.
What To Look For In Hypoallergenic Sunscreen
We’ve shared several skin-irritating ingredients that you’ll want to steer clear of. Now, we’d like to discuss what sort of effective, skin-friendly sunscreen will do the trick.
But what ingredient can replace chemical blockers and keep your skin safe from the sun? Mineral blockers. The good news for you is that there are only two — zinc oxide and titanium dioxide — so they’re easy to remember!
Non-nano zinc oxide provides safe, soothing, broad-spectrum sun protection with zero worries. In fact, zinc oxide provides so much protection for the skin that it’s often used in baby diaper cream.
We recommend a sunscreen made with pure non-nano zinc oxide or a combination of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Here are three we think you’ll love.
Mineral Sunscreen Lotion
Mustela SPF 50 Mineral Sunscreen Lotion offers the safe and effective sun protection that your whole family needs. And it does so with non-nano zinc oxide and 93% naturally derived ingredients.
Plus, this fragrance-free sunscreen is crafted with coconut oil, macadamia oil, and vitamin E to hydrate your skin and absolutely no chemical blockers, parabens, phthalates, or phenoxyethanol.
Mineral Sunscreen Stick
If you prefer to apply sunscreen with a stick, go with our SPF 50 Mineral Sunscreen Stick. It’s made with 70% organic ingredients, including shea butter, avocado oil, sunflower seed oil, and jojoba. Plus, it’s accepted by the National Eczema Association and safe for sensitive skin.
This is an easy choice, and its small size makes it convenient for traveling!
Mineral Sunscreen Spray
For those of you who prefer the convenience of spray-on sunscreen, look no further than Mustela SPF 50 Mineral Sunscreen Spray.
Made with both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, this water-resistant sunscreen contains other natural, skin-soothing ingredients, including aloe vera, calendula, chamomile flower extract, and sunflower oil.
And, of course, it’s free of fragrance as well as phenoxyethanol and is compliant with Hawaii’s sunscreen ingredient requirements to protect the coral reefs. That’s a win all the way around.
Hypoallergenic Sunscreen For The Whole Family
Hypoallergenic sunscreen is perfect for the whole family because it’s non-irritating to sensitive skin and safer and more soothing than traditional chemical sunscreen.
To help prevent skin irritation, stay away from chemical blockers, synthetic fragrances, and phenoxyethanol, along with any other ingredients that disagree with your skin.
Instead, go with natural, hypoallergenic ingredients, like the non-nano zinc oxide found in our Mineral Sunscreen Lotion, Mineral Sunscreen Stick, or Mineral Sunscreen Spray. All of our suncare is certified by the National Eczema Association (NEA), so you never have to worry.
One sunscreen for the whole family and you’re good to go!