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Sunburn and Other Sun Reactions of the Skin

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Photosensitivity continued...

Photosensitivity has been linked to:

  • Contact with chemicals, fragrances, or plants
  • Medicines (including sulfonamides, tetracycline, and thiazide diuretics) that are taken internally
  • Herbs including St. John's wort
  • Autoimmune diseases such as lupus erythematosus
  • Porphyria, a metabolic disorder that is sometimes hereditary

Symptoms of photosensitivity

Symptoms of photosensitivity may include a pink or red skin rash with blotchy blisters, scaly patches, or raised spots on areas directly exposed to the sun. Itching and burning may occur and the rash may last for several days. In some people, the reaction to sunlight gradually becomes less with subsequent exposures.

Photosensitivity treatments

Some types of photosensitivity may respond to specific treatments such as oral beta-carotene, steroids, or other medications.

Polymorphous Light Eruption

Polymorphic light eruption (PMLE) is a condition in which skin rashes can develop after fairly limited sun exposure. PMLE usually affects females between the ages of 20 and 40. The condition also can affect children and less commonly, men. 

Symptoms of PMLE

The term 'polymorphic' refers to the fact that the rash can take many forms. A common kind of PMLE resembles groups of pink or red raised spots on the arms. Other areas, including the legs and chest, also may be affected. Sometimes the rash has blisters and larger dry, red spots. The rash is accompanied by a burning or itching that can last for several days.

PMLE Treatments

In severe cases, a doctor may recommend oral steroids to treat PMLE. Hydroxychloroquine, a drug used to treat skin conditions, sometimes is recommended.

Skin Care Tips

To protect your skin from the sun, consider these tips:

  • Avoid the sun during peak hours (usually 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.)
  • Dress sensibly. The tighter the weave and darker the colors of the fabric, the more sun protection it will offer. Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
  • Avoid deliberate sunbathing, including tanning beds.
  • Use a sunscreen of at least 30 SPF even on cloudy days. Sunscreens should be applied about 20 minutes before going outdoors. Even water-resistant sunscreens should be reapplied about every two hours, after swimming, or after strenuous activity.
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