So, does this mean that people with sensitive skin should avoid chemical sunscreens entirely? Dr. Hiva Fassihi, La Roche-Posay Consulatant Dermatologist believes that first it’s important to work out why you might have sensitive skin—as everyone’s definition of sensitivity differs. If you’re dealing with facial eczema, rosacea or hayfever then Dr. Fassihi recommends seeking advice from a doctor or dermatologist “for advice on the management of the underlying cause of skin sensitivity so that they can tolerate sunscreens better”.
However, Dr. Fassihi also pointed out one possible cause of skin sensitivity that can be managed at home—harsh skincare ingredients. “Many individuals overuse active ingredients, such as retinoids or acids (AHA/BHAs) in their daily routine, which can damage their skin barrier,” Dr. Fassihi explains. By dialling back on some of the stronger ingredients in your skincare routine during the summer months, you might find that chemical sunscreens are no issue after all.
But what if you really do have sensitive skin year-round, then what are your options when it comes to sun protection? “It is generally recommended that people with sensitive skin should opt for a physical (a.k.a. mineral) formula where possible,” advises Harman. “There are just two types of mineral filter on the market, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which are both white powders and offer broad spectrum protection.”
There is a downside though, and it’s a big one. “The problem with these filters is that they can create a white cast on medium and deep skin tones, so they are not suitable for everyone,” says Harman. Instead, Harman suggests looking for a sunscreen labelled hypoallergenic. “Although there is no standardised definition for this term, it means that the product has been tested on people with sensitive skin and caused a reaction in a very small number, typically under a set threshold like 5%. It doesn’t mean it is guaranteed not to cause a reaction, but it means it is less likely to than products that haven’t passed this type of testing.”
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