WHAT IS A SUN ALLERGY?
An allergic reaction to the sun occurs when changes take place within the skin, and then that area is exposed to the sun. The immune system mounts an attack against what it perceives to be as “foreign” within the skin.
Sun allergy symptoms include a rash, tiny blisters, or a skin eruption. The symptoms appear in as short as a few minutes after sun exposure to several hours later.
The causes are not totally clear, but there are several risk factors for sun allergies. Those risk factors include…
- Genetics. If you have a family member, like your mom and brother, with a sun allergy, then you are more likely to have it as well.
- Race. Caucasians and Native Americans are more likely to develop a sun allergy.
- Exposure to substances. Substances that irritate your skin like unnatural fragrances, chemicals in sunscreen, or disinfectants can alter your skin, which then primes you for a sun allergy the next time that area of your skin steps outside.
- Other skin conditions. If you have any other skin condition like dermatitis increases your likelihood of having an allergic reaction to the sun.
- Medications. Certain types of medications can make your skin more sensitive to the sun and lead to a sun allergy.
TYPES OF SUN ALLERGIES
There are four primary types of sun allergies.
1) Polymorphous Light Eruption (PMLE)
This type of sun allergy appears first as an itchy rash. After sunburn, it’s the most common sun-related skin problem that doctors see. An approximate 10-15 percent of the population is affected by this type of allergy; women more so than men.
PMLE is less common during the winter months, but it appears as soon as you spend more time outdoors in the spring and summer. The more time spent outside and in the sun allows you to become less sensitive to the light with rashes being less severe as the summer wears on.
2) Actinic Prurigo
Actinic Prurigo is a hereditary form of PMLE seen mostly in the Native American populations. It’s common for several generations to display the same sun allergy, which begins early in childhood. The symptoms for this type of sun allergy are generally more severe.
3) Solar Urticaria
Young women are most often affected by this form of sun allergy. You may experience large hives that are itchy and red after being exposed to the sun. This is a more rare form of a sun allergy.
4) Photoallergic Eruption
This kind of sun allergy occurs when you expose skin to sun that has been affected by some form of chemical, like fragrance, sunscreen, antibiotics, or cosmetics.
Certain medications cause the skin to be more sensitive to sunlight, leading to this form of sun allergy. Medications like antibiotics (sulfonamides) or even common over-the-counter pills like ibuprofen and naproxen can lead to this form of sun allergy.
HOW TO PREVENT AN ALLERGIC REACTION TO THE SUN
No one wants to deal with a sun allergy during the long days of summer. You’d rather be enjoying the outdoors with friends and family than wrapped up inside (that’s what winter is for!). If you’re living with a sun allergy, here are the best ways to prevent a reaction.
Not just any sunscreen. Be sure to use high-quality, natural sunscreen. It needs to be at least SPF 15 with broad spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays. And you need to apply it 15 to 30 minutes before you plan to be outside. Also remember to apply sunblock to your lips with sunscreen chapstick.
Avoid peak time.
In the continental U.S., the peak time for sun is between 10 am and 3 pm. Try to stay indoors during these hours.
Make sure your sunglasses offer ultraviolet light protection.
Avoid sudden, long exposure to sun.
If you have a known sun allergy, then you’re most sensitive in spring and early summer when you start to spend more time outdoors.
Plan ahead to spend small amounts of time outdoors. Gradually increase how much time you spend outside so that your limit the severity of your reaction. Spending the first sunny, warm day outside for several hours is sure to cause a severe reaction.
Wear protective clothing.
If you are super sensitive to the sun, then protective clothing is a must. Long sleeves, pants, and a hat will cover most of your skin.
Beware of chemicals.
Look into swapping your fragrances, cleaning supplies, and other body care products to products that offer natural ingredients. The less exposure you have to harsh chemicals the less likely you’ll be to have a reaction to the sun.