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.