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I'm allergic to the sun — but this $12 sunscreen keeps me rash and bump free

Applying this dermatologist-recommended sunscreen is the only way this Florida native can step outside.
Courtesy Angela Hatem

Allow me to paint you a sometimes itchy (and always splotchy) picture that is the irony of my life:

I have a sun allergy — but I love the sun.

Since I was 20-years-old, within 30 minutes of the sun hitting my sensitive flesh, I would break out in hives from head to ankle. My allergy was something I was highly aware of anywhere I went. At the pool, at a picnic, when I played softball or a simple walk around my neighborhood — there was always a decent chance I would look down to find raised red bumps on every inch of my skin.

To add insult to injury, I am a Florida native. I was raised IN the Sunshine State. (That’s Alanis Morissette-quality irony right there.) While I have never been the type of person to let my allergy stop me from doing the things I love, I'll admit that it did bring the joy level of those things down by a notch ... or six.

It took me longer than it should have (age 36) to make an appointment with a dermatologist to get an answer for my condition. It turns out, I have something called Polymorphous Light Eruption (PMLE), a sun sensitivity that is more common in women than in men and usually manifests around a person’s teens or 20’s. While not an ideal condition, it’s not life altering — it may even resolve itself when I go into menopause — but until that happens, PMLE is actually quite treatable, per my dermatologist.

After dropping some knowledge surrounding my condition, she explained that I require broad spectrum zinc oxide coverage to protect my skin from any UV rays the sun shines my way. Then she handed me a few samples of Neutrogena’s Dry-Touch Sunscreen and told me to go forth and sunbathe! Well, she didn’t say "sunbathe," but she did say this sunscreen would help nip my symptoms in the bud.

Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Oxide Dry-Touch Face Sunscreen

That very day, I went home and slathered that sample all over my ultra-sensitive skin to give it a test drive. The lotion goes on runny but dries nearly instantly once applied, keeping true to Neutrogena’s “dry touch technology” promise.

Thirty minutes in the sun, no bumps. Sixty minutes in the sun, no bumps.

In just one hour, this $12 tube of mineral sunscreen allowed me to imagine a future free of the constant shadows of umbrellas and covered patios. I was flabbergasted, but more importantly, I was relieved and rash free.

This is not to say the sunscreen cured my PMLE, but the severity of my symptoms drastically changes for the better when I use it. I aim to apply it about 15 minutes before facing the great outdoors, and when I say apply, I mean I apply at an aggressive level.). I slather the stuff all over my body, even if the tube does specify “face” use.

For those who don’t use sunscreen with zinc oxide on the regular, the ingredient normally gives the skin a white-ish cast. The bottle may say "sheer," but that isn't exactly the case for me. By the time I'm done applying it, I end up looking like a mime — at least, until the formula sinks in. But, for me, this is a very small price to pay to be able to enjoy the sun again with a strong level of self confidence. That said, when I need sun protection that perfectly matches my skin tone, I also have a go-to tinted (albeit, pricey) option.

Onekind Solardrops SPF55 Daily Broad Spectrum Serum

It’s also worth noting that this sunscreen is hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic, aka your pores won’t get clogged, according to the brand. The sunscreen also holds its own against sweat and water for up to 80 minutes, which is great news for a chronic sunscreen re-applier like me.

For the most part, I stay pretty true to my Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Oxide Sunscreen. Sure, sometimes it makes me look like a clown who managed to get loose from the big top, but it mainly prevents unflattering splotches caused by an allergic reaction — and that’s totally OK by me.