Heading Out into the Sun? Beware of These Sun Sensitivity Boosters

'Tis the season to go outside and soak up the sun. During the dog days of summer, it is not surprising when more people take advantage of the long days and warm temperatures. While this is usually great fun, you also run the risk of coming away with a nasty sunburn if you are not careful.

In addition to taking the steps to protect yourself with sunscreen and other health protocols, you also need to be aware of the products and other situations that may increase your sensitivity to the sun.

Here is what you need to know about sun sensitivity and the things that you should avoid if you are worried about the sun and your skin.

Defining Sun Sensitivity

Sun sensitivity is defined as being particularly prone to sunburn or other types of damage as a result of sun exposure. The most common factors that determine your skin sensitivity are your skin type and genetics. For example, individuals with fair skin have a greater chance of taking in harmful ultraviolet rays, making them more susceptible to sunburn and skin cancer. Redheads are also more likely to see skin damage when exposed to these rays.

Understanding Photosensitivity

The sensitivity to the sun can also be described in terms of photosensitivity. Phototoxic reactions take on the appearance of a bad sunburn, with symptoms showing as soon as a few hours after exposure to the sun. Phototoxic reactions present as redness, swelling, and possible blistering. This type of reaction happens when UV light from the sun activates a particular photosensitizer, leading to cell damage. This type of damage happens in areas with direct exposure to the sun, such as the chest, face, and shoulders.

Conversely, photoallergic reactions appear more rash-like than a traditional sunburn. These types of reactions present with itchy patches of skin and redness with blistering being rarer. This hypersensitivity reaction happens when the immune season is triggered after exposure to the sun. The worst symptoms generally peak within 24-72 hours of exposure.

Here are a few of the factors that may increase your risk of developing a phototoxic or photoallergic reaction to the sun.


Many medications come with a warning label detailing how the product may increase your risk of sunburn. At the top of the list are some of the world's most commonly prescribed antibiotics, particularly those in the tetracycline family of drugs. Acne sufferers using topical agents such as retinol also need to be careful when out in the sun. Other drugs that may elicit a strong response to the sun include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, some cancer immunotherapies, diuretics, and tricyclic antidepressants.

Certain Medical Conditions

In addition to specific medications that may trigger an immune response to the sun, there are some health conditions that may make you more susceptible to sunburn. Autoimmune diseases such as lupus are known to lead to skin redness and irritation when out in the sun for too long. Some genetic diseases also boost skin sensitivity, making it important that you practice proper sun protection when exposed.

Triggering Foods

What you eat can also increase your sun sensitivity because of the various compounds in certain foods. Common culprits include citrus fruits, carrots, celery, figs, and fennel. While these will not present a problem for most people, those with a sensitivity to the sun may want to limit their intake of these foods prior to going out in the sun.

Skincare Products

It makes sense that some skincare products will also change how your skin reacts to the sun. Medications used to treat acne are particularly damaging. These include alpha-hydroxy acids such as glycolic acid, beta-hydroxy acids such as salicylic acid, medications in the family of tretinoins, including the popular Retin-A treatment. Even the chemical benzoyl peroxide will increase sun sensitivity in some people. Because these products work by stripping away the outer layers of skin, they also take away that first protective barrier against the sun's rays.

Understanding how these types of products and conditions can affect how your skin reacts to the sun will go a long way in determining how equipped you are to guard your skin.

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