Getting sunscreen in your eyes - health risks and what to do
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Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world, caused by ultraviolet (UV) light damaging the DNA in skin cells – the main source of UV light being sunlight.

When it comes to your sunscreen routine, while easily forgotten, you should always make sure to put it on your eyelids, said Jane Styche, Eye Unit Manager at Benenden Hospital, part of Benenden Health.

She advised: “The skin on your eyelids is particularly thin, putting it at risk of UV damage if you forgo it.

“By applying sunscreen to your eyelids, you provide an additional layer of protection, shielding this sensitive area from the damaging effects of UV radiation.”

As with anything being applied close to the eyes, it’s important you try and avoid getting anything into the eye itself. Otherwise, this can lead to eye discomfort and further issues, some more severe than others.

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There are two major health risks for getting sunscreen in your eyes, according to Nimmi Mistry, professional services optician at Vision Direct.

She explained: “The most common side effect of sunscreen in your eyes is simple irritation. Sunscreen ingredients, such as avobenzone, octinoxate, or oxybenzone, can irritate the front surface of the eye.

“This could result in redness, itching, stinging, and/or a burning sensation. If the eye irritation persists or is severe, you should seek medical advice.”

Also, some people may be sensitive or allergic to certain ingredients in sunscreen.

She added: “Exposure to these ingredients in the eyes can trigger an allergic reaction, resulting in potential swelling.”

While sunscreen can cause stinging in the eye there has not been any documented permanent eye damage or vision loss, said Niamh McMillan, Pharmacy Superintendent at Superdrug.

She advised: “Different types of sun creams are less likely to cause stinging than others. Mineral suncreams (like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide) have become less popular due to ‘white case’ but they can sting the eyes less than chemical suncreams.”

So what’s the best way to get sunscreen out of your eyes?

Nimmi offered the following advice:

Rinse your eye

Immediately flush your eye with plenty of clean, cool water. Tilt your head to the side and hold your affected eye open while pouring a gentle stream of water over it. Allow the water to flow over your eye several times to help remove the suncream. Blink your eye repeatedly while rinsing with water. This helps to further flush out the sunscreen.

Remove contact lenses (if applicable)

If you wear contact lenses, it’s important to remove them with clean hands if sunscreen gets into your eye. The best advice would be to throw these lenses away and replace them with a fresh pair when the discomfort has faded. If that’s not possible, then follow the manufacturer’s instructions for removing and cleaning your lenses before reinserting them.

If you find yourself needing to frequently dispose of lenses due to situations such as these, then it may be best to switch to daily disposable lenses.

Avoid rubbing your eyes

While it may be tempting to rub your eye to alleviate the discomfort and itchiness of the suncream in your eye, try to avoid doing so. Rubbing can cause further irritation and aggravate your eye. Not only that but, if you rub your eye with unwashed hands, you are at risk of adding more irritants to the eye or even causing an infection.

Seek medical attention (if necessary)

If the discomfort persists or you experience severe pain, vision changes, or any other concerning symptoms, it’s advisable to seek medical attention. Visit your GP, A&E or a walk-in centre for a professional evaluation and appropriate treatment.

As well as putting sunscreen around your eyes, Dr Romesh Angunawela, co-founder and consultant ophthalmic surgeon at OCL Vision, recommends wearing good quality sunglasses with UVA and UVB wavelength light protection while out in the sun.

He said: “Good quality sunglasses will state the degree of UV protection.”

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