Sunscreen in Eye: What to Do? Understanding Risks, Reactions, and Relief
Learn what to do if you get sunscreen in your eye.
Summer is full of outdoor activities, beach vacations, and long hours spent basking in the sun's warm glow. As we all know, sunscreen is a crucial tool to protect our skin from ultraviolet (UV) rays. The proper application forms a protective barrier that shields the skin from sunburn, premature aging, and skin cancer. However, while sunscreen is beneficial for our skin, we must stay cautious to avoid potential interactions with our eyes.
During the hot summer months, we generously apply face sunscreen near the eye area, more than usual. That is also the time we tend to get more sweaty and seek hydration. Thus, the risks of unconsciously water dripping, spraying, or getting SPF lotion into our eyes are significantly higher.
Accidentally getting sunscreen in the eye can lead to excessive stinging and various discomforts. So naturally, when that happens, people worry. They want to know what to do if sunscreen gets in their eyes and if it poses a threat to their ocular health. We are here to answer all these questions.
Table of Content
2.1. Eye Irritation
2.2. Allergic Reaction
2.3. Eye Damage
2.5. Eye Infection
In this Ophthalmology24 publication, we explore the medical implications of sunscreen in eye. Discussing allergic reactions, potential eye damage, infection, relief, and how to handle such incidents if they occur.
Is It Bad to Get Sunscreen in Your Eyes?
We are talking about highly sensitive organs. Any foreign substance in the eye could contaminate it and affect the patient negatively. So generally, yes, it is unsafe to get sunblocking lotion in your eyes, but there are ways to counteract it and minimize the risks.
What Happens If You Get Sunscreen in Your Eyes?
Unfortunately, it is quite easy to get sunscreen in eye. For instance, you can unintentionally transfer it with sweat, or makeup, when refreshing yourself, or even misplace it during application. The conventional sunblock ingredients are certainly not eye-friendly.
As a result, those who accidentally got sunscreen in their eye tend to experience these unpleasant symptoms:
Temporary vision blur
Sunscreen and Eye Irritation
Needless to say, sunscreen makes eyes water. It also inevitably causes irritation every time it comes in contact with the eye surface. If you fail to react fast and don’t take measures to flush out the sunscreen, the exposure could lead to risks of eye problems like allergic reactions, corneal damage, discharge, and eye infection.
Sunscreen in Eye Allergic Reaction
While each individual experiences burning and stinging sensations, not everyone suffers from a sunscreen-in-eye allergic reaction. Some people may be more sensitive to specific lotion or sun spray ingredients. This means they are prone to experience more severe symptoms and inflammation when sunscreen gets in their eyes.
Allergy symptoms can vary from person to person and may include red eye, eyelid swelling, itching, foreign body sensation, or tearing. With that in mind, we urge you to always read the ingredient list before applying sunblock to your skin.
Sunscreen Eye Damage
The eyes are complex and delicate organs, therefore even small exposure to sunscreen (especially chemical-based formulas) might potentially lead to eye inflammation and eye damage. The conjunctiva reacts with reddening and swelling when in contact with irritating toxic chemicals. The corneal surface, part of the transparent outermost eye layer is particularly susceptible to damage when exposed to certain SPF lotion ingredients. The symptoms when the surface layer of the cornea is affected include foreign body sensation, eye reddening, eye pain, and excessive tearing.
Sunscreen Eye Discharge
Moreover, even when they enter the eye and do not cause any structural tissue damage, the sun spray and sun cream particles contribute to an increase in tear production, causing excessive discharge. The sunscreen eye discharge may vary in consistency, ranging from clear to slightly milky. Heavy secretion may lead to temporary blurry vision or discomfort.
Sunscreen Eye Infection
Apart from the lotion itself, harmful bacteria or irritants on the skin or hands can transfer to the eye area. That may happen during sunblock application and whenever the sunscreen actually gets into the eye. The risk of infection increases when the conjunctiva or the cornea is damaged by the chemicals themselves and lose their barrier protection function.
That’s why, the introduction of sunscreen around and in the eyes gradually increases the risk of eye infections. The most common condition that occurs is conjunctivitis (pink eye). It is unlikely, but still, a possibility for the patient to develop keratitis or fungal infection.
Which Sunscreen Ingredient Stings Eyes?
Sunscreen formulations contain various chemical and physical ingredients to provide effective sun protection. While these ingredients are safe for the skin, they may not always be suitable for the highly sensitive eye area. And maybe especially irritating when they get into the eye.
Certain sunscreen ingredients, such as avobenzone, octinoxate, and oxybenzone, may cause stinging or unbearable burning sensations when they come in contact with your eyes. These reactions result in the abovementioned redness, watery eyes, irritation, and discomfort.
RELATED: Common Myths About Eyes
What to Do If Sunscreen Gets in Your Eye?
Sunscreen in eye is a common and uncomfortable experience. Accidents happen, so what do you do if you get sunscreen in your eye? The best course of action is to take immediate action to minimize discomfort and prevent further complications.
If you find yourself in this situation, follow these steps for prompt sunscreen-in-eye relief:
Rinse your eye gently with clean, lukewarm water. Use a cup or your hand to pour water over your eye while keeping it open.
Blink several times to wash out the sunscreen.
Repeat the rinse and blink procedures several times.
Do NOT rub your eyes, as this may exacerbate irritation and potentially damage the cornea.
Apply preservative-free artificial tears to soothe the eye and flush out any remaining sunscreen particles.
If you wear contact lenses, remove them immediately after getting sunscreen in your eye.
Wait for a bit after you did all the steps to the sunscreen eye irritation treatment.
That’s the only way to assess if you do feel relief or still have discomfort after a few hours.
In cases of persistent severe pain, sunscreen in eye burning, vision changes, or worsening irritation after the flushing procedure, we recommend seeking professional medical advice. An eye care specialist can provide appropriate evaluation and offer further treatment if necessary.
Preventing Sunscreen from Getting in the Eyes
While applying sunscreen, you can take some precautions to minimize the risk of getting it in your eyes:
Avoid direct eye application
Avoid direct eyelids application (or too close to the eye area)
Apply sunscreen using slow movements to reduce the likelihood of accidental spills or splashes
Use a sunscreen stick for targeted application around the eyes
Wear sunglasses or protective eyewear to shield the eyes from sunscreen runoff
Choose mild formula sunscreens
Choosing Sunscreen Safe for the Eye Area
So what sunscreen is safe around eyes? Is that actually a thing? For those with a history of eye sensitivity or allergies, it is advisable to select sunscreens labeled as "eye-safe," "ophthalmologist-tested," or "non-irritating to eyes."
Sunscreens containing physical blockers such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are generally considered milder and less likely to cause eye irritation compared to chemical sunscreens. Furthermore, hypoallergenic and fragrance-free sunscreens can be gentler on the skin and eyes, reducing the risk of adverse reactions.
RELATED: How to Keep Your Eyes Healthy?
Sunscreen and Babies/Infants
Use extra caution when it comes to babies and infants, to protect their delicate baby eyes. Avoid direct application of sunscreen to the eye area and opt for physical sunscreens specifically formulated for babies, as they are far less irritating.
If sunscreen gets into your baby's eye, follow the same eye-flushing steps mentioned earlier. Ensure the water for rinsing is clean and at an appropriate temperature!
Take any instances of sunscreen in baby's eye seriously. Seek medical attention from a pediatric ophthalmologist after exposure, just in case.
RELATED: Protecting Your Newborn's Eyes
Sunscreen is an indispensable resource for skin protection from harmful sun effects. However, you should exercise caution when applying sunscreen around the eyes to avoid discomfort, irritations, and potential eye damage.
Choose eye-safe products, take precautions during application, and promptly address any accidental sunscreen in eye contact. By being vigilant, you get to enjoy the sun and protect your eyes during the summer months, ensuring you do not compromise your eye health.
Read more about eye care and eye health in the Ophthalmology24 blog for patients.
Sun Safety: Information for Parents About Sunburn & Sunscreen, American Academy of Pediatrics
Checked by Atanas Bogoev M.D.