It’s no secret prolonged sun exposure is dangerous for your skin, but for photosensitive people, limited exposure to the sun, ultraviolet (UV) light sources, or even indoor fluorescent lighting can lead to irritations.
Skin that is highly susceptible to UV light is known as photosensitivity and can result in itching, blistering, peeling, and other symptoms. Photosensitivity may be caused from:
- Medications, including some antibiotics, NSAIDs, antihistamines, and others
- Autoimmune disorders like lupus
- Other medical conditions
- Ingredients found in retinol or other skincare products that target acne and fine lines on the skin’s outer layer
If you’ve ever gone to an esthetician, dermatologist, or even a photofacialist, they should ask if you’re on any new medication or if you’ve had recent skin exposure before rendering a new service or treatment. Not doing so could result in a photosensitive reaction.
This condition can be tricky to diagnose and presents itself in two distinct types of reactions. The more common reaction — a phototoxic reaction — can feel like a rash or sunburn occurring not long after skin is exposed to UV lights and is typically caused by a new medication or skincare product’s ingredients.
However, a photoallergic reaction is less common. It occurs when your body’s immune system treats sun exposure (combined with ingredients in certain medicines and topically applied products) as a foreign threat and produces an antibody reaction. This can result in blisters, rashes, and even lesions for several days.
Diagnosing photosensitivity is done by taking a detailed history and evaluation of the skin, performing specialized tests or photosets, and investigating other parts of the body, including blood count, connective tissue antibodies, and liver function.
Photosensitivity isn’t simply an irritating condition — it can increase your risk of developing skin cancer. Key actions you can take to protect against and manage photosensitivity are:
- Minimizing your skin’s exposure to sun and UV radiation
- Using broad-spectrum SPF (50 or higher)
- Talking to your physician about potential side effects of any new or current medication
- Discussing your skincare routine with your dermatologist
- Reading the warning labels on skincare products