Most of us take precautions against sunburn when we spend time outside. But some things you might not consider can increase your sensitivity to the sun.
Watch out if you’re burning more quickly than in the past or developing new rashes, bumps, itching or pigment changes on your skin. This could mean you’re becoming more sensitive to sun exposure.
Always discuss these symptoms with your doctor to find out what’s going on. But you can stay aware of the following items to see if they might be causing sun sensitivity.
1. Drugs and Medications
Certain antihistamines, acne treatments, oral contraceptives, psychiatric drugs, antibiotics, heart medications, anti-inflammatories, diuretics and diabetic drugs have been shown toincrease your potential for sun sensitivity. This will often be listed as a precaution on the label of your medication. Check with your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions about prescription drugs you’re taking.
Not many foods have been linked to sun sensitivity, but foods to watch out for include:
- Citrus fruits and peels
- Artificial sweeteners
Commercial perfumes may cause photosensitivity, such as 6-methylcoumarine, rose bengal and musk scents. Keep in mind perfumes are not only used in personal scent products. They can also be found in products like lotions, soaps, laundry detergents, air fresheners and fabric softeners.
If you want to make sure you avoid perfumes, always choose unscented products.
4. Essential Oils
The chemical constituents found in some essential oils may lead to greater sensitivity to the sun when directly applied to your skin. These are known as phototoxic oils. The most common ones are:
- Bitter Orange
- Lemon verbena
5. Skin Care Products
Various compounds in personal care products that strip the outer layer of your skin will create greater photosensitivity.
Check your skin care products for ingredients like alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs), salicyclic acid, benzoyl peroxide, glycolic acids, Retin-A and hydrocortisone.
Also be careful when you go to a spa or have a professional skin treatment. Cosmetic treatments such as microdermabrasion, chemical peels, laser treatments and exfoliating facial scrubs may also lead to greater skin sensitivity.
Herbs can cause two different types of sun sensitivity. Photodermatitis, which is caused by touching the plant, or systemic photodermatitis when the plant is ingested.
Plants that may cause photodermatitis include:
- Angelica seed or root (Angelica archangelica)
- Arnica (Arnica montana)
- Celery stems (Apium graveolens)
- Rue (Rutae folium)
- Lime oil or peels (Citrus aurantifolia)
Plants shown to cause potential problems when eaten are:
- St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum)
- Laceflower (Ammi majus)
- Dong quai (Angelica sinensis)
- Kava (Piper methysticum)
- Yohimbe (Pausinystalia yohimbe)
This may be the strangest one on the list, but some of the chemicals used in suncreens can actually make you more prone to burning. Check the label for benzophenones, dibenzoylmethane, oxybenzone, cyclohexanol, salicylates, cinnamate and PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid).
8. Nutrient Deficiency
Lack of some nutrients can make you more sensitive to sunlight. For instance, a niacin deficiency can lead to photosensitivity.
On the other hand, consuming healthy amounts of nutrients and antioxidants will help protect your skin. Beta-carotene, the nutrient that makes squash and carrots orange, has been shown to be especially beneficial for those with photodermatitis. Make sure to maintain a well-balanced diet or take a multivitamin regularly to ensure you’re getting a full complement of nutrients.
How to Protect Yourself from the Sun
Your first line of defense is to avoid any of these products if you’ve found they affect you. But there are other steps you can take as well, especially if you’ve been reacting to sun exposure.
Limit your time in the sun as much as possible. If you have to go out, try not to be in the sun for longer than 30 minutes at once.
Apply sunscreen that’s at least 30 SPF liberally 20 to 30 minutes before going outside. Then reapply it every 1 to 2 hours. Creams and lotions are recognized as having better protection than sprays.
Cover up with long sleeves, long pants and a hat if you don’t wear sunscreen. Or for extra protection, wear sunscreen under your clothing. You can buy specific clothing that is rated as sun protective, but any thick fabric with a tight weave will often provide adequate coverage.
Go outside in the early morning or later in the evening. The sun’s rays are strongest from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. In fact, 50 percent of the day’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation is emitted during this time. UV will also be stronger at higher elevations.
Also make sure to avoid any tanning devices, such as tanning lamps or beds.