Updated: Prickly heat & sun cream allergies

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.


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’ aka PLE 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 to the filters rather than the other ingredients (I’m fairly sure I am allergic to perfume which won’t be helping), 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

2) An allergy-friendly sun cream

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 or £2 for a pot or tube 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.

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


It’s important to point out here that I may have used the term ‘prickly heat’ 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!

If you’re suffering with prickly heat I’ve written a new, far lengthier and detailed piece on how to stop and get rid of prickly heat on Get The Gloss with some great expert advice – check it out and hope it helps!

I’ve also added a column on my favourite products for prickly heat (or indeed, for sensitive skin in the heat) too.

You might also find my 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. 


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11 thoughts on “Updated: Prickly heat & sun cream allergies

  • It could be possible that you have a condition known as PLE or Polymorphic Light Eruption which is what I have.

    The unfortunate thing with this is that the only treatment is a program of “de-sensitising” which is basically controlled exposure to UV light similar to a sunbed.

    Treatment usually starts in the early spring and you take a pill prior to a treatment which makes your skin even more sensitive to the UV Light.

    The process takes a number of weeks and is a bit tedious if you are working but it does make a difference even if it does make your skin a bit leathery.

  • This is such a good article. I too suffer from stupidly sensitive skin. I found I was allergic to Methylchloroisothiazolinone + Methylisothiazolinone (MCI/MI) after tests when my face turned into one huge blister after using huggies babywipes. The ingredients are used as a preservative in many cosmetic, household and industrial situations.

    I also suffer with the dreaded prickly heat so will try the ultrasun you tried. Aqueous Cream with Calamine is great I also use it but I was away recently and yep, prickly heat got me again and i didnt have the cream. I went to a pharmacy and bought PantheVera …. wow..amazing stuff, brought such relief, smells gorgeous and is really nice to apply. More expensive than Aqueous Cream with Calamine but really is lovely.
    Karen x

  • I’ve have problems with my sun allergy for the last 8 years, and before I was also a person who gets gold brown without burning. I was happy to find this helpful article, as we are going to our vacation in few day and of course I’m worrying about the sun and the allergy, what to take and how to cover myself… I will definitely try the named products, hope it will easy the stress 🙂

  • I am most interested in trying your ‘remedy’ of products as I too suffer from prickly heat/rash (for 15+ years after being able to tan quite easily being blue-eyed with blond hair). I feel like I’ve tried everything (even recommendations from my dermatologist) and nothing seems to work!

    I have a few questions:
    1. Which specific Ultrasun sun cream do you use?
    2. Do you apply it in the morning, and then the Piz Buin’s Allergy before/during sun exposure? Which specific Piz Buin’s Allergy product do you use?
    3. Any other helpful tips would be greatly appreciated!

    Thank you!

  • 1. Which specific Ultrasun sun cream do you use?
    2. Do you apply it in the morning, and then the Piz Buin’s Allergy before/during sun exposure? Which specific Piz Buin’s Allergy product do you use?

  • Hi Jordan & Kim

    I used the Family formula SPF30 super sensitive (pictured) when I wrote this but also use their face cream (SPF 30) and have the SPF 50 extreme formula too.

    I mainly just used Piz Buin’s Allergy Aftersun after sun exposure but I took the sun cream too in case I ran out of Ultrasun, though that’s hard to do as you only apply once! I was fine with both ranges. However I must point out as above I think my main problem was sun cream allergy so this may be why I got on so well with those products.

    Sorry for the delay in replying! You might also find this new column I’ve written helpful – http://www.getthegloss.com/article/sense-and-sensitivity-how-to-stop-prickly-heat

    Judy x

  • hi all
    I had what i thought was prickly heat for years and nothing seemed to work then after doing some research i discovered i have polymorphic light eruption (PLE) I now take Heliocare capsules once a day when the sun is out and use Neutrogena ultra sheer body mist which contains Helioplex, recommended by dermatologists but i have to order it from the USA as it is not available in the UK. For the first time in years i have been itch and blister free!!

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