Medically reviewed by Dr. Nancy Shannon, MD, PhD on July 7, 2021
If you have rosacea, you’re probably already aware of just how much of an impact the sunlight can have on your skin. Skin with rosacea is already sensitive, and too much exposure to the sun can make matters even worse.
Sunscreen is an absolute must for outdoor activity during the summer months, but you should be sure to choose a sunscreen that doesn’t irritate your skin and potentially lead to a rosacea flare-up instead of preventing one. As you spend time outside this summer, make sure you have the right sunscreen protecting you. Here’s what you need to know:
Sunlight and Rosacea
First things first: why is sunscreen so important for people who have rosacea? The answer is twofold. Studies have established a clear link between ultraviolet light and rosacea, as UV exposure increases the skin’s capacity to receive and process vascular endothelial growth factor, or VEGF. When overabundant, VEGF can cause the blood vessels in the face to react, sending large quantities of blood to areas just below the surface of the skin and potentially causing a rosacea flare-up. VEGF has a well-established role in inciting rosacea flare-ups among those who have the condition, but it may even be one of the agents that cause rosacea to develop in the first place.
Whatever the reason, most people with rosacea find sun exposure to be a very strong trigger for rosacea flare-ups. Sunburn, or even just a bit too long outdoors in the heat can irritate the skin, and irritated skin is especially prone to flare-ups of rosacea. When skin heats up, that causes the blood vessels under the skin’s surface to dilate to allow dissipation of that heat. That can appear as flushing. A survey from the National Rosacea Society found that 61% of people with rosacea say that exposure to the sun is their leading trigger.
So clearly sunscreen is an essential part of the skincare routine of people with rosacea. Indiscriminately applying whatever sunscreen you can get your hands on, though, is far from a solution. You need to find a sunscreen that can offer adequate protection without irritating the skin.
Sunscreens can be broadly divided into 2 categories: chemical and physical. Chemical sunscreens contain compounds that absorb most of the harmful UV radiation as it reaches your skin. Some of the ingredient names you’ll find on the labels of chemical sunscreens include avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene, oxybenzone, and octinoxate. Physical sunscreens, sometimes called “mineral”sunscreens, generally use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to block UV radiation from ever reaching the skin in the first place.
As a general rule, those with rosacea will want to look for a sunscreen that provides broad-spectrum protection against UVA And UVB rays and rated at SPF 30+. This can be found in both chemical and physical sunscreens, though some individuals may find the physical blockers (containing zinc and/or titanium) may be less irritating to the skin. For facial application, it’s important to look for sunscreens labeled “non-comedogenic” (does not clog pores).
While the active ingredients in physical sunscreens are not irritants in the same way as the active ingredients in chemical sunscreens might be, all sunscreens can contain ingredients in the vehicle that might bother your skin. Sunscreens that contain fragrances, alcohol, parabens, or para-aminobenzoic acid can be irritating to the skin and thus avoided in susceptible individuals. The Nurx medical team frequently recommends Alba Botanica Mineral Sunscreen SPF 45 to patients looking for a physical sunscreen.
Sunscreen Advice For People With Rosacea
Once you’ve got the right sunscreen for you, you’ll need to be sure you use it effectively. Here’s how to do just that:
- Use at least SPF 30
SPF is a measure of how effectively a sunscreen blocks the sun’s rays, and 30 is the bare minimum you should be looking for. This means that the sunscreen blocks 97% of the sun’s rays.
Some sunscreens come pre-combined with moisturizers, but don’t hesitate to apply some moisturizer alongside yours. Long periods in the sun can dry out even the most well-protected skin, and dry skin is primed for a rosacea flare-up. If you choose to use a separate moisturizer, apply it to clean skin before applying the sunscreen.
- Apply plenty ahead of time
Sunscreen is most effective when applied 30 minutes before going outside. If you’re staying out for a long time, reapply every 2 or 3 hours in order to maintain proper levels of protection. Also reapply sunscreen after getting wet (from water or sweat) or after toweling off.
- Don’t rely on sunscreen alone
Even the best sunscreen with proper application isn’t going to be perfect. Wear a broad-brimmed hat, stay in the shade (especially during the hours of peak sun intensity, 10a-2p), and periodically pop back indoors to give your skin a rest if possible. The less exposure your skin gets to direct sunlight, the better.
Navigating the ins and outs of living with rosacea can be tough, but we’re here to help. Get in contact with a member of our team of experts today in order to learn about which treatments may work best for you.
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