Does Sunscreen Burn Your Eyes?

All you golfers, tennis players, and other outdoorsy types may recognize this scenario: You carefully apply sunscreen before heading into the sun, only to find yourself blinking and squinting halfway through your game as sunscreen starts to drip into your eyes - and it burns.

Skipping sunscreen is never an option. But there are certain products and ingredients that are a much better bet than others if you're going to be sweating. 

  • There are two types of sunscreen: chemical sunscreens (which protect skin by absorbing radiation and then dissipating it safely) and physical sunscreens (which remain on skin's surface and use ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to reflect light). The chemicals in chemical sunscreens, though safe, can irritate the eyes as they mix with sweat and start dripping. Avobenzone, for example, is the most popular UVA blocker in chemical sunscreens and a known eye-stinging culprit. In fact, if your skin is very sensitive, as mine is, chemical sunscreens can even cause stinging in the skin upon application. Avobenzone is the active ingredient in one of my favorite sunscreens: Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry Touch SPF 70. However, I cannot wear this sunscreen when I play tennis because when I sweat, it burns my eyes.

If you're going to be playing an outdoor sport - or are simply sensitive to chemical sunscreens - stick to physical blockers (at least on your face). The sun protection is just as good as that of chemical sunscreens. Better yet, you'll be far more likely to protect your skin every time you go outside if you're not worried about stinging! Some of my favorite physical sunscreens include: 

Just remember, even if you use a product labeled "waterproof" or "sweatproof," no sunscreen really lives up to that claim. Always reapply every hour that you're in direct sunlight.  If you get in the water- allow yourself to air dry - not towel dry. The towel removes any remaining sunscreen.

Wishing you great skin!

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Dr. Baumann is author of the best-selling book," The Skin Type Solution." To learn more about her revolutionary skin typing system, visit her Web site,

All of Dr. Baumann's recommended skin care products are available online, and a portion of proceeds goes to The Dermatology Foundation.

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