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Month: July 2017

Common Allergens in Sunscreen

Sunscreen is something that you need to wear to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays, but not all sunscreen is created equal. Some people might have no problem wearing it, but it’s also possible for your skin to have a bad reaction to the common ingredients in most sunscreen formulas. You might not be aware that sunscreen chemicals are added to some other cosmetic or lotion products, which can cause you to have an allergic reaction.

Understanding Sunscreen Sensitivities

Contact dermatitis is a rash on your skin due to contact with an irritating substance, such as those used in common sunscreen formulas. Your skin could be irritated or having an allergic reaction which is more prominent on areas that have direct exposure to the sun, such as your face or where clothing isn’t protecting you. This is a known as photo-contact dermatitis and may also be a reaction to preservatives or fragrances used.

Those Prone to Allergies

Certain groups of people or individuals are more prone to developing an allergy to sunscreen. Females are more affected particularly because they are more prone to using cosmetics that can contain potentially irritating substances. Those with sun-damaged skin, sunscreen being applied to areas of damaged skin and people who work outdoors on a regular basis such as construction workers. The American Academy of Dermatology advises that everyone wear sunscreen because one in five Americans will eventually develop skin cancer due to the sun’s harmful UV rays.

Understanding How Sunscreen Works

There are two ways sunscreen works to protect your skin. The chemical absorbers in sunscreen absorb the energy from the sun as it hits your skin and turns it into less dangerous and damaging radiation. Physical blockers reflect the sun’s rays to prevent radiation from being absorbed and are commonly found in products used by people who spend significant time at the beach.

Chemicals That Can Cause Allergies

Everyone has a different reaction to chemicals and to the active ingredients found in many sunscreen products. It can be hard to pinpoint which ingredient is causing a reaction since some have multiple active ingredients. These are some of the ingredients found in many popular sunscreen products:

  • Benzophenone – This has been used in sunscreen for quite some time and is one of the most common irritants in sunscreen formulas. Other names for it are eusolex, methanone, and diphenyl ketone.
  • Dibenzoylmethane – This has been commonly used in sunscreen since 1997 in the United States and acts as a chemical absorber.
  • Octocrylene – This is a newer chemical used in many sunscreen products and has the potential to cause contact dermatitis for individuals who have sensitive skin. It is typically used to enhance a product’s scent.

It’s important to protect your skin from the harmful rays of the sun, but experiencing an allergic reaction is less than desirable and can be very serious. Be careful when selecting sunscreen, and maybe even consider the answer to the question, “What is the best all natural sunscreen?” to avoid those common allergenic chemicals.

bu Sunscreen | Sunscreen and UV Apparel Thanks to our friends and contributors from Bu Screen for their insight into common allergens in sunscreen.

Summer Allergies and Asthma

Allergens (i.e., antigens) that are commonly found in the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area in the Summer may include:  pollens, molds, dust mites, pets, cockroaches, stinging insects (e.g., bees, wasps, yellow jackets, white-faced hornets, yellow-faced hornets), and non-stinging insects (e.g., mosquitoes, gnats).

Non-allergens (i.e., irritants) that cause allergy-like symptoms and/or asthma, that are found in the Summer in the Washington, DC metro area may include:  smog, smoke, ozone, diesel fuel, dust particulates, and automobile exhaust.

Grass pollens are more prevalent in the early Summer, whereas ragweed pollen generally begins to pollinate in the middle of August and typically ends in late October with the arrival of the first frost.  There are also small amounts of tree pollens that linger in the air during the beginning of the Summer in the Washington, DC metro area, although characteristically, tree pollens wreak havoc mostly in the Spring.

Molds are omnipresent in the greater Washington, DC metropolitan area since Washington, DC was built on a swamp.  In the Summer, there is higher humidity, along with warmer temperatures which provides the perfect condition for mold growth.  Molds are also found indoors and tend to gravitate to places such as basements, kitchens, and bathrooms where moisture may be worse.

Dust mites (e.g., Dermatophagoides farinaeDermatophagoides pteronyssinus) are microscopic bugs that tend to live in carpeting, fabrics, and bedding.  They live off of dead skin that naturally sloughs off of humans and animals.  They will also eat molds.  Dust mites reach their peak concentrations during the Summer and thrive in the warm, humid environment that Washington, DC is famous for in the Summer.

Cats, dogs, horses, and furry pets (i.e., hamsters, guinea pigs, rats, mice, ferrets) are a source of allergens throughout the year, because they are generally kept indoors, except for horses.  As the weather warms up, people tend to go horseback riding more often, so people tend to complain of allergies to horses more often during the warmer months of Summer.  In addition to the actual pet allergy itself, cats and dogs often transfer pollens on their furry coats from the outside to the inside of one’s home which may add to the misery of a particular allergic individual.

Cockroaches are very common in homes, restaurants, and stores especially in inner city locations such as Washington, DC.  They are highly allergenic and are responsible for exacerbating asthma, particularly in asthmatic children who live in the inner cities.

Stinging insects are also more common in the Summer.  Bees, wasps, yellow jackets, white-faces hornets, and yellow-faced hornets are always around during this time of year.  They tend to like being around food and tend to be found quite often at picnic grounds, barbeques, swimming pools.  They also are found near gardens, lawns, and parks.  Note that stinging insects can be anywhere and sensitive individuals should always practice avoidance measures and carry an epinephrine auto-injector (e.g., EpiPen, Auvi-Q, Adrenaclick), if prescribed by an allergist such as the board certified allergists at Black & Kletz Allergy.  If an individual uses their epinephrine auto-injector, they should immediately go to the closest emergency room.  Life-threatening anaphylactic reactions (i.e., anaphylaxis) to stinging insects do occur and anyone who has had any type of systemic reaction in the past to a stinging insect should definitely see a board certified allergist for venom testing and possible venom immunotherapy (i.e. “bee shots”), since venom immunotherapy is highly effective in preventing anaphylactic reactions with future stings.

Non-stinging insects such as mosquitoes are more prevalent in the Summer and tend to migrate near standing fresh water.  Even a small puddle is enough standing water to act as a reservoir for the breeding of mosquitoes.  Most of the reactions to non-stinging insects involve a local redness and/or swelling of the skin.  There may be pain and/or itching associated with the bites.  In rarer situations, an individual may experience an anaphylactic reaction.  If this occurs it is important to use an epinephrine auto-injector and immediately go to the closest emergency room.

Non-allergens (i.e., irritants) such as smog, smoke, ozone, diesel fuel, dust particulates, and automobile exhaust also may cause allergy-like and/or asthma symptoms in many susceptible individuals.  Automobile exhaust in combination with the heat of summer and ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun contribute greatly to increased levels of ozone and smog.  In addition to ozone and smog, dust particulates and smoke are two more non-allergic irritants that contribute to air pollution.  Air pollution is unhealthy to human life when the pollution level or air quality index (i.e., AQI) rises to above 150.  Note that the AQI ranges from 0 to 500.  AQI’s above 100 are unhealthy for certain sensitive groups of people (e.g., people with lung disease).  AQI’s above 300 are hazardous to everyone.

The board certified allergy specialists at Black & Kletz Allergy have over 50 years’ experience in the diagnosis and treatment of environmental allergies and insect sting and bite allergies.  Although these conditions may be more prevalent in the Summer, environmental allergies are a perennial problem and most sensitive individuals have year-round symptoms.  Black & Kletz Allergy specializes in both adults and children who have allergies and/or asthma.  We have 3 locations in the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area.  Our offices are located in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA), and Manassas, VA.  There is on-site parking at each location and the Washington, DC and McLean offices are Metro accessible.  There is also a free shuttle that runs between our McLean, VA office and the Spring Hill metro station on the silver line.

If you would like us to help you with your allergies and/or asthma, please call us at one of our office locations that are convenient for you.  Alternatively, you can click Request an Appointment and we respond within 24 hours by the next business day.  We are here in order for us to make your Summers more enjoyable by eliminating or markedly reducing your allergy and/or asthma symptoms.

Mosquito Bite Reactions

The onset of summer brings with it the menace of mosquitoes.  Though we are more concerned about diseases transmitted by mosquitoes such as malaria, encephalitis, dengue fever, chikungunya, West Nile virus, yellow fever, filariasis (elephantiasis), Western equine encephalitis, Eastern equine encephalitis, Japanese encephalitis, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, St. Louis encephalitis, La Crosse encephalitis, Ross River fever, Rift Valley fever, and most recently Zika virus-related illnesses, adverse reactions to mosquito bites can be very severe in susceptible individuals.

Mosquitoes inject their saliva into the tiny blood vessels in our skin, before sucking the blood. Immunological reactions to the chemicals in the saliva of the mosquito are usually responsible for the untoward reactions.  The chemicals can also interfere with the clotting mechanism in individuals resulting in local bleeding.

Three types of reactions can occur:

  1. The most common manifestation is localized redness, swelling, and/or itching. The symptoms usually begin a few hours after the bite and usually resolve spontaneously within a few days.
  2. Blistering lesions and/or larger hives (i.e., papular urticaria), sometimes accompanied by mild fever and joint stiffness and pain, may occur and are generally more bothersome than the localized redness, swelling, and/or itching mentioned above.
  3. Very rarely mosquito bites may result in serious generalized reactions (i.e., anaphylaxis), affecting multiple organ systems.

The typical clinical course of sensitization and natural desensitization usually proceeds in five stages:

  1. People who have never been exposed to a particular species of mosquito do not develop reactions to the initial bites from such mosquitoes.
  2. Subsequent bites result in the appearance of delayed local skin reactions.
  3. After repeated bites, immediate wheals may develop.
  4. With further exposure, the delayed local reactions wane and eventually disappear, although the immediate reactions persist.
  5. People who are repeatedly exposed to bites from the same species of mosquito eventually also lose their immediate reactions.


  1. Application of ice and elevating the affected area can help reduce swelling and/or pain.
  2. Blisters need to be cleaned with soap and water.
  3. 1% hydrocortisone cream or ointment which can be found over-the-counter will help control inflammation. This cream or ointment may be applied twice a day for up to 1 week, as there are potential side effects of prolonged use of such steroid creams/ointments.
  4. Oral antihistamines may help relieve itching to some extent.
  5. Antibacterial medications may need to be used if the area becomes infected which is not very common.
  6. In the case of systemic reactions, carrying an epinephrine auto-injector (i.e., EpiPen, Auvi-Q, Adrenaclick) is highly recommended.


  1. Mosquitoes usually breed in pools of standing water. Keeping outdoor areas free of standing water will discourage mosquito breeding.
  2. Mosquito bites occur more often from dusk to dawn. Staying indoors also is advantageous to reduce one’s exposure to mosquitoes.  Using screened windows and screened porches are helpful in reducing mosquito exposure.
  3. Wear protective clothing with long sleeves and pants. Avoid bright colors and heavy perfumes and colognes which can attract mosquitoes.
  4. Insect repellants containing DEET (i.e., N,N-diethyl-3-methyl-benzamide or N,N- diethyl-meta-toluamide) as the active ingredient are most effective. Repellants containing 10 to 25% DEET provide approximately 2 to 6 hours of protection.
  5. Some individuals can be sensitive to DEET, which may cause irritant reactions (e.g., skin rashes, itchy skin, redness of the eyes, watery eyes). Testing the insect repellant on a small area of skin before application over extensive areas is helpful in determining if it is an irritant to a particular individual.  Utilizing only the lowest effective concentration is preferable.
  6. Products containing the active ingredients picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, and IR 3535 (i.e., 3-[N-Butyl-N- acetyl]-aminopropionic acid, ethyl ester or Ethyl 3-[acetyl(butyl)amino]propanoate) are also effective repellants in individuals that do not want to use DEET or react to DEET.

The board certified allergists of Black & Kletz Allergy have had over 50 years of experience dealing with mosquito bite reactions.  Black & Kletz Allergy has 3 office locations in the greater Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland metropolitan area.  The allergy doctors at Black & Kletz Allergy diagnose and treat both adults and children with allergies (e.g., hay fever, food allergies, medication allergies), asthma, hives, swelling episodes, eczema, contact dermatitis, insect bites, bee sting allergies, sinus disease, and immunologic problems.  We have offices in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA), and Manassas, VA and have on-site parking at each location.  The Washington, DC and McLean, VA offices are Metro accessible and there is a free shuttle that runs between our McLean, VA office and the Spring Hill metro    station on the silver line.  Please call us to make an appointment or alternatively, you can click Request an Appointment and we will respond within 24 hours by the next business day.  Black & Kletz Allergy has been striving to provide high quality allergy and asthma care to the residents of the Washington, DC metro area for more than a half a century and we are dedicated to continue delivering state of the art allergy and asthma care in the future.