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Can You Find Non-Irritating Sunscreen?

In your search for non-irritating sunscreen, try one with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These mineral compounds block the rays physically.

Some things should be kept out of the eyes. If you get shampoo in your eyes while you are showering, you’ll regret it. Even a hint of chile pepper essence is even worse. But many people find that sunscreen is also unpleasant when it runs into the eyes. Can you find non-irritating sunscreen?

Looking for Non-Irritating Sunscreen:

Q. After applying sunscreen to my face, my eyes get irritated within 30 minutes. It doesn’t matter whether I sweat or not.

Over the past two years I’ve had four surgeries and one cauterization for basal and squamous cell growths. In the past ten years I’ve had more actinic keratoses frozen than I can count. So I definitely need protection, but I can’t manage without some sun. Do you have any recommendations on non-irritating sunscreen?

Look for Physical Sunblockers:

A. We’d suggest looking for a sunscreen with a physical sunblocker such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the active ingredient. The nonprofit EWG (Environmental Working Group) rates these as safe and effective. They caution that safety data on other compounds, such as oxybenzone, are incomplete. A recent study showed that people absorb such chemicals into their bloodstreams (JAMA, Jan. 21, 2020). 

The authors warn, however:

“These findings do not indicate that individuals should refrain from the use of sunscreen.”

Other readers have found that mineral-based sunscreens are less irritating to the eyes.

One wrote:

“I use only products containing zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. If I apply products with other ingredients to my face, my eyes are irritated for hours afterward.”

In summary, we urge you to try a sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the active ingredient. Please let us know whether you were successful in locating a non-irritating sunscreen. Don’t forget the benefits of a hat, sunglasses and long sleeves as well.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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  • Matta MK et al, "Effect of sunscreen application on plasma concentration of sunscreen active ingredients: A randomized clinical trial." JAMA, Jan. 21, 2020. DOI: 10.1001/jama.2019.20747
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