Author: Connie Kerkhove, Clinical Pharmacist
The hot summer sun can feel like enemy number one for people with light sensitivity. Light sensitivity can change the way you perform day-to-day activities, especially in the summertime. People taking certain medications and people who have chronic health conditions may be more sensitive to light. Learn more about photosensitivity and how you can manage it this summer.
What is Photosensitivity?
Photosensitivity has many different names. You may hear it called sun sensitivity or light sensitivity. Basically photosensitivity means your body may react differently to sun exposure due to a medical condition or medication. If your medication is photosensitive, it may cause a skin reaction when you go out in the sun. If you are more light sensitive because of a chronic condition, the sun may trigger your symptoms.
Phototoxicity vs. Photoallergy
When photosensitivity is caused by a medication, it’s often classified into two kinds of photosensitivity reactions. Depending on your prescription, you may experience phototoxicity or photoallergy.
Phototoxic medications are more common than photoallergic ones. Phototoxicity can occur when the medication in your system is exposed to sunlight and causes skin damage. Many people with phototoxicity get a burning or stinging rash on the areas of skin exposed to the sun. In more severe cases, the sun-sensitive skin may blister and peel.
With photoallergic reactions, the medication changes in response to sun exposure. Your body’s immune system then sees the medicine as an unwelcome guest and responds with skin inflammation. Photoallergic reactions often include redness, itchiness and swelling and may resemble eczema. Since this is more of an allergic reaction, symptoms may not develop right away. If you start to notice skin rashes after going in the sun, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.
Click here for more information about sun-sensitive drugs.
Conditions that May Worsen with Sun Exposure
There are several conditions that may worsen with prolonged sun exposure. For example, if sunlight is one of your migraine triggers you may be photosensitive. In addition to migraines, people with lupus, psoriasis, rosacea, vitiligo and other skin conditions may notice heightened sunlight sensitivity.
How Do I Know if I Have Photosensitivity?
Whether it’s because of a medical condition or a medication, some people don’t realize their skin is more sensitive to light. Take note if your condition flares after spending time outside or in bright light. If you start to notice rashes or irritated skin after spending time under the sun, you may be photosensitive. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if your condition or the medication you’re taking may cause photosensitivity.
How Do I Protect Myself From Sun Exposure?
If you are sensitive to light, you don’t have to spend your summer hiding indoors. There are plenty of ways for you to enjoy being outside without aggravating your photosensitivity.
Sunscreen is important, whether you’re photosensitive or not. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that you put sunscreen on at least 15 minutes before going outside and reapply at least every two hours. Remember to cover all skin that is exposed to the sun, including your lips, the back of your ears and your scalp.
Look for sunscreen that has broad-spectrum protection for both UVA and UVB rays and has SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of at least 30. Be sure to reapply regularly. If your photosensitivity is linked to a skin condition, consult with your dermatologist to find the best sunscreen for you or visit the Skin Cancer Foundation Website.
Cover Your Skin
Long sleeves and lightweight pants keep your skin covered in the summer while still keeping you cool. Look for clothes made out of cotton and linen fabrics. Hats, especially those with a wide brim, can keep you in the shade on a sunny day. Some clothing manufacturers make clothes with built-in UV protection. If your skin is extra sensitive to the sun, this might be a good investment.
Avoid Intense Sun
Try to avoid going out in the intense midday sun. The sun is generally at its peak between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Plan your outdoor activities for early morning or later in the evening to avoid this window and avoid unwanted sun exposure.
Spend Time in the Shade
When you are outside, try to stay in the shade. If there’s no shade available, consider using an umbrella made from UV fabric to create your own. UV umbrellas ensure that you’ll always be able to sit in the shade and avoid the sun’s damaging rays.
Polarized sunglasses are designed to protect your eyes from UV rays. These sunglasses have a filter to reduce the sun’s glare and help make it more comfortable to see in intense light. This can be a great accessory if your photosensitivity triggers migraine headaches.
Whether or not you’re not sensitive to light, remember to protect your skin this summer. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you think you are photosensitive because of a medication or medical condition. Amber Pharmacy’s Dermatology Center of Excellence can help you manage a variety of skin conditions, which may be connected to your sun sensitivity. Click here for more information about sun-sensitizing medications or talk to your Amber Pharmacy clinical pharmacist.