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Am I really allergic to my sunscreen ?

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Over past couple of decades we have seen increasing danger from our powerful sun and its UV rays to cause sunburns and skin cancer. That is why it is so very important to have maximum protection that includes selecting a sunscreen that is effective and safe. Skin allergy to sunscreens can occur as a result of an allergic reaction to any one of multiple ingredients in the sunscreens. Some of the more common triggers may be from the fragrance and/or preservatives in a sunscreen lotion

"Suspicion of allergy to sun blocks are not uncommon concerns of patients", according to David E. Cohen MD, MPH Director of Allergic, Occupational, and Environmental Dermatology at New York University School of Medicine. If you have a sunscreen reaction it can occur anywhere the lotion is applied. Rarely, you may even have an allergy to the sun itself!

So, who is most likely to be allergic to their sunscreen?
First, those exposed to sun on a regular basis, allergic persons (i.e. eczema), people who work outdoors, as well as women as they are more likely exposed to cosmetics that contain sunscreen. Sunscreen allergy is estimated to be about 1 percent of all skin allergies.

There are 2 types of sunscreens; one is a "chemical absorber" that acts as a sponge to block UV radiation from affecting skin. Physical blocking agents such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide may be preferred if you have sensitive skin, or if you have a sunscreen allergy to chemical sunscreens such as benzophenones, cinnamates.
Whatever product you ultimately choose, a simple in office delayed allergy patch test can identify if you are allergic or will react to the agent chosen.  "Patch testing would be helpful in distinguishing the specific item that may be causing the allergic reaction", according to Dr. Cohen, who is an international expert on skin allergies and patch testing, "when a chemical sun block allergy is suspected, physical sun blocks that contain titanium or zinc may be helpful".

Lastly in a recent published study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, daily sunscreen users were much less likely than those using sunscreen only when needed, to show evidence of signs of aging skin after four years, in a group of young and mid aged adults. So apply a well-tolerated sunscreen every day to possibly slow the effects of sun damage, and why not have younger looking skin!

Dr. Clifford Bassett is an adult and pediatric allergy specialist, and diplomat of the American Board of Allergy and Immunology. He is the medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of NY.  Bassett is a clinical assistant professor of medicine and on the teaching faculty of NYU School of Medicine and NYU Langone Medical Center and assistant clinical professor of Medicine and Otolaryngology at SUNY LICH. Follow him on Twitter.