Having polymorphous light eruption (PMLE), also known as polymorphic light eruption (PLE), can make the spring and summer seasons a frustrating and sometimes painful experience.
While the most common recommendation for those who suffer from PMLE is to avoid the sun, wear clothing that protects most of your skin, and remain in the shade, following these guidelines consistently can be inconvenient and often impossible. After long cold months, you simply want to enjoy the warmth of the sun and the fun outdoor activities that come with it.
PMLE can ruin your summer vacations and other exciting outdoor opportunities only if you let it. There are sunscreens out there that can help prevent PMLE outbreaks and protect PMLE-affected skin, so you can enjoy the sun safely! So, the question is, what is the best sunscreen for PMLE?
After doing thorough research into requirements for sunscreen to be effective for PMLE sufferers, SimplySunSafe recommends Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc Sunscreen SPF 30 as the best sunscreen for PMLE. Read on for a detailed buyer’s guide, comparison table, and in-depth reviews of the top 5 sunscreens for PMLE.
Because PMLE is a caused by photosensitive skin reacting to sun exposure, there a number of factors to take into account when you are looking for the best sunscreen for polymorphous light eruption.
Broad spectrum protection
When you are out in the sun you need to be aware of the ways in which your skin can be harmed. The sun has two different types of ultraviolet (UV) radiation that can cause damage to our skin: UVA and UVB.
UVA exposure can increase the rate of photodermatitis and melanoma by penetrating deep into the skin’s thickest layer, this is what can cause sunspots and premature aging.
UVB rays affect the tops layers of your skin. Overexposure to UVB rays causes the redness and pain of sunburns.
The entire range of the UV spectrum (which includes UVA, UVB, and visible light) has the potential to stimulate pigment production in the skin (and therefore PMLE rashes). This is why it is important to make sure you are getting a sunscreen that is broad spectrum – to ensure you are keeping your skin as safe as possible.
The FDA only allows sunscreens to be marked as broad spectrum if they are proven to protect against both UVA and UVB, so make sure the sunscreen you choose to protect your PMLE-affected skin is broad spectrum before you buy.
Best SPF for PMLE
Sun protection factor (SPF) is the most common system for rating the effectiveness of sunscreen, and the most recognizable to consumers. While the system is popular most people don’t really understand what those particularly prominent numbers on sunscreen packaging really mean.
It’s not quite as simple as most people assume. For instance, while it is true that higher SPF sunscreens provide more effective sun protection, the increase between the SPF numbers doesn’t result in the drastic increase in protection you might think.
This is because SPF works on a weird fraction system. SPF 15 sunscreen lets 1/15th of UVB radiation reach your skin while SPF 30 lets 1/30th of this radiation get to you. So, although you might think SPF 30 offer twice the protection of SPF 15 (which is understandable), this is far from true.
Here is a table so you can get a better idea of how the rating system works. This shows the UVB protection each SPF rating provides (the percentage of radiation blocked):
|SPF Rating||UVB Protection|
This makes things a lot clearer. They should just put these numbers on the bottle!
While there is a significant jump from SPF 2 to 15, there is only a 4% difference in sun protection between the standard SPF 15 and 30 ratings. The difference is even smaller, 2%, between SPF 30 and 100! This just shows how confusing the system is and why the FDA now caps sunscreen SPFs at 50+. This prevents sneaky marketers from taking advantage of the common misunderstanding of this system.
The question is, what SPF is best for PMLE?
Dermatologists recommend SPF 30 or more. Because no sunscreen is 100% effective, stopping 97% is considered great protection. If you suffer from PMLE you might be cautious and want to choose a sunscreen with a higher number. Just remember that the difference between SPF 30 and 50 is only a 1% increase in protection.
You must also keep in mind the proper application and reapplication are perhaps more important than SPF. Sunscreens must be reapplied at least every 2 hours to continue to keep your skin protected.
On top of this you have to take into consideration water and sweating, as they wash sunscreen off faster and thus you will need to reapply more often. This is why, reapplication, sun protective clothing, and seeking natural shade are important factors in sun protection. These extra steps are especially important PMLE sufferers.
Physical is better than chemical
It is important to understand the difference between physical and chemical sunscreens. Physical sunscreens work by reflecting sunlight. Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing the harmful UV radiation before it can affects your skin.
SimplySunSafe prefers physical sunscreens to chemical sunscreens for a number of reasons. Most importantly, physicals stop more radiation and do so across a wider spectrum. This is especially important for those with photosensitive skin sensitivity (like PMLE sufferers). On top of this they:
- Work immediately upon application
- Last longer on the skin
- Are less likely to cause irritation
- Have a longer shelf life
While most physical sunscreens are labeled as physical or mineral, if you cannot find this, you can look at the ingredients. The two most common active ingredients are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
Those are the arguments for physical sunscreens, but there are also reasons to avoid chemical sunscreens. The biggest of reason is that a lot of common chemical sunscreens are endocrine disruptors. This means they absorb through your skin into your body and mess with your hormones – something you’d probably prefer didn’t happen.
The worst of these sunscreen ingredients is oxybenzone which is so bad it’s been blacklisted by human health authority EWG. Unfortunately a lot of big cosmetic companies still include this ingredient in their sunscreens. If you’ve got your heart set on a chemical sunscreen, please makes sure at the very least that it doesn’t contain oxybenzone.
If not, choose one of the physical sunscreens SimplySunSafe has recommended here to ensure you’re getting the best possible protection for your PMLE.
Zinc oxide over titanium dioxide
Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are the two physical sunscreens (the use of either is preferable to chemical sunscreens). Research indicates that zinc oxide is a more effective active ingredient in sunscreen than its counterpart titanium dioxide. Zinc oxide protects you from more of the dangerous UVA spectrum and Is less likely to cause irritation to sensitive skin.
This combination of features is important to PMLE sufferers as you are particularly photosensitive and your skin is prone to itchy and potentially painful rashes. You need the best sun protection with no chance of irritation. This makes zinc oxide the best sunscreen ingredient for PMLE.
Suitable for daily use
PMLE sufferers need consistent protection without irritation. This means your sunscreen will need to have a gentle formula that doesn’t affect your condition or trigger other skin sensitivities.
All of the sunscreens SimplySunSafe has chosen as suitable for PMLE have gentle formulas. Read through each product’s review in detail to get a better idea of the ingredients used and whether they will suit your skin’s needs.
PMLE is more likely to affect women than men which makes the cosmetic features of the best sunscreen for PMLE important. The sunscreens recommended are designed to dry to a clear and matte finish when applied properly (enough product is rubbed in effectively and allowed to dry and absorb).
This means these sunscreens are able to be seamlessly introduced into your existing beauty routine to form a base for makeup while offering amazing sun protection. As a rule of thumb, apply the sunscreen about 20 minutes before your makeup to give it enough time to dry.
Although not a necessary feature for PMLE, water resistance may be important to PMLE sufferers who want to enjoy as much of the sunshine and as many summer activities as possible. (The terms water and sweat proof can’t be used anymore.)
If you do plan on going swimming or working up a sweat I’ve included a couple of recommendation to ensure your sensitive skin remains protected in tough conditions. Just check the comparison table and you’ll find a couple of water resistant sunscreens designed to stay put while you’re enjoying summer.
Water resistant sunscreens are classified as providing either 40 or 80 minutes of protection, so be aware that it does not last as long as regular sunscreens (2 hours) when fully immersed in water or constantly affected by sweat. You’ll need to apply consistently to for optimal effectiveness.
Best Sunscreen for PMLE Comparison
|Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc||Nurture My Body Sunscreen||True Natural Sunscreen||Blue Lizard Sensitive||La Roche-Posay Anthelios|
|Active ingredients||Zinc Oxide (18.4%)||Zinc Oxide (25%)||Zinc Oxide (22.5%) & Titanium Dioxide (6%)||Zinc Oxide (10%) & Titanium Dioxide (5%)||Titanium Dioxide (11%)|
|Water resistant||80 minutes||No||No||No||40 minutes|
5 Best Sunscreens for PMLE
After thorough research into the most effective sun protection products for PMLE which included discussing issues with customers, reviewing customer feedback, examining manufacturer specifications, and participating in skincare forums, and reading medical journals, SimplySunSafe recommends these 5 products as the best sunscreens for polymorphic light eruption.
All of these options a broad-spectrum, physical sunscreens with an SPF of at least 30. They are gentle enough for daily use, dry to an invisible and matte finish and are highly rated for UV protection and ingredient safety by EWG.
Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc Sunscreen SPF 30 is a great product for those with PMLE and is the number one recommended option of SimplySunSafe. It is a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 that provides balanced physical UV protection using a high concentration of zinc oxide (18.4%). This natural sunscreen is excellent for those with sensitive skin and is even safe for children and babies.
For those summer-loving PMLE patients, Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc is water resistant for 80 minutes. This makes it especially suitable if you wish to make the most of the sunshine by going swimming or keeping active while still managing your PMLE.
Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc is a lightweight, hypoallergenic formula that is dairy, soy and gluten free. It feels quite thick in the hand and can take a bit of rubbing in but won’t leave your skin looking or feeling greasy. It works well on the face and as an added bonus moisturizes skin while it protects.
All in all, Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc is an amazing and reasonably priced product that easily came away as the best sunscreen for polymorphous light eruption.
- High concentration of active ingredient
- Formula feels thick
Nurture My Body Sunscreen SPF 32 is an excellent option for those affected by PMLE. It offers broad spectrum protection using the most effective physical sunscreen – zinc oxide. It’s particularly high concentration of zinc oxide (25%) sets it apart from its competitors and makes it a great option for PMLE sufferers because of the comprehensive protection it offers to your photosensitive skin.
This product is safe for adults and children of all ages. It is certified as both 100% organic and natural and is marketed as vegan, oat and nut free, and is not animal tested (completely cruelty-free).
Nurture My Body Sunscreen’s has a noticeably simple formula that makes it well-suited to people with particularly sensitive skin. Some of its ingredients include olive and jojoba oils, shea butter, and vitamin E from non-GMO sunflower seeds. This means it both nourishes and moisturizes skin while protecting offering amazing sun protection.
Users with sun sensitivity love this sunscreen and the company has a fantastic record of making new users repeat customers. You might find the formula a little thick and it may feel greasy. However, just rub it in thoroughly and give it time to dry to ensure you get the best finish.
More expensive than the number one option, Nurture My Body Sunscreen is still a great product that is priced reasonably for the excellent protection is offers.
- High concentration of active ingredient
- Ingredients nourish and moisturize skin
- Thick formula
True Natural Sunscreen SPF 50 is a broad spectrum, high-SPF sunscreen that uses both zinc oxide (22.5%) and titanium dioxide (6%) to provide fantastic physical sun protection for users with sensitive skin.
This is the second vegan sunscreen featured on this list which provides vegan PMLE sufferers with yet another great option. This biodegradable formula was designed specifically for those with allergies and sensitivities (like PMLE) which means it’s unlikely to cause irritation even if you’ve had trouble with other sunscreens in the past.
True Natural Sunscreen contains no added fragrances as an extra measure to ensure users won’t react to the formula and can use this sunscreen on a consistent basis without issue.
One notable drawback to this sunscreen is the consistency and finish of this sunscreen. It is quite thick and can be hard to spread. It does leave a slight white cast that can be managed with additional cosmetics. However, if you’re concerned about the look of the sunscreen this might not be the best option for you.
Despite this, True Natural Sunscreen is a great sunscreen that will allow you to spend the day out in the sun without having any problems with sunburn or PMLE flare ups.
- High concentration of active ingredients
- Made for sensitive skin
- A little pricey
- Slight white cast
Blue Lizard Sensitive SPF 30+ is a highly-recommended sunscreen that is loved by its dedicated users who have nothing but love for the amazing results it provides. It is a broad spectrum sunscreen that uses both zinc oxide (10%) and titanium dioxide (5%) to provide comprehensive and balanced physical UV protection.
The SPF 30 rating means it provides enough protection for PMLE sufferers while its ‘Sensitive’ formulation means it is perfectly suited to people with sensitive skin conditions like PMLE.
The formula is quite cosmetic and has a great feel to it. It’s easy to rub in, dries quickly and doesn’t leave a noticeable white cast – perfect for women who want to use it as a base for makeup.
There are a number of size options from 3 ounces all the way up to 1 gallon. If you love this sunscreen and can’t get enough – commit to the 1 gallon bottle to get the most value for money.
- Formulated for sensitive skin
- Smooth, cosmetic texture
- Lower levels of active ingredients
La Roche-Posay Anthelios 50 is physical sunscreen that uses 11% titanium dioxide to provide effective broad spectrum protection. This sunscreen is highly regarded in the PMLE community and is recommended by both dermatologists and sufferers alike.
Despite its standing in the community, this sunscreen sits in last place on this list for a few reasons.
The first is that it relies purely on titanium dioxide and does not include zinc oxide. This makes it less effective at stopping the longer wavelengths in the UVA1 spectrum. This opens users up to more exposure than necessary and could result in a PMLE flare up if your skin is particularly photo sensitive.
The second is that it is quite expensive – the most expensive per ounce on this list. To get around this you can use this sunscreen exclusively on your face and choose one of the more affordable options for larger surface areas that require a lot of sunscreen.
Despite these pitfalls La Roche-Posay Anthelios 50 is an amazing sunscreen. As I mentioned above, users have nothing but praise for this sunscreen in the PMLE community. It is noticeably cosmetic in its feel which makes for easy application and a fantastic finish that will be invisible under makeup.
Something to keep in mind for this product is that it is lightly tinted to help the sunscreen blend with naturally tan skin tones. This is a selling point for some a deal breaker for others with fairer skin. If you’re naturally fair, La Roche-Posay do have a non-tinted version that has all of this product’s other amazing features, just without the tint.
La Roche-Posay also snuck in 40 minutes water resistance to this product which makes it another great option for those active PMLE sufferers who want to swim and sweat their way through an active summer.
- Lightly tinted
- High SPF
- No zinc oxide
The goal of this guide is to help you find the best sunscreen for polymorphous light eruption. Hopefully it has done this while also helping you to identify and recognise the important features in sunscreen that you need to protect your PMLE affected skin.
SimplySunSafe recommends Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc Sunscreen SPF 30 as the best sunscreen for PLE. It was the best option after accounting for all of the necessary features to protect PMLE sufferers. Having said that, each of these products is an excellent option. So, feel free to test a few of them out to find which is the best fit for you.
If you have other sunscreens or sun protection tips for those suffering from polymorphous light eruption, please comment below and I might add them to this guide!
If you’d like sunscreen recommendations for other skin conditions, SimplySunSafe has a range of guides including sun allergy sunscreen, sensitive skin sunscreen, and rosacea sunscreen. Just go to the top of this page and search for a condition to find the recommendations you’re looking for.