With summer just around the corner, proper sun protection is even more important. Sun exposure, heat, and humidity can lead to skin redness, rashes, and irritation, especially in those with sensitive skin.

What Causes Skin Sensitivity?

For people with sensitive skin, the top layer of the skin, called the epidermis, is more susceptible to redness, burning, flaking, itching, and rashes when exposed to even minor irritation. Cold and dry weather, bitter wind, and certain soaps and water are classic triggers. Skin sensitivity may also worsen pre-existing skin rashes, like atopic dermatitis (eczema), allergic contact rashes, and acne.

If you experience hives or pink-red rashes when exposed to sunlight or heat, it may be more than mild skin sensitivity. There are a number of conditions or medications that may contribute to skin sensitivity. A detailed workup by a board-certified Dermatologist or other medical professional is important.

Skin Sensitivity to Heat and Sun

Heat and sun exposure can dry out your skin by compromising its protective barrier. They may also cause skin to lose moisture, a process called transepidermal water loss. Finally, the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays may cause oxidative stress or damage leading to a decrease in fatty acids, collagen, and skin lipids. These components are important to skin hydration, the integrity of the skin barrier, and skin resilience. Sunburns not only increase your risk for skin cancer, but may lead to dry, sensitive, or thinner skin even years later.

Find a Sunscreen That Works for You

When it comes to managing sensitive skin during the summer months, sunscreen is key. Yet, not every sunscreen product may be beneficial for people with sensitivities. It's important to pay close attention to the ingredients in your skin and sun care items.

Opt for a sunscreen with mineral ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which protect your skin from both UVA and UVB rays and are considered safe to use on sensitive skin. For the face, EltaMD UV Daily Broad-Spectrum SPF 40 provides appropriate sun protection coverage and is boosted with gentle hydrating ingredients, including niacinamide and hyaluronic acid. For your body, the EltaMD UV Lotion Broad-Spectrum SPF 30+ provides broad-spectrum coverage against UVA and UVB and contains vitamin E and similar hydrating ingredients. Niacinamide and hyaluronic acid not only hydrate and plump the skin but also help to reduce inflammation and redness.

Stay Cool and Hydrated

Keeping your body and skin as cool as possible is essential to preventing unnecessary water loss. Wearing breathable fabrics, applying cool compresses to sunburned or irritated skin, and taking a break in the air conditioning are all helpful ways to beat the summer heat. Wearing light-colored linen and cotton clothing is especially important for those with eczema-prone skin. Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of liquids can also help prevent further skin water loss during sun exposure and extreme heat.

Avoid Drying, Harsh Ingredients

It's wise to adjust your skin care regimen according to the season and environmental changes, especially if your skin is sensitive. Avoiding drying ingredients, like alpha-hydroxy acids and beta-hydroxy acids (i.e., salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and lactic acid) can be helpful. You also may want to minimize manual skin exfoliation, as this can lead to red, irritated skin, especially during the hot summer months.

After you've been out in the sun, apply a thick, hydrating moisturizer. Your skin gets thirsty, too! Look for a fragrance-free moisturizer that's rich in ceramide, petroleum, and hyaluronic acid to help lock in skin moisture, like the EltaMD Moisturizer.

If your skin is sensitive, you don't have to stay inside or hide from the summer sun. Make sure to use a sunscreen that has gentle, hydrating ingredients and follow general sun safety tips, like wearing sun-protective clothing, staying hydrated, and taking breaks in the shade. This way, you can enjoy the outdoors while still protecting your skin from any irritation, dryness, itching, and discomfort.


  • Saving Pretty Faces With SPF

    My name is Dr. Rina Allawh and I am a Board-Certified Dermatologist in the Philadelphia suburbs, with a special interest in the unique challenges for pigmented skin with regards to anti-aging, hair loss, sun care and acne. Founder and co-host of "Skin the Surface" podcast which serves as an educational resource about skin-related issues, a tool to empower people to take a more active role in their skin health including skin cancer prevention, and an outlet to discuss some of the current hot topics in dermatology.

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