You take care of your skin, making sure to use sunscreen, a cleansing routine, and moisturizer, yet there’s one simple step that is often overlooked that is just as important: Checking out the medicine cabinet and pantry for products that may raise your risk of sun sensitivity. Some medicines and skin care products can increase your sensitivity to the sun.

Prescription drugs, over-the-counter pain relievers, herbal remedies such as St. John’s wort, perfumes, and exfoliating skin care products can increase sensitivity to the sun. Some foods may boost it, too. Contact with a lime peel can produce an intense burn, so watch out for those poolside margaritas and vodka tonics.

Pain aside, a bad sunburn or excessive sun exposure increases the risk of skin cancer. So does sun sensitivity, a condition most often associated with having a fair complexion. Excessive sun can also age skin prematurely, causing wrinkles and brown spots.

Sun Sensitivity: What It Is

Sensitivity to the sun, also called photo-sensitivity, is a reaction set off by the sun’s ultraviolet rays. The reaction depends on the individual, the substance, the amount taken, and the amount of UV exposure. People with light skin, already considered the most sun-sensitive, are more susceptible to photo-toxic reactions. The melanin in darker skins is believed to offer some protection. Those with compromised immune systems, such as people with HIV/AIDS, may also be more prone to sun sensitivity.

Gently exfoliating your skin is unlikely to make you so sensitive that you can’t tolerate outdoor sports, but Accutane and other drugs used to treat acne certainly can cause photo-toxic reactions and can increase sun sensitivity when taken at higher doses.

How do you know if you’re more sensitive to the sun? Signs include burning more easily than in the past or noticing rashes, bumps, itching or changes in pigmentation after exposure to sunlight.

If you’re just getting out for a brief time and notice some burning or stinging on your skin, you should be suspicious. If you notice symptoms that concern you, check medicine labels and check in with your physician.

Sun Sensitivity: Common Culprits

Ever wonder why you were asked so many questions about your health and the medications you take when you first visited your esthetician? Many common drugs, foods, perfumes, and skin care products are linked to varying degrees of sun sensitivity.

To find out if you’re taking a drug that increases sun sensitivity, read the information sheet that comes with medications or ask your doctor or pharmacist whether any medication you’re taking might cause sun sensitivity.

Some of the most common medications that we take routinely can increase your sensitivity to the sun.  Many medications used to treat acne (prescription drugs including Accutane and doxycycline) can cause sun sensitivity, as can creams and astringents with benzoyl peroxide.

Antihistamines like Benadryl and others containing diphenhydramine, antibiotics like Tetracycline, Sulfa drugs including Bactrim and Septra as well as Cipro and Levaquin can also be culprits.

Prescription and over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pain relievers, including Celebrex, naproxen (Aleve), and ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) may also cause an adverse reaction to the sun.

Are you diabetic? Some drugs used to treat diabetes can increase your risk of sunburn. Do you take medications for high blood pressure or a diuretic?  Same story: increased sun sensitivity.  Check with your doctor or pharmacist to see if any medication you routinely use can cause sun sensitivity.

The ingredients in some perfumes like lavender, cedar, bergamot oil, sandalwood, rose bengal, and musk may smell wonderful but can also cause photo sensitivity.

Check the ingredient list on your skin care products for alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs), salicylic acid, glycolic acids, Retin-A, and hydrocortisone. Each of these increases your chance of sunburn and are better used when you don’t anticipate exposure to the sun. If you use products with these ingredients, they are best used as a part of your night time routine.

We often ask our clients requesting cosmetic treatments such as microdermabrasion, chemical peels, laser treatments, and exfoliating facial scrubs about their past and future sun exposure since these treatment make your skin more sensitive.

Not sure which sunscreen to buy? The American Academy of Dermatology recommends choosing one that offers broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays. A sunscreen’s SPF rating measures effectiveness against UVB rays, which damage the outer layer of skin and cause sunburns. UVA rays penetrate the middle layer of your skin, and are the most likely to trigger drug-induced sun sensitivity reactions.


Beautiful, Healthy Skin Begins Here