What is Sun Sensitivity?

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  • Originally Written By: Desi C.
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2019
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Sun sensitivity, sometimes also described as a “sun allergy,” is a skin reaction that happens in response to ultraviolet (UV) exposure from the sun. To a certain extent, all humans have some level of sun sensitivity, and this is what leads to things like sunburn. The medical understanding of true sensitivity usually goes a bit beyond this, though, and typically requires a more immediate or adverse reaction to light. Some people get hives or rashes unrelated to sunburn, for instance, and it’s also common for a person to feel nauseated and dizzy after solar exposure. Sometimes the cause is genetic, and people may be born with it. More commonly, though, it’s caused by some chemical solution that a person puts on his or her skin, like lotion or fragrance, or some type of medication, either oral or topical. It could also be a side effect of certain medical conditions, particularly skin ailments like rosacea or psoriasis. Medical professionals can sometimes help people overcome their sensitivity with medication or lifestyle chances, but it’s often the case that sufferers simply need to stay indoors or else wear long clothing and seek shade when outside.


Natural Sensitivity

People of all races, ethnicities, and ages can be susceptible to sun sensitivity, but when the condition occurs naturally it’s most common amongst people with very light skin. On top of this, people who have sensitivities to things like fragrances and perfumes are often more at risk, as are those with very dry skin. One of the more common causes of sun sensitivity in these people is the initial exposure to high UV rays after a period of low UV exposure The development of sunburn is the most immediate result of the sensitivity to the sun's rays, but longer-lasting rashes and hives can happen, too.

Chemical Solutions

Sometimes the cause is something that a person is putting on his or her skin. While the ingredients in most commercial lotions, colognes, and perfumes are safe for liberal use, a lot depends on individual skin chemistry. A product that might cause no problems for one person could cause light sensitivity in another. Antibiotic ointment or cream is one of the biggest causes in most places. People can and often do experience sensitivity to the sun without experiencing any other side effects or reactions. Reactions are usually limited to the areas of skin that were exposed to the chemical ingredients, too.

Role of Medication

Another very common cause is medication. Skin ointments and medicated creams can produce sensitivity, but it’s often also related to drugs ingested orally. Ibuprofen and naproxen sodium, both pain relievers with anti-inflammatory properties, are known to have various side effects, one which is increased sensitivity to the sun. Oral contraceptives and certain contraceptive devices can be a cause of sensitivity, too. Many of the harshest drugs used to fight cancer have this side effect as well.

Certain Foods

Some foods and natural products can trigger this sort of reaction. The more common foods that are known to do so are parsnip, parsley, lime, and celery. The essential oils of lemon, lime, rosemary, and cedar are natural products that should be used with care. People usually have to ingest great quantities of these foods to experience symptoms, and when intake wanes, so, too, does sensitivity in most cases. Still, people who are already prone to the condition can make things worse if these foods are a regular part of their diets.

Health-Related Causes

There are a number of health conditions that have been known to cause this problem, too. These conditions include psoriasis, dermatitis, lupus, and rosacea. Sensitivity in these cases might seem like a normal flare-up of the condition, but most of the time symptoms are exacerbated if not caused completely by the sun.

Treatment Options

People who think that they might suffer from solar sensitivity usually need to visit a doctor or skin care specialist for help and an accurate diagnosis. Care providers can administer a photo-patch test to help pinpoint the cause of the sensitivity. It may take some time to figure out exactly what the culprit is, and it will likely require a process of elimination, in which one factor at a time is eliminated.

Prevention is also a big part of the solution in most cases. All people, whether they suffer from sensitivity or not, should typically wear sunscreen and light colored clothing when exposed to the sun. Those with documented sensitivity who nevertheless need to be in the sun for extended periods of time might consider treating laundry with some type of UV sun guard to block even more rays and help prevent the problem from occurring or reoccurring.


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Post 2

My cousin was using Retin-A and wasn't able to get into the sun at all. She said the doctor cautioned her very strongly about it and said she could do a lot of damage to her skin if she did.

A friend's husband is very sensitive to the sun. He cannot get out in it at all, not even with good sunblock. He's very prone to severe sunburn and just can't tolerate a lot of sun.

I have really thin, fine hair, and if I don't wear a hat, I'll get a sunburned scalp, which is no fun at all. I also have a place on my arm that I always put extra sunscreen on because I'm afraid it might react badly to the sun.

Post 1

When my mom was having chemotherapy, the doctor told her to stay out of the sun because she could burn more easily, and because of the chemo, if she did get burned, it could be more severe and consequently, take a lot longer to heal.

Fortunately, her chemo was in the winter and very early spring, so it didn't interfere with her gardening, any. He said if she went out to get into the garden, to wear long pants, long sleeves, sunblock, sunglasses, gloves and a big hat. She did what he said though, and pretty much stayed inside. Apparently, it's a common thing for doctors to tell chemo and radiation patients to avoid the sunlight.

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