My first year without prickly heat & sun cream allergies - updated

Posted by Judy Johnson On Wednesday, 9 July 2014 12:00 10 comments
When I was younger, I tanned instantly and went the kind of golden brown that you now get out of an expensive bottle. My hair was white blonde and quite frankly I probably looked a bit odd, but I was glad that unlike my family, I could go brown without burning first - I was the lucky one. 

That soon changed. As I grew up and coincidentally (or not) after a big allergic reaction aged 18, my skin became very, very sensitive. If you've read any of my beauty posts you've probably gathered that I still have sensitive skin and now have to be very careful about anything I use (not ideal when you're a beauty writer!) - I can't even spray perfume onto my skin, so make do with spritzing my clothes. 

All this is annoying but I can live with it, especially now I've found my trusty brands to stick to (Avene, E45 and occasionally Liz Earle). But when it comes to going on holiday, for the past eight years I have often dreaded going away because I know my skin won't cope with the heat, or even worse, the suncream. 

Allergies

Until recently I thought that the awful - and I really do mean awful, it covers my arms and legs like an extra layer of alien skin - prickly heat or heat rash was just down to the heat since I'm not great in hotter weather in general, but I couldn't understand why I got it so very bad, to the point that my doctor has to give me steroids on my return from the holiday. I just did a quick Google search and can't find a photo that does it justice - mine was so terrible I even had tests to see if I had a 'sun allergy' but they came back to say I was perfectly normal (insert joke about second opinion here).

Then I started reading up on suncreams and finding out that if you're sensitive, it might be that you're allergic to the chemical filters that give them their SPF - and suddenly it all made sense. I had tried so many brands - Ambre Solaire, Soltan, Nivea, Malibu - but my skin always had an instant rash the moment I was on holiday and became increasingly itchy with use. I can't be certain that I am allergic, but I'm making a pretty good guess that I am; and this year may even have proved it...

Avoiding prickly heat and allergies in the sun
Armed with this info and after asking around, I decided that as I was going on my longest holiday ever this year (a whole 2 weeks - post on it to come), I needed to be prepared. So, I wanted:
1) Something from my doctor 
3) Something to give quick relief if heat rash appeared. 

The first was easy - though I'd heard about getting cortisone injections pre-holiday, my doctor wouldn't agree but did give me Telfast, a prescribed anti-histamine. You're generally meant to take one a day, but she said to increase it to two (one morning, one night time) and start taking them two weeks before I was due to leave. They didn't make me too drowsy, but when I started to feel the effects I dropped down to one a day and they still did the job. 

The second involved a bit of research, but I decided on Piz Buin's Allergy range (the Aftersun is lovely), Ultrasun sun cream, and Avene's tinted SPF 50 for the face which was ideal for going makeup free on the beach. I genuinely feel like these discoveries have changed my life, and yes, I realise that makes me sound like an idiot. The Ultrasun only needs applying once a day and has no fragrance, rubs in deliciously and feels good on the skin - and I had no allergies or rashes in sight. I couldn't believe it - I was in the same country as where I had my worst hit of skin reaction two years ago and yet there wasn't a patch of redness to be seen. Ultrasun, you rock.

The third is so simple but utterly brilliant - Aqueous Cream with Calamine. This stuff is magical. It costs about £1 for a pot from your local chemist or Boots and it's cooling, calming and moisturising in one. I used it on sunburn (I stupidly managed to burn on the last day) and the tiniest hint of heat rash (which only appeared on day 10 of the holiday - miracle!) and within half an hour it had disappeared. Now I am never without the stuff, even at home.

So, it's only taken eight years but I think I've finally worked out the formula for keeping prickly heat away - I still can't cope too well with the hot weather and have to be pretty obsessive about my skin, but it's all worth it if I can go out without looking down at my arms and wanting to cry. I'll never buy a different sun cream again. 

Do you suffer with sensitive skin? What products do you swear by?

*Update*
It's important to point out here that I may have used the term 'prickly heat' too loosely - I'm pretty sure I am allergic to most sunscreens due to their many chemicals but prickly heat is something which is caused by blocked, sweaty pores and too much heat. That said, the above made sure I had no allergies and no prickly heat so I hope it works for you!

You might also find my more recent column on Get The Gloss helpful - here's my ultimate guide to SPF for sensitive skin, and my top ten sun creams for sensitive skin. 

*UPDATE* I've written a new piece on how to stop prickly heat on Get The Gloss with some great expert advice - check it out and hope it helps! x

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