Medications and the sun
One of the side effects of some medications is an increased sensitivity to the sun while you are taking them. The medications that are most likely to contribute to this problem include some prescription drugs that control blood pressure, arthritis, depression, as well as anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), antibiotics and birth control pills. Be sure to read the information sheets you receive when you pick up your prescription.
Some that may be surprising are everyday over the counter items you can purchase anywhere.
- Pain-killers and anti-inflammatory medications, such as Advil (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen).
- For teens, acne medications with benzoyl peroxide such as Clearasil can cause sun sensitivity.
- Topical anesthetics that contain benzocaine and landocaine, such as Orajel, Sucrets, Lanacaine, Solarcaine and Anbesol
- Allergy drugs including Actifed (antihistamine) and Antivert (antihistamine)
- Sunscreen products that contain cinnamate, oxybenzone, homosalate or PABA and/or PABA esters
- Herbal antidepressant St. John’s wort
Reactions can be placed in two categories, phototoxic and photoallergic.
A phototoxic drug reaction is most affected by UVA, happens quickly and closely resembles sunburn. It is possible for UVB and visible light to cause this reaction but is less likely. This reaction may be caused because the drug can be activated by exposure to sunlight. Fortunately the reaction discontinues after the drug clears the body and future sun exposure will not cause another reaction.
A photoallergic reaction is triggered by ultraviolet exposure which causes the drugs structure to change. Topical drugs are the most likely to cause this type of reaction. The drug is then seen as an invading enemy which causes the immune system to arm itself. This arming is manifested in allergy type symptoms and inflammation of the skin exposed to the sun. It closely resembles eczema and commonly lasts a long time. This photosensitivity can recur with sun exposure even after the drug has cleared the system. Play it safe by reading labels and be aware of how your skin is reacting to the sun.
Sunburn and skin cancer
According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, sunburns are not to be taken lightly. The most serious form of skin cancer, melanoma, has been directly related to sunburn. In a recent poll it was found that most people (42%) are sunburned at least once a year. This significantly increases the risk of developing melanoma in your lifetime according to research.
The factors that contribute to the increased risk are as follows:
- Childhood and adolescent sunburns double the risk of adult melanoma
- Babies under six months should not be out in the sun without massive protection. On the advice of doctors sunscreen should NOT be part of this protection, umbrellas, UV clothing and the like are recommended. Sunburns in a child under a year should be treated as an emergency. UV blocking sunglasses are also a childhood necessity.
- Five or more sunburns at any age
- Sunburns, brief intense exposure to sun as opposed to tanning may result in melanoma skin cancer but may also trigger basal cell carcinoma.
- Skin type: Types are rated from I to VI or from fair to darker. Fair people (Type I and II) rarely or never tan and should use sunscreen of SPF 30+. Wearing UV rated clothing is also advised. Types III to VI should use SPF 15+ with Type VI susceptible to acral lentiginous melanoma, a black or brown discoloration under the nails and on the palms and soles of the feet.
- Having a large number of moles. Many moles are the result of sun exposure. Symmetrical, round, either flat or raised and brown colored while melanoma are asymmetrical, multicolored and change shape over time. Multiple moles that resemble melanoma called dysplastic neva may be a sign of higher risk for deadly melanoma.
Tips for reducing risk of sunburn
To help avoid sunburn, wear sunscreen. Apply it 15 minutes before sun exposure and reapply every 2 hours; wear UV blocking clothing, UV blocking sunglasses, umbrellas and be careful during prime sun time, which is 10AM to 4PM. Checking the UV index will provide you with information regarding the type of UV rays you need to prepare for while out in the sun.
Some researchers are concerned that blocking UVB rays could lead to vitamin D deficiency. The American Academy of Dermatology (ADD) reports that routine use of sunscreen may increase the likelihood of Vitamin d deficiency, a problem that can be remedied with Vitamin D supplementation. The benefits of using sunscreen outweigh the risk of vitamin D deficiency!
What is sun poisoning?
Sun poisoning or a sun allergy is a very rare condition. When you go out in the sun do you have any of the following symptoms?
- Itchy, red rash or hives (solar urticaria)
- Red blotches
It looks very different from a burn in that it occurs in patches, which most often occur on the chest, neck, arms and thighs. What is happening is the UV rays are triggering an immune system response which results in an inflammation of cells or proteins in the skin. If your exposure is too long then the following symptoms should send off alarm bells and a dermatologist should be consulted.
- Rash that covers a large area
- Continues despite keeping out of the sun over a period of time
Some factors that can act as triggers include:
- Fair skin seems to be the most susceptible
- Lotions, creams, soaps, perfumes and -some sun protection products
- Certain medications
- Certain chemicals
- Herbs such as St John’s wort
The condition may resolve itself in a week or so but there are medications a dermatologist can prescribe if it is too uncomfortable or persistent. These include antihistamines and cortisone creams.
The best preventative measures include limiting sun exposure, wearing UV blocking sun-glasses, long-sleeved clothing, a wide brimmed hat, umbrella and appropriate sunscreen. So be wise and you can still enjoy the sun!
- Vanessa Andricola, Pharm D