What skin care ingredients can increase your risk of sunburn?

We all have our skincare routines and products that we like to use daily. But it’s important to know that some very well-liked ingredients in your skincare can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. This happens for a variety of reasons including: reducing the thickness of the very top layer of your skin, irritation and inflammation of the skin, which in turn makes the skin more sensitive to sun.

Here is the basic list of the ingredients to keep in mind when you spend a lot of time in the sun.

AHA and BHA (alpha-hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids):

AHAs are glycolic acid, lactic acid or almost all that ends with an acid, BHA is salicylic acid. AHAs are in skin care products that claim to give you gentle exfoliation and a glow, and salicylic acid is often found in acne products. These make your skin more sensitive. They reduce the thickness of the very top layer of your skin called the cornified layer. This is a dry and light reflective layer that bounces back some of the sun rays, protecting your skin.

Retinoic acid, retinol and retinal:

These are found in acne products and also in anti-aging cosmetics. Just as AHAs and BHAs, these ingredients offer gentle exfoliation and also increase skin cell turnover. They will also reduce the top UV-reflective cornified layer.

Benzoyl peroxide:

Typically used for acne to kill acne-causing bacteria, it can cause irritation of the skin and inflamed skin is more sun sensitive.


Hydroquinone is a lightening agent that blocks formation of excess melanin. Melanin gives our skin color. Its production is increased during the tanning to provide skin protection. Naturally, when the skin’s intrinsic sun protection is reduced, our skin is more likely to burn.  Also, just as benzoyl peroxide, it can irritate the skin and cause inflammation which results in increased sun sensitivity.

Essential oils and fragrances:

Many essential oils including angelica root, bergamot peel, lime peel, lemon peel, bitter orange peel, mandarin leaf, and rue leaf can cause photosensitivity or even phototoxic reaction (severe sunburn-like reaction that heals with darker skin marks).

Some of these ingredients can be very helpful for several skin conditions but you need to be mindful if you know you will be in the sun. It is best to stop at least a day before extensive sun exposure. If you can’t avoid using them, exercise very strict sun protection.

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