MUMBAI: Growing awareness about the dangers of prolonged exposure to sunlight has made sunscreens a routine for most people. However, few know sunscreens themselves could be a serious source of allergy and cause more harm than the sun itself.
For instance, Ruchita Kura, a class IX student of a Dadar school, broke into rashes every time she stepped out of her house. But recently, added to the rashes were swollen cheeks. A thorough examination in Delhi last week revealed she was allergic to para-aminobenzoic acid, a common ingredient in sunscreens.
A sunscreen could be responsible for 1% of skin allergies; dermatologists believe many people are allergic to them but unaware of it. “Most common triggers are fragrance, preservatives or chemicals in a sunscreen lotion,” said skin specialist Dr Sudhir Medhekar from GT Hospital. Studies have shown that compounds such as oxybenzone and dioxybenzone in sunscreen lotions are often associated with allergies.
“Women who use cosmetics regularly can be vulnerable as they are likely to contain sunscreen,” said Dr Asha Pherwani, allergy specialist at PD Hinduja Hospital. “Certain medications can also make an individual prone to solar allergy or sunscreen allergy.”
Experts say it is important to determine which form of sunscreen an individual is allergic to. Sunscreens contain chemical absorbers to absorb UV rays. Sunblocks, which reflect sun rays, are more likely to have zinc or potassium that can cause irritation.
Dr Pherwani, however, said people prone to allergies need not completely stop using sunscreens. “They can go for a detailed examination like a patch test. We can test the ingredients of the sunscreen for allergy-causing chemicals and a person can avoid using products containing them.”