Avoid these ingredients before going out in the sun

2015-05-12 Sunshine When I was younger I was convinced that I was allergic to the sun. While my friends were out reveling in the summer’s rays, I would be cowering in the shade afraid to expose my skin because every time I did, I would get itchy patches all over my body. It didn’t matter how much sunscreen I used, they would always appear.

It occurred to me one day that perhaps I wasn’t allergic to the sun, but rather allergic to an ingredient in my sunscreen. Ahhhh of course, that makes more sense.

Photosensitivity can occur after an ingredient is applied topically or ingested and the skin is exposed to sunlight – causing red, itchy rashes, sunburns, and/or hyperpigmentation.

For me, oxybenzone -a very common ingredient in sunscreens- is my offender. When I apply a sunscreens with this ingredient and expose my skin to the sun, an immune reaction occurs causing a rash.

You don’t need to have a predisposed allergy to certain ingredients though in order for your skin to react in the sun. There are many common ingredients (including some medications) that can cause your skin to be hyper-sensitive, burn, and over produce melanin (aka brown spots).

Over the next few months, as you spend more time in that glorious sunshine keep in mind these few products that could cause photosensitivity:

This might be an obvious one, since you probably already know that any exfoliation exposes fresh ‘baby’ skin to the elements – but it’s worth a reminder. Even if you didn’t just go for a chemical peel, check the ingredients in your home care products because you may not realize that your cleanser or moisturizer contain an exfoliating acid like salicylic, lactic, or glycolic. Read more on Alpha Hydroxy Acids

Never wear perfume and expose your skin to the sun. I’m not even going to get into why you shouldn’t wear synthetic perfumes in the first place (which can contain hundreds of different chemicals) but if you do, certainly avoid them while in the sun. Perfumes contain chemical ingredients that cause pigment-creating cells to over stimulate, resulting in brown patches where exposed. Not a pretty sight. Instead, try spraying perfume on clothing, or better yet, wear a natural perfume that uses essential oils – just avoid any with citrus oils.

Citrus Essential Oils
In my latest post on essential oils, I touched on some things to watch out for, but most importantly when going out in the sun avoid citrus oils which can cause skin irritation, sunburns and permanent brown spots. Also remember to check the ingredients in your products, you may not be aware of citrus oils in moisturizers, toners, or aftershave (bergamot often gets overlooked). Oh, and while you’re at it, please, please, please avoid using lemon juice as a DIY toner and skin brightener. The acids in lemon juice are far too harsh for the skin and can cause more damage than good – especially while out in the sun.




  1. says

    It’s only lately that I am discovering the issue with citrus oils and photosensitivity. I had no idea that citrus oils in sunscreens could cause brown spots but I started looking into this now that I saw some sunscreen reviews where people were mentioning that the product contains lemon oil which causes brown spots.
    I always apply loads of sunscreen when I am in the sun but I always wonder why I am getting more and more brown spots. I thought this was a normal reaction when my skin is in the sun? I am not sure now whether it’s my sunscreen causing them or not. Do citrus oils cause brown spots for everybody? How exactly do these oils cause brown spots? I am just trying to understand this better and I hope you could explain it more as you seem to be an expert on this.


    • says

      Hi Petra,

      Thanks for your comment! Citrus oils can magnify the affect of the sun on the skin (think about a magnifying glass in the sun with a leaf) which means you will burn far more easily and cause more damage than normal (especially if you are fair and more sun sensitive to begin). The skin produces pigment cells in an effort to protect itself (the more sun exposure, the more melanin is produced). For a variety of reasons, melanin is not always evenly dispersed which results in irregular pigmentation. This “clumping” of melanin does not always arise to the surface immediately but through years of sun exposure more and more spots can arise as we age and the overall health of our skin deteriorates (especially if you are magnifying the sun’s effects through sensitizing ingredients like citrus). Unfortunately once you have pigment spots, they will never go away. They may lighten with products, or you can remove them from the surface through treatments, but the pigment still remains under the surface. Think about it like this: if you stuck the tip of a pencil through a sheet of paper and broke off the tip so that it no longer pokes through, there is still a whole pencil underneath that can arise to the surface, even if you continue breaking off the tip. The only ultimate protection is to stay out of the sun, and even with sunscreen, protection is never 100% (especially if it contains citrus or retinyl palmitate – Vitamin A). You may also want to investigate where the pigment is occurring. There are other causes such as hormones (melasma is a common one). This is a complicated topic, but I hope I clarified it a bit! If you have further questions, don’t hesitate to email me!

    • says

      Citric acid is a tricky one! Some sunscreens will include citric acid as a pH balancer but it’s a very minor amount and should not cause sun sensitivity. You should be more concerned about using full strength citrus essential oils in the sun.

    • says

      No, the aloe gel wouldn’t burn or react to your skin if you go out in the sun. You will burn though if you’re not wearing sunscreen! ๐Ÿ™‚ I don’t think the gel would increase your risk of burning though.

      • Louie says

        Oh nice thank goodness and yea I wasn’t wearing sunscreen but just a sun burn right and yea next time I’ll member to get sunscreen ๐Ÿ˜Š

        • Louie says

          Do you have a Facebook or something so u can see the pic of wat the gel contains ? Or do u know ? And I think I do know and also it doesn’t let me send pics on here btw so if u know the gel it’s called Avon After sun Gel and if u know about it tell me wat can cause if exposed to sun and yea it prolly won’t burn but just to make sure

          • says


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