Spending time outdoors in the sun is relaxing, but it can also lead to a scalding sunburn – especially in fair-skinned people. Even people who normally don’t burn cab have problems if they’re taking photosensitive medications that increase sun sensitivity. Before putting on a pair of shorts or bathing suit and heading out into the sun, take some time to review your medications – and learn how to avoid an unpleasant photosensitivity reaction.
What Causes Photosensitivity Reactions?
A photosensitivity reaction occurs when a chemical, such as a medication, and light interact – leading to a serious skin reaction or burn. Some medications become “activated” as they absorb energy from the sun. Once activated, they damage tissue by producing free radicals and inflammatory chemicals – which leads to reddened skin that resembles a bad sunburn. This type of photosensitivity reaction can occur on any sun exposed area – even the scalp. Like a bad sunburn, skin that undergoes a photosensitivity reaction can be sore and painful, but the redness is usually limited to areas of the skin that are exposed to light.
The list of medications that can cause a photosensitivity reaction is quite extensive. Even cosmetics, perfumes, and the sunscreen used to protect the skin can cause a reaction. Some groups of medications that increase sun sensitivity include antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, diuretics, seizure medications, heart medications, diabetes drugs, anti-fungals, and psychiatric drugs.
Because the list of drugs that can cause problems is so long, it’s best to check with your doctor before heading out in the sun if you’re on medications. Don’t forget that a medication doesn’t have to be taken by mouth to increase sun sensitivity. Retinoids used topically to treat acne are well known for causing photosensitivity reactions.
How to Prevent a Photosensitivity Reaction
The best way to avoid this problem is to stay out of the sun entirely if you’re taking medications that increase sun sensitivity. If you have to venture out in the sun while taking a photosensitive medication, wear a high quality sunblock with an SPF of at least thirty that filters out both UVA and UVB light. Look for one that’s hypoallergenic and contains zinc oxide or titanium oxide since they’re less likely to contain photosensitizing chemicals.
Usually a photosensitivity reaction to the sun is treated like a bad sunburn. In severe cases, a doctor may prescribe corticosteroids to reduce the inflammation. In most cases, the symptoms will subside a few days after sun exposure is avoided, although in some cases it can takes weeks or months for the redness to completely resolve.
Photosensitive Medications and the Sun: The Bottom Line?
Check your medications before heading out for a day in the sun. It could save you a lot of discomfort.