My Skin Centre

What is Photosensitivity?

Most of us know the sun’s harsh UV rays can cause skin cancer, but with the right preventative measures we can still enjoy the outdoors. While we should all be conscious of sun damage, for some people, UV rays can cause a severe reaction, even when sun protection is used. 

This condition is called photosensitivity, and it is more common than you think. Photosensitivity means “sensitive to light” and causes the skin to change abnormally when subjected to UV rays.

What Causes Photosensitivity?

There is a long list of triggers for photosensitivity. Causes may include:

  • Ingredients found in skincare
  • Medical conditions
  • Prescribed medicines
  • Antibiotics
  • Anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen
  • Other chemicals
  • Plants

Photosensitivity is activated when the drug, or other cause is met with UV rays resulting in a reaction.

What Does Photosensitivity Look Like?

Reactions generally occur on areas of your skin which have been exposed to the sun or other UV sources including tanning beds. It could be a rash, or look red and blistered like a severe case of sunburn. Your skin might be hot to touch and even painful. This is called a phototoxic reaction and usually appears within 24 hours of time spent in the sun.

Less common is a photoallergic reaction which presents itself up to 3 days after sun exposure. Your body attacks your skin with antibodies, seeing the sunlight as a threat. The symptoms are the same with redness and blistering. There may even be lesions which ooze.

Because your skin is damaged more easily by the sun when you have photosensitivity, your risk of skin cancer, ageing, and fine lines will be increased.

How to Reduce the Impact of Photosensitivity?

If you are taking medications you should always discuss any potential side effects with your doctor or chemist. 

Retinol is a common cause of photosensitivity, and the reaction may be reduced if you choose a topical variety which can be applied at night.

While it may not be ideal, if you have a disease or cannot avoid photosensitivity causing ingredients you may just need to reduce your time spent in the sun. The reaction to your skin won’t be worth the few minutes of UV. If you do go outdoors, wear long clothing, a hat, sunscreen and sunglasses. Try to stick to shaded areas and avoid the hottest part of the day. Sunscreens with zinc oxide are recommended as they are less likely to make the situation worse.

If you are experiencing photosensitivity for the first time and there is no underlying medical cause, consider whether you have started using any new products lately. Check the ingredients list which might  include fragrances, AHAs, BHAs, benzoyl peroxide, and essential oils. Not all people will develop photosensitivity from products containing these, but if you are unlucky it is worth investigating further. 

Your skin is an important part of your body and when it reacts abnormally due to photosensitivity, it can be difficult to manage. If you notice any unusual spots or moles on your body we recommend a full skin and body check. Contact us today for more information.