Sun Allergies

Painful sunburns and the risk of skin cancer is generally the first thing that we think about when we're warned about the dangers of sun exposure. There is another common reaction that is becoming increasingly more common: Sun allergies.

Public awareness about sun allergies is surprisingly low for how common the problem is. Similar to sunburns, the symptoms often appear quickly after exposure to the sun within minutes to hours after exposure. People with this problem have an immunological response to sunlight, and may even react to fluorescent lights. Some people will have a hereditary susceptibility to sunlight, while others have a reaction when triggered by an event or exposure to certain substances. Typical symptoms of sun allergies include:

  • Skin rashes
  • Blisters or hives
  • Scaled patches
  • Itching and burning
  • The appearance will vary from person to person

It isn't clear what causes sun allergies, and who is likely to get one. There certainly are hereditary factors, but many people also develop sun allergies later on in life. Sun allergies tend to affect women more commonly, but can also affect some men. There are also substances, many of them common that are known to trigger reactions in some people. Some risk factors include:

  • Parents or relatives with sun allergies
  • Taking medications like tetracycline antibiotics, sulfa-based drugs or certain pain medications
  • Exposure to certain substances like fragrances, disinfectants can trigger a reaction when it is combined with sun exposure.
  • Caucasians tend to have a higher rate of the most common type of sun allergy called polymorphous light eruption
  • Having other skin conditions like eczema increases the risk of sun allergies

If you believe that you may have a sun allergy, it's always a good idea to see a doctor. Doctors will often be able to diagnose the symptoms visually, but there may be cases where further testing is required. UV light testing, photo-patch testing is common, and in some cases blood tests may be required to rule out other potentially serious conditions.

Treatments for sun allergies often aim to mitigate the symptoms using corticosteroids. The key to treatment is prevention-avoiding sun exposure, and using sunscreens regularly. For many people, the allergies are also seasonal and they should be especially careful during that period. Moisturizing the skin and applying other soothing lotions like calamine may help.

Prevention will be a critical pillar of treating sun allergies.

  • Limit your exposure. Use broad spectrum sunscreens on a regular basis, and stay out of the sun between 10am and 3pm if you can help it.
  • Be especially careful during the start of spring and summer. The changing of the seasons is a common time when allergy symptoms appear.
  • Sunglasses and protective clothing are also important. Although it's rarely talked about T-shirts, hats, and sunglasses all provide some protection from the sun.
  • Sun protection is important for everyone, but if you have sun allergies this advice is especially important for you.