Can Your Medication Make Your Skin Sensitive to the Sun?

Certain medications may increase your risk of sunburns due to photosensitivity, a chemically-induced change in the skin that can cause sunburns. Photosensitivity can occur as an allergic reaction in the skin after several days (known as photoallergy) and as skin irritation that occurs within a few hours of sun exposure. Medications that can cause these reactions include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Antifungals
  • Antihistamines
  • Statins
  • Diuretics
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Oral contraceptives and estrogens
  • Phenothiazines
  • Psoralens
  • Retinoids
  • Sulfonamides
  • Sulfonylureas for type 2 diabetes
  • Alpha-hydroxy acids (found in acne medication and cosmetics)

Although these medications can increase photosensitivity, they may not lead to a reaction in everyone who takes them. While there are no specific identifiable risk factors to indicate who may be more likely to experience a reaction, people with fair skin, blonde or red hair, and blue eyes are more sensitive to sun exposure in general and may face a heightened risk.

The best way to reduce your risk of a heightened reaction to sunlight due to any medication is to limit sun exposure and follow recommended practices for protecting your skin. Some ways you can do this include:

  • Staying in the shade as much as possible while outdoors
  • Using 30+ sun protection factor (SPF) sunscreen that protects against both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) light
  • Applying at least one ounce of sunscreen across your body at least 15 minutes before going out in the sun and reapplying it every two hours
  • Wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, sunglasses, hats, and other protective clothing that limits how much of your skin is exposed to the sun

If you experience a severe sunburn, or one that is accompanied by a fever, headache, nausea, chills, confusion, or dehydration, you can schedule an appointment with a doctor at Flushing Hospital Medical Center’s Ambulatory Care Center by calling (718) 670-5486. If your symptoms become severe and lead to a medical emergency, please dial 911 right away.

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.