6 Side Effects Of Using Sunscreen You Should Be Aware Of

Who knew the "messiah" of skin care has its own share of adverse effects?

Medically reviewed by Dr. Teo Wan Lin, MBBS, MRCS, FAMS (Dermatology)
Written by Jyotsana Rao, BE
Edited by Ramona Sinha, MA (English Literature), Certified Skin Care Coach
Fact-checked by Swathi E, MA (English Literature), Certified Skin Care Coach  • 

Wearing sunscreen is a crucial step in the skin care routine. But are all sunscreens safe? Sunscreen side effects have been a cause for concern for a while now. Chemical sunscreens with tetracyclines, phenothiazines, and sulfa drugs may do more harm than good. Therefore, it is important to know what goes into your sunscreen and how it affects you. Read this article to know more. Scroll down.

How to Use Sunscreen:

Sunscreen should be applied all over the exposed skin
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  1. Apply sunscreen all over the exposed skin.
  2. You must do this 30 minutes before going out in the sun.
  3. It is advised to re-apply with the sunscreen after swimming, sweating, etc.
  4. Even if you are indoors, keep re-applying sunscreen after every 4 hours.

Side Effects of Sunscreen

Here are some of the side effects of sunscreen:

1. Allergic Reactions

Sunscreen can cause allergic reactions
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Sunscreens include some chemicals that can cause skin irritation such as redness, swelling, dryness, irritation, peeling of the skin, and itching. Some people develop severe allergic reactions with rashes and intense itching. This allergic reaction can be the result of chemicals found in sunscreens like fragrances and preservatives. PABAi  XAn organic compound that is used to generate vitamin B9 (folic acid) and treat certain autoimmune diseases.  is ideally used in many commercial sunscreens that can cause a high rate of allergic reactions. Hence, this is getting removed from many popular sunscreens of reputed brands(1), (2).

You can even buy sunscreens with the label ‘hypoallergenic’. Sunscreens that don’t contain PABA are often labeled, but some other chemicals can lead to an allergic problem (3). If you are not sure about the allergic reaction that may be caused by a sunscreen product, get a patch test done by a dermatologist. You can use sunscreens that contain zinc oxide, as they are less allergic.

2. Sunscreens Can Make Acne Worse

Sunscreen can aggravate acne
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If you have acne-prone skin, some chemicals in the sunscreen product can worsen your problem. To get rid of this side effect of sunscreen, you can choose non-comedogenici  XThe property of a skin product that doesn’t clog your pores or lead to breakouts while allowing the skin to breathe. and non-oily sunscreens. It is suggested to use a sunscreen best suited for your skin type. Avoid using body sunscreens on the face, as these are too heavy (4).

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If you have acne-prone skin, you may also choose a day cream with SPF instead of layering with two different products.

3. Eye Irritation

Sunscreen can cause eye irritation
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Getting sunscreen into the eye can cause pain and irritation. This can also lead to burning and temporary sensitivity to light. Some claim that chemical sunscreens can also cause blindness. If the sunscreen gets into the eyes, rinse them thoroughly with cool water or see your doctor (5).

protip_icon Quick Tip
You may also use artificial tears to flush out the sunscreen. If you feel uncomfortable, place a wet or cool cloth on your eyes for some relief.

4. Increases The Risk Of Breast Cancer

Sunscreen includes ingredients that can have estrogenic effectsi  XThe effect of the hormone estrogen, which can act as a catalyst in the cancerous mutation of healthy cells and help them multiply and spread. on breast cancer cells. Some sunscreens can have effects on blood estrogens levels. Avoid using chemical sunscreens on your children, as their skin tends to absorb the chemicals instantly (6).

Benzophenone-3 is a common ingredient found in chemical sunscreens. It increases tumor cell proliferation and promotes breast cancer. A study conducted on mice showed that the use of BP-3 increased the proportion of epithelial tumors in mice that were fed an adult-restricted diet high in saturated animal fat (HFD).

Bp 3 Treatment Increased Tumor Proliferation

Source: Benzophenone 3 Promotion Of Mammary Tumorigenesis Is Diet-Dependent

5. Pain in Hairy Areas

There are varieties of sunscreen that can be confusing to choose from. They are also available in many forms like gels, lotions, sprays, ointments, creams, and wax sticks. It is your personal choice to choose the type of sunscreen. Gels are best for hairy areas like the scalp or the male chest. Some sunscreens can lead to tightening or drying of the skin and can cause pain in hairy areas.

6. Pus in the Hair Follicles

Sunscreens can cause pus in hair follicles
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This is a rare side effect that occurs. However, it is not usually due to sunscreen. You need to consult a dermatologist immediately if you are experiencing any pain or discomfort.

Tips To Avoid The Side Effects Caused By Sunscreen:

  • Wash off and stop using the sunscreen if it causes redness or irritation.
  • Talk to your doctor or seek the pharmacist’s advice about using a new sunscreen.
  • Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours if you are outside for long periods.
  • If you are using the lip balm form of sunscreen, apply it on the lip area only.
  • Choose Sunscreen for your children very wisely.
  • Avoid using sunscreen on kids younger than 6 months.
  • Choose oil-free and non-comedogenic sunscreen if you have oily skin.

Since we have discussed tips to prevent sunscreen side effects, let’s address a hot question: Is Oxybenzone in sunscreens harmful or safe? Scroll down to read.

Is Oxybenzone In Sunscreen Safe?

Oxybenzone is a common ingredient in sunscreens that helps shield the skin from harmful UVA and UVB radiation linked to skin cancer (7). It absorbs these rays, transforms them into heat, and releases them from the skin, reducing the risk of DNA damage (8).

However, oxybenzone is somewhat controversial due to claims of being a “potential hormone disruptor” (9). It is said to interfere with the endocrine system that regulates various biological processes. Yet, the clinical significance of these concerns remains inconclusive.

While some studies suggest possible issues, most sunscreens are generally considered safe for human health. Still, if there are worries, mineral filters can be a good alternative. Consult a dermatologist to check if oxybenzone will suit your skin type.

Infographic: Possible Side Effects Of Using Sunscreen

Sunscreen is an essential part of your daily beauty routine that no one should ignore. Protecting your skin from UV damage is necessary. The question now is whether all of the sunscreens on the market are safe to use. Today, a lot of specialists discuss the potential adverse effects of sunscreen. Some of the compounds they contain can be much more harmful than beneficial.

To learn about the drawbacks of sunscreens, scroll down and read the infographic below.

possible side effects of using sunscreen (infographic)

Illustration: StyleCraze Design Team

Get the high-quality PDF version of this infographic.

Download Infographic in PDF version

Sunscreen is an integral part of your skin care routine as it protects from harmful UV rays, sun damage, photosensitivity, and sunburn. However, not all sunscreens may be good for your skin. Some may cause serious side effects due to the ingredients used to make them. Sunscreens may cause allergic reactions, worsen acne, affect blood-estrogen levels, tighten your skin, and cause pus-filled blisters. You may have to follow the tips mentioned above to get rid of sunscreen’s side effects. It is always best to use chemical-free sunscreens to avoid allergic reactions. Always do a patch test before using any new product.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does sunscreen make your skin darker?

Maybe. According to anecdotal evidence, certain ingredients such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide may temporarily darken your skin.

Should I wear sunscreen at night?

Not needed. Anecdotal evidence suggests that sunscreen may dry your skin or clog your pores if left on overnight.

Can I skip moisturizer and use sunscreen?

No. Most sunscreens do not have hydrating properties. Hence, apply your moisturizer before your sunscreen.

Does water remove sunscreen?

This depends on the waterproof properties of sunscreen. However, it is recommended you reapply sunscreen every 2 hours.

Is it safe to use sunscreen on kids?

Yes, it is safe to use sunscreen on kids. Sunscreen can be safely used on children six months and older. Some sunscreens are labeled for babies or kids, but children can use the same sunscreen as adults.

Is SPF 30 or 50 better?

Both SPF 30 and SPF 50 sunscreens offer protection against UVB rays, which cause sunburn. However, SPF 50 provides slightly more protection than SPF 30, blocking 98% of UVB rays compared to SPF 30’s 96%.

Is SPF 50 good for black skin?

Yes, SPF 50 is good for black skin. Black skin has a higher concentration of melanin, which provides some natural protection against the sun but still requires additional protection.

Key Takeaways

  • Use sunscreen about half an hour before exposing yourself to the sun, and then reapply it every four hours.
  • Sunscreen use can result in skin irritation and allergy, acne, and clogged pores.
  • Consult your doctor about switching to a different brand of sunscreen, if wearing it makes your skin red or irritated.
  • Certain ingredients in chemical sunscreens have been linked to breast cancer and may even cause blindness, so be careful.
sunscreen side effects

Image: Dall·E/StyleCraze Design Team

Learn about the effects of sunlight on your skin! Discover the benefits and harmful effects of sun exposure in this informative animation video.


Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. Sunscreen allergy and its investigation
  2. Potential allergenicity of commonly sold high SPF broad spectrum sunscreens in the United States; from the perspective of patients with autoimmune skin disease
  3. Adverse Reactions to Sunscreens
  4. Efficacy Safety and Subject Satisfaction of a Specified Skin Care Regimen to Cleanse Medicate Moisturize and Protect the Skin of Patients Under Treatment for Acne Vulgaris
  5. Comprehensive Review of Ultraviolet Radiation and the Current Status on Sunscreens
  6. Benzophenone-3 promotion of mammary tumorigenesis is diet-dependent
  7. Skin cancer prevention
  8. Update about the effects of the sunscreen ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate on humans and the environment
  9. The banned sunscreen ingredients and their impact on human health: a systematic review
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