Now that the weather is finally getting to a place where we can comfortably spend longer periods of time outdoors, many of us are likely trying to improve our sun-protection game. But the tilt towards the sun isn't the only reason to ramp up your SPF use. Nope, there are also skin-care ingredients that can cause sun sensitivity. And Chris Birchby, founder of COOLA, tells me over email that this sensitivity can result in irritation, redness, dark spots, and sun damage. Yikes.
So to avoid these harmful side effects, Birchby stresses the importance of using products with photosensitive ingredients at night only, and always sporting "a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30" during the day. He reminds that if you prefer a chemical sunscreen, to always apply it at least 30 minutes before sun exposure so the protective ingredients have time to activate. If you use a mineral or physical sunscreen though, it should start working immediately upon application.
But what are the ingredients that you need to use sunscreen with? While most products should have warning labels on the packaging to denote photosensitive ingredients, just in case a particular product doesn't, here are six types of ingredients and products to check for in your skin care:
1. AHAs & BHAs
NYC-based esthetician, Jordana Mattioli, tells me over email that alpha and beta hydroxy acids such as glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acids can cause skin to be more susceptible to sun damage from being regularly exfoliated. These ingredients are commonly used in anti-aging, skin-brightening, and acne-fighting products.
2. Benzoyl Peroxide
Benzoyl peroxide is another common acne-treatment ingredient that can also cause sun sensitivity, say Mattioli and Birchby.
Typically used in skin-lightening products, Mattioli and Birchby also recommend always using sunscreen if you use a product with hydroquinone.
According to Sonia Deasy, founder of Pestle & Mortar, with whom I also emailed, retinol and retinol derivatives encourage cell turnover which exposes delicate, new skin. These newer layers of skin can be more sensitive to the sun, so using an SPF along with products containing any form of retinol is key.
5. Topical Prescriptions
Mattioli and Birchby both warn that some topical prescriptions including antibiotics, antifungals, antihistamines, and anti-inflammatories can also cause sensitivity, so it's important to thoroughly read those labels, instructions, and warnings as well.
6. Essential Oils
Some common essential oils including bergamot, bitter orange, grapefruit, lemon, lime, and mandarin leaf can also cause sun sensitivity, says Mattioli. So if you find these in your skin care or if you DIY your own products, be sure to follow up with some SPF.
Because something as simple as sunscreen can help ensure you only reap the benefits (and don't experience some negative side effects) of your skin care.