Hide and Seek with the Sun: Understanding Photosensitivity

Person scratching his flaky hand

Prolonged exposure to the sun is harmful regardless of your age. Absorbing too much ultraviolet radiation (UV rays) raises your chances of developing skin cancer or other skin conditions. This is why being sun smart should be part of your daily routine. Using sunscreen with at least 30+ sun protection factor (SPF), wearing protective clothing and hats, and seeking shade are simple but effective ways to reduce sun exposure.

However, if you (or anyone you know) still get sunburnt after taking every possible precaution, you may need to visit the nearest dermatologist in Murray. You may have a sun allergy and need to take medication (or stop using certain ones) to deal with the former.

Unusual Sensitivity to Sunlight

Sun allergy or photosensitivity happens when your immune system recognizes sun-exposed skin as foreign cells and reacts abnormally to it. The reaction often presents itself as rashes, blisters, or hives and look like sunburn or eczema. The affected area may also feel hot or painful.

Sun allergy reactions can occur anytime from less than half an hour to several hours after your skin is exposed to the sun. Apart from sunlight, artificial sources of UV rays may also cause photosensitivity. Both UVA (long wavelengths) and UVB (short wavelengths) can trigger allergic reactions.

Photoallergic vs. Phototoxic Reactions

There are two common types of photosensitive reactions: photoallergic and phototoxic.

A photoallergic reaction is less common among the two. Topical medications or creams and photosensitizing agents generally trigger this response. Symptoms (eczema-type rash) start showing between one to three days after your exposure to the sun and the photosensitizing substance, ranging from sunscreens and cosmetics to perfume.

A phototoxic reaction can appear within 24 hours of sun exposure. This type of photosensitivity is harsher than a photoallergic one. It occurs after a sun-sensitizing drug or medicine absorbs UV light and releases it into the skin, which kills the skin cells around it. Phototoxic reactions are limited to the part of the skin that’s exposed to UV light, although symptoms may persist for up to two decades after you stop taking the medication that triggered the allergy.

Staying Away from Active Ingredients

Woman applying a skincare productActive ingredients are found in all kinds of skin care products. These ingredients treat different skin problems, such as clogged pores, fine lines, and hyperpigmentation. Unfortunately, some active ingredients can trigger photosensitivity, whether it’s applied topically or taken orally.

  • Retinol or Vitamin A
  • Alpha hydroxyl acids like glycolic acid
  • Hydroquinone (a lightening agent)

Meanwhile, specific medications that trigger phototoxicity include amiodarone, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, and drugs in the tetracycline family (an antibiotic for treating infections and acne).

Skin Cancer and Diseases Related to Sun Allergies

Sun-sensitizing medications and active ingredients do more than trigger sun allergies. It can even exacerbate other existing skin conditions like eczema, inflame scar tissue, and raise your likelihood of developing melanoma or basal cell carcinoma. After all, abnormal photosensitivity makes it easier for your skin to develop sun or UV damage, which is a risk factor for skin cancer.

Other diseases also tied to photosensitivity include:

  • Lupus erythematosus
  • Psoriasis
  • Rosacea
  • Chronic actinic dermatitis
  • Pseudoporphyria

Photosensitivity is a serious condition with serious consequences if not treated immediately. Consulting with your dermatologist to identify medications that triggered the condition and taking preventive measures to prevent another bout of sun allergies will protect you from skin cancer and other skin diseases.

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