Yet there’s one simple step you may have overlooked that is just as important: Checking out the medicine cabinet and pantry for products that may raise your risk of sun sensitivity.
Prescription drugs, over-the-counter pain relievers, herbal remedies such as St. John’s wort, perfumes, exfoliating skin care products, and even some sunscreens can increase sensitivity to the sun. And some foods may boost it, too. Contact with a lime peel can produce an intense burn, so watch out for those poolside margaritas and vodka tonics.
Excessive sun can also age skin prematurely, causing wrinkles and brown spots.
Sun Sensitivity: What It Is
Sensitivity to the sun, also called photosensitivity, is a reaction set off by the sun’s ultraviolet rays. One type is a phototoxic reaction, which occurs when UV radiation reacts with a drug to form compounds that damage the skin. Sunburn-like symptoms show up within a few minutes or as long as several hours after exposure, on sun-exposed skin only.
Less common are photoallergic reactions, which usually happen when UV light changes a substance applied to the skin, causing an immune response. Bumps, hives, blisters, or red blotches may appear as soon as 20 seconds after getting out in the sun, but more often show up from one to three days later. Skin irritation most often occurs on exposed areas but can spread to other areas.
The reaction depends on the individual, the substance, the amount taken, and the amount of UV exposure. People with light skin, already considered the most sun-sensitive, are more susceptible to phototoxic reactions. The melanin in darker skins is believed to offer some protection. Those with compromised immune systems, such as people with HIV/AIDS, may also be more prone to sun sensitivity.
The effects can wear off quickly if they’re caused by physically or chemically removing the outer layer of skin (through products like oatmeal scrubs or chemical peels), says Barbara R. Reed, MD, a clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Colorado Hospital in Denver. But the effects may worsen over time if they’re caused by an allergy.