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The ultimate guide to sunscreens for sensitive skin: Singaporean dermatologists on the ingredients, symptoms, and brands to look out for

The ultimate guide to sunscreens for sensitive skin: Singaporean dermatologists on the ingredients, symptoms, and brands to look out for

Sun sting

Text: Emily Heng


Image: Instagram | @sarahbrownphoto
Image: Instagram | @tarynraeleephotography

In a time where the importance of sun protection is stressed again and again within the beauty community, it seems unlikely that anyone would choose to forgo SPF. Unless, of course, they are a) in serious denial of the harmful effects of UVA/UVB rays; or b) living with sensitive skin that reacts to just about anything, and would rather forgo sun protection than risk a flare up. The latter, surprisingly enough, is more of a common occurrence than you'd think.

"Sunscreen often leads to skin irritation in those with sensitive skin," explains Dr Liew, accredited dermatologist and founder of HM Liew Skin & Laser Clinic. "This can be attributed to how most products contain allergens such as oxybenzone, which is often the root cause of allergic contact dermatitis." Still, that's not to say that there's no hope of hunting down sun protection without the sting. We speak to top local dermatologists to help you along, detailing the ingredients, symptoms and brands to look out for so you can slather up safely.

What are the common symptoms of skin irritation caused by sensitivity to sunscreen?

According to Dr Joyce Lim, director and dermatologist of Joyce Lim Skin & Laser Clinic, it is burning, stinging, redness and tightness. Dr Liew goes on to add, "You may get an eczema-like rash, where hives and blisters might occur, too. Ironically, it can also induce photosensitive skin, which resembles a sunburn."

Is there a specific type of sunscreen that is suitable for those with sensitive skin?

Dr Patricia Yuen, dermatologist and founder of Patricia Yuen Dermatology, elaborates. "Physical sunscreens are usually more inert, so they're the way to go if you have sensitive skin. These tend to contain ingredients such as zinc oxide or titanium oxide that don't react with the skin." Commonly found in children's sunscreens, they tend to be less cosmetically pleasing as it tends to 'reflect' light off the skin. "This results in a glossy, white-cast appearance," Dr Liew points out.

What are the ingredients those with sensitive skin should look out for when sourcing for a sunscreen?

"Oxybenzone, 4-isopropyl-dibenzoylmethane, PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid), esters, avobenzone, and cinnamates, as well as fragrances and lanolin should be avoided," Dr Liew instructs. "If unsure, test it by applying the sunscreen on the inner upper arm daily for 5 days. If you've experienced no skin reaction, then it is safe to use. You can also see a dermatologist to arrange patch testing to determine the allergen/s you have."

What should you do if you experience an allergic reaction to your sunscreen?

The first — and most logical — course of action is to stop using the sunscreen. "Applying a mild steroid cream could help as well," Dr Yuen points out. "Alternatively, you can take a few antihistamines."

Are there any specific sunscreen brands that are suitable for sensitive skin types?

The general consensus seems to be that all physical sunscreens are suitable for sensitive skin types. We gather the standout in the market, below, for your perusal.

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