Sunscreen Allergy: A Review of Epidemiology, Clinical Characteristics, and Responsible Allergens

Elyse Scheuer; Erin Warshaw


Dermatitis. 2006;17(1):3-11. 

In This Article

Prevalence of Photocontact Allergy to Active Sunscreen Agents

The prevalence of sunscreen sensitization in individuals referred for evaluation of photosensitivity is much higher.[13,14,15] Journe and colleagues evaluated 370 patients in France who had photodistributed eczematous eruptions. They observed 107 positive patch-test reactions and 126 positive photopatch-test reactions; 15.4% of these positive reactions were related to sunscreens, and 72% were deemed relevant. Eighteen patients were diagnosed with contact allergy, and 39 patients had photocontact allergy to active sunscreen ingredients.[16] From 1981 to 1996, Schauder and Ippen evaluated 402 patients who had been referred to a photobiology unit in Germany with suspected photosensitivity. The patients were patch-tested and photopatch-tested with common UV absorbers and with commercial sunscreen products as well as with fragrance materials, preservatives, and emollients found in these products. Eighty patients (20%) had relevant allergic or photoallergic contact dermatitis from UV absorbers.[14]

Other reports in the literature suggest a lower frequency of sunscreen allergy in patients referred for photodistributed eczematous eruptions. From 1992 to 1996, Ang and colleagues from Singapore reviewed the records of 48 patients who had been referred for suspected light-related dermatoses and who underwent photopatch testing. These patients were patch-tested with a standard sunscreen series that included oxybenzone, mexenone, Parsol, octyl dimethyl para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), and cinnamate. Three patients (6.3%) had allergic reactions to these active sunscreen ingredients, and two patients (4.2%) had photoallergic reactions to these same ingredients.[15] Darvay and colleagues patch- and photopatch-tested 2,715 patients referred for presumed photosensitivity disorders from 1983 to 1998. Sixty-two patients (2.3%) exhibited photoallergic reactions, and of these reactions, 65% were due to UV absorbers. Forty-nine patients (1.8%) had nonphotoallergic contact reactions, 68% of which were due to UV absorbers.[17]