Is there special advice you should follow when choosing suncare products for sensitive skin?
Yes, because not all skin types react to the sun in the same way. Light phototypes, for instance, tend to burn more easily than darker phototypes and are more prone to the damaging effects of the sun.
Sun damage to skin: heat rashes, aging and more.
The international scientific community has been warning of the potential damage sun exposure can have on our skin for years.
Some damage can be immediate, like burns and heat rashes.
Others, such as skin aging and more serious conditions like actinic keratosis and melanomas, take longer to appear.
Whatever our phototype, tanning is our body’s way of defending itself from an external physical agent: solar radiation.
Does sensitive skin mean staying in the shade?
The sun, however, has many beneficial effects: it stimulates production of vitamin D, essential for healthy bones, serotonin, the “feel good” hormone, and melatonin, the hormone associated with wellbeing and calm.
Given these benefits, it would be a real shame to completely shun the sun, even for sensitive skin.
The answer is to protect our skin as much as we can according to its specific needs.
Choosing suncare products for sensitive skin
For people with sensitive skin, choosing a sunscreen is just like choosing any other cosmetic product, so they should prioritise safety and protection.
This means making a number of decisions regarding the type of sun filters in the product and the ingredients of the carrier.
Sun filters: they’re not all the same
Sun filters can either be chemical or physical:
- chemical filters are organic molecules which absorb ultraviolet radiations;
- physical filters are solid particles which reflect UV rays.
These two kinds of filters are normally found together in products with high or very high protection because their mechanisms of action work in synergy.
The most suitable filters for sensitive skin are physical filters with particles (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) and latest-generation chemical filters (e.g. triazine), also known as broad spectrum filters, which have a high molecular weight.
These two kinds of filters are not absorbed by the skin.
This reduces the risk of sensitivity which can sometimes occur with fat-soluble chemical filters with low molecular weight (e.g. octocrylene).
Beware of alcohol and silicones
For a sunscreen to be truly suitable for sensitive skin, it should not contain any ingredients used to make the product easy to apply and non-greasy or that could aggravate the typical symptoms of skin sensitivity.
These include ethyl alcohol and cyclic silicones. Cyclic silicones are volatile and, when they evaporate, they “take with them” a little of the water in the surface layers of the epidermis. This increases dryness and discomfort, especially in sensitive skin.
The form matters
Sun filters provide greater protection, at the same concentration, when they are in a cream or milk (emulsifying carriers containing water and oil components) form.
This kind of formula enables manufacturers to add important ingredients to the product:
- emollients with moisturising properties;
- filmogenic agents which can increase resistance to perspiration and water;
- epidermal lipids (ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids) which help restore barrier function which is often damaged in sensitive skin, too.
If you are not prepared to compromise when protecting your skin from physical aggressors, you will have to learn to do without products that are pleasant and light on the skin, like clear sprays and solar waters.
But this does not mean you have to do without pleasure completely: even sun creams and milks, if formulated properly, can be light and very pleasant to apply.