Are Your Medications Causing You Sun Sensitivity?

One of our most popular blog posts this summer has been on tips to avoid sun exposure. But did you know that medication can also cause sun sensitivity? Medication-induced sun sensitivity occurs when the combination of sunlight and certain medications causes inflammation of the skin. There are two types of medication-induced sun sensitivity: photoallergic and phototoxic.

Photoallergic reactions can be described as red, itchy skin and may spread to areas not exposed to the sun, while phototoxic reactions are much more common, and can develop within minutes to hours following sun exposure. Phototoxic reactions are only seen in areas exposed to the sun, and typically show up as exaggerated sunburn.

Not every person who uses sun-sensitizing medications will have a reaction. If it does happen, it can be a one-time occurrence, or it can happen each time the drug is taken and sun exposure occurs. Sun-sensitizing drugs and sun exposure can aggravate existing skin conditions, such as eczema and herpes, may inflame scar tissue, and can also worsen or even trigger autoimmune disorders, such as lupus.

Can sunscreen help? Absolutely! Sunscreen will lessen the impact of sun exposure; however, some ingredients in sunscreens are potentially sun-sensitizing, so in rare circumstances, it can worsen symptoms.

Prevention is key for patients taking medications that can cause sun sensitivity. Here are some tips for preventing sun sensitivity:

  • Minimize sun exposure.
  • Use UVA-protective sunscreens that contain any of the following ingredients: avobenzone, diooxybenzone, oxybenzone, titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.
  • Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours.
  • Use protective barriers, such as sunglasses, clothing, and wide-brimmed hats. Light-weight, long-sleeve fishing shirts and pants are great options.
  • Avoid tanning beds.

If sun sensitivity occurs, here are some tips for managing the symptoms:

  • Apply skin protectants that contain the following active ingredients: allantoin, cocoa butter, petrolatum, shark liver oil and white petrolatum (A+D Original Ointment, Lantiseptic, Calamine, Boudreaux’s Butt Paste, etc.).
  • Apply topical pain relievers, such as benzocaine (Americaine, etc.) or lidocaine (Solarcaine, etc.). Only apply to intact skin, on localized areas and for short periods of time.
  • Try taking pain relievers, such as Tylenol (acetaminophen), Motrin (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen).
  • Apply cooling creams or gels, such as Pond’s Cold Cream or fresh aloe vera juice from an aloe vera plant.
  • Apply cool compresses.
  • If open blisters occur, antibacterial creams may be necessary to prevent infection.
  • Severe reactions may need oral or topical corticosteroids.
  • Oral antihistamines (Benadryl, Claritin, Allegra, etc.) can help alleviate itching related to photosensitivity.

If you have any questions regarding medication-induced sun sensitivity, feel free to ask your pharmacist or other healthcare professional.

Megan McKenzie

Megan McKenzie, Pharm. D.
Megan McKenzie, Pharm. D., is an Ambulatory Care Clinical Pharmacist who helps manage and counsel patients that fill through Ochsner's Specialty Pharmacy.   ... read more