How to Get Sunscreen Out of Your Eyes

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Getting sunscreen in your eyes can cause stinging and burning that lasts for hours. While it is painful, the sunscreen most likely will not cause any lasting damage to your eye. But you do have to thoroughly flush the irritants from the sunscreen out of your eyes. 

What Ingredients in Sunscreen Cause Irritation?

Preservatives, fragrance, chemical UV filters such as oxybenzone, octocrylene, avobenzone, all irritate the eye. There are 14 FDA-approved chemical UV filters that can be used in sunscreens and all of them are eye irritants.

The Difference Between Chemical and Mineral Sunscreens

Mineral sunscreens don’t use chemical UV filters; instead, they physically block ultraviolet radiation. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are natural minerals that block UV rays.

Sunscreens with chemical UV filters protect your skin by dissipating UV rays and mineral sunscreens sit on top the skin and create a layer that reflects UV rays away. But mineral sunscreens rub off, sweat off, and rinse off easily so they have to be reapplied for maximum effectiveness.

Using a mineral sunscreen on your face will prevent chemical UV filters from getting in your eyes when you sweat.

Thoroughly Rinse Your Eyes to Remove Sunscreen

If you do get a chemical-based sunscreen in your eyes, the best thing to do is rinse your eyes with clear water. If you wear contacts, take them out before you rinse your eyes with water. If you have access to preservative-free artificial tears or a sterile saline solution you can use those to flush the sunscreen out of your eyes.

As you flush your eyes with water, artificial tears, or saline solution, blink regularly to promote the production of your own tear film to help flush your eyes. Flush your eyes for about 15 minutes. If you are at the beach without easy access to running water, use bottled water to flush your eyes.

Once you have flushed the sunscreen from your eyes, they may still sting and burn. Using a cold compress such as an ice pack will help relieve some of the pain. It is normal for the stinging sensation to last for a few hours because of the irritation from the chemical and the irritation caused by constant eye flushing.

If your eyes continue to burn for longer than 6 hours, it is recommended that you see your eye care professional for an evaluation.

Prevention Tips

  • If you use a spray-on sunscreen, never spray sunscreen directly on your face. Spray it into your hands and then apply it to your face.
  • Rub the sunscreen in thoroughly so none of it drips into the eyes.
  • Avoid putting any sunscreen near your eyes; instead, use sunglasses with UV protection.  

Gregory Scimeca, M.D.
Ophthalmologist and Medical Director
The Eye Professionals

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