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7 Everyday Items that Increase Sun Sensitivity

Posted July 08, 2019 by Vivek Bhalla, MD Family Medicine

Sun Sensitivity Blog

Skin cancer is by far the most common cancer in the US and with summer sun on the horizon, proper protection should be priority number one. While you should practice sun safety year round, you should monitor your sun exposure closer during these longer, hotter days.

Sunscreen, long sleeves and a hat are the easiest ways to protect your skin, but did you know there are common everyday items that could increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun?

Some products we apply to our skin, or even consume, can put us at risk for a phototoxic reaction. This occurs when UV rays interact with certain compounds in or on your body. Most individuals will experience enhanced sunburn-like effects on the skin directly exposed to the sun.

Here are 7 everyday items that could increase your body’s sensitivity to the sun:

  1. Acne and skin care medications that contain alpha-hydroxy acids, accutane or retinol, can increase your risk of a serious sunburn by stripping the outer layer of the skin.
  2. Body care items like perfumes, body scrubs or exfoliants can increase your skin’s sensitivity. If you plan to hit the pool, beach or otherwise spend a day in the outdoors, consider eliminating your perfume a day or 2 before and exfoliating after the exposure, not before. Even natural scents like bergamot, sandalwood and lavender essential oils can cause the skin to react negatively to the sun.
  3. Certain antibiotics, especially those containing doxycycline, tetracycline, ciprofloxacin, levofloxacin, ofloxacin and trimethoprim, can cause the skin to react in a sunburn-like rash or irritation if directly exposed to the sun.
  4. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like naproxen, a common pain reliever for muscle aches, menstrual cramps and tendonitis can cause also cause sunburn-like skin reactions. 
  5. Certain citrus fruits and other foods like celery, dill, fennel, figs and parsley can increase sun sensitivity.
  6. A common sunscreen ingredient, benzophenone-3 can trigger an allergic reaction in some, including a severe rash. If you think you could be sensitive to the sun, look for a high SPF, without oxybenzone or benzophenone-3 listed in the ingredients.
  7. Antihistamines and allergy medications that contain diphenhydramine, like Benadryl, can cause sensitivity in individuals that would not normally experience a reaction. 

While these common items don’t usually cause a severe photoallergic reaction in most individuals, if you are on medication that warns against prolonged sun exposure, take it seriously. Limit your time outdoors, use an SPF (even when it's cloudy) and avoid prime-time UV ray exposure, usually between 12 - 4 pm to minimize skin damaged by the sun.

Summa Health System’s dermatology services provides our community with high-quality, compassionate care for the skin and for diseases of the hair and nails. Our board-certified dermatologists are experts in diagnosing and treating a wide range of dermatological health issues for children, adolescents and adults. Call 800.237.8662 to schedule an appointment, or schedule an online dermatology visit by following these easy steps.


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