You may recognize this scenario: it’s the weekend, the weather is great and you made plans for a day at the beach. A full day of sun and of course, you are taking all the necessary precautions to protect yourself from the sun.
You apply the SPF 30 or higher sunscreen all over your body and face and you even bring or rent an umbrella to limit your sun exposure. When it is time to go home, your face is extremely uncomfortable (painful and itchy) and you can’t wait to wash your face. When you see your face in the mirror, it is all puffy, swollen and extremely red.
What went wrong here? The sunscreen was supposed to protect your face, correct?
The problem with most sunscreens is that they are formulated for the average skin type and should work well on all parts of the body. However, the facial skin is a lot more sensitive, but for most people, this does not create a problem. But with rosacea skin, the story is a bit different.
Since rosacea becomes aggravated by UV exposure, it is advised that we protect our skin with a sunscreen. Naturally, we take this advice and apply sunscreen on our face, and try to stay out of the sun as much as possible. However, rosacea skin is extremely sensitive and as I have written in this article, the barrier function of rosacea skin is compromised.
Applying a thick layer of waterproof sunscreen on our face will result in a lot of heat being trapped underneath this layer of sunscreen. The heat builds up and cannot escape. Any sweat that is being produced cannot evaporate. This causes the blood vessels in our face to widen even more, plus fluid will leak out of the capillaries making our face appear puffy and swollen.
Waterproof sunscreens usually contain silicones and are very thick (higher SPF sunscreens are often very thick). This thick layer over the skin causes a buildup of sweat between the skin and the sunscreen, leading to an itchy and burning sensation.
Further, the active chemical ingredients found in most sunscreens (avobenzone, oxybenzone, octyl methoxycinnamate and others) may cause further irritation of the capillaries and blood vessels, increasing the redness of the face.
Sunscreens that claim to be oil-free or greaseless, often still contain a lot of oils, silicones and thickeners. Sometimes, these sunscreens contain alcohol, which will dry out the skin.
Then, what is the best approach to protect our face from UV rays?
Since waterproof sunscreens and sunscreens containing alcohol are usually not a good option for rosacea skin, try to use a sunscreen that contains either titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.
Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are mineral sunscreens that reflect harmful UV rays. Try to find a balance between comfort and SPF level. A higher SPF means more protection, but also a thicker layer of the mineral sunscreens.
If you use a moderate SPF (10-15) sunscreen, you are more likely to use additional sun protection methods, such as wearing a hat or walking on the shady side of the street.