Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

Watch Out for Photosensitivity September 15, 2011

How Your Medications or Medical Condition Could Be Making You More Sun Sensitive


What exactly is photosensitivity, and how do you protect yourself from it?

Photosensitivity is an abnormal increase in the skin’s sensitivity to sun exposure brought on by certain medical conditions, medications, and skincare products and treatments.  According to the Skin Cancer Foundation if you are photosensitive your skin can have a few different reactions:

A person who is photosensitive may experience some form of dermatitis, a skin rash caused by an allergy to or physical contact with a particular substance, in this case UVR. The face, outer arms, and upper chest are the most common areas for a rash due to photosensitivity.

The reaction may be either photoallergic or (more commonly) phototoxic, often in response to a specific medication. A phototoxic reaction typically shows up as an exaggerated sunburn, usually occurring within 24 hours of sun exposure. Photoallergic reactions, however, do not occur until one to three days after the substance has come into contact with the body, since they require activation of the immune system to mount the response. Photoallergy, like other allergies, tends to occur in previously sensitized individuals; repeat exposure to the same allergen plus UVR exposure can prompt a typical pruritic (itching) and eczematous reaction (red bumps, scaling, and oozing lesions, as in eczema).

There are more than a few medical conditions that can cause photosensitivity.  They include but are not limited to: lupus, dermatomyositis, actinic prurigo, chronic actinic dermatitis, polymorphous light eruption, solar urticaria, and xeroderma pigmentosum.  (For more information on each of these diseases and how they cause photosensitivity see the article Photosensitivity – A Reason To Be Even Safer in the Sun on the Skin Cancer Foundation website.)  If you happen to have one of these disorders or know someone who does be sure to check with your doctor on how to properly protect your skin from sun exposure.

Furthermore, many medications can cause photosensitivity.  According to Dr. Ellen Marmur in her book Simple Skin Beauty (pages 146-147):

Be sure to check with your pharmacist or doctor about what sun-related side effects your medications could give you.  Antibiotics such as tetracycline and sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim), some diuretics and antihistamines (such as Benadryl), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (Feldene, Naproxen, Motrin), and some antidepressants can be phototoxic after exposure to UV light.  Researchers have found that taking these drugs also increases the risk of skin cancer if you are exposed to the sun.

For a very comprehensive list of medications that can cause photosensitivity see the chart in the Skin Cancer Foundation article Photosensitivity – A Reason To Be Even Safer in the Sun.

But before you despair if you have a medical condition or take a medication that causes photosensitivity keep a few things in mind.  Once again I’ll quote the Skin Cancer Foundation article:

Since many of the medications are vital in maintaining or restoring health and quality of life, it is important not to “throw out the baby with the bath water.” Rather than eliminating these treatments, some combination of sun avoidance and sun protection is the preferred strategy to prevent the unwanted effects of photosensitivity. By seeking shade and staying out of direct sunlight between 10 AM and 4 PM (generally the sun’s most intense hours); employing high-SPF broad spectrum sunscreens (SPF 30 or higher is advisable for photosensitive individuals); and wearing sun-protective clothing, including wide-brimmed hats and UV-blocking sunglasses, patients can continue to reap the benefits of these medications while avoiding sun damage.

Skincare Treatments and Products That Can Cause Photosensitivity

Since skincare treatments like chemical peels and microdermabrasion that cause photosensitivity are done by choice and not a health necessity you have a lot of control over when to them and how to protect your skin afterwards.  Both chemical peels and microdermabrasion remove the layers of dead skin cells on the epidermis (the top layer of the skin) which then causes sun sensitivity.  So it is advisable not to have a chemical peel or a microdermabrasion treatment done right before a tropical vacation or an outdoor adventure.  After either of those treatments be very careful to consistently reapply your sunscreen every 3 hours or so if you are outside or even if you are just sitting by a window in your office or driving around in your car.  If you get too much sun exposure following one of these treatments you could erase all the positive effects of the treatments.

As for skincare products like Retin-A that increase sun sensitivity be sure to apply them at night in order to get all the positive effects of the products without the sun sensitivity side effect.  Furthermore, according to Dr. Marmur:

Retinoids such as Retin-A, any AHA, even facial scrubs – anything that exfoliates the top layers of your skin – will make you more vulnerable to the elements.  You should probably stop using any of them one week before going on a beach vacation.  If the stratum corneum doesn’t have that dead keratinocyte barrier on top of it, you’re setting the skin up for irritation by salt water, chlorine, wind, and most of all the sun.

So be sure to error on the side of caution and speak to your doctor about this issue when receiving a prescription for any new medication.  And be smart about your timing for any skincare treatments that cause sun sensitivity.


Sunburn Relief August 16, 2010

Filed under: sun protection — askanesthetician @ 5:49 am
Tags: , , , , ,

What can I say?  I wish I didn’t have to write this post at all.  But even when you have the best intentions when it comes to sun protection sometimes you can still get a sunburn.  Hopefully once you’ve had one sunburn you’ll remember to religiously use your sunscreen in order to prevent another one because sunburns are actually a very dangerous injury to the skin, a massive trauma.  According to Allure “getting just six sunburns in your lifetime will increase your chances of developing melanoma by 50 percent”.

What is a Sunburn?


According to Dr. Ellen Marmur in her book Simple Skin Beauty (page 145):

The reason your skin is hot [after a sunburn] is that the sun is not only cooking you from the outside but also causing your blood vessels to dilate fully.  That redness is 100 percent due to increased vasodilation, rushing all of your repair mechanisms to the skin through the circulatory system.  When you blister, it’s because there’s a shift of fluid from where it should be, in the cells and blood vessels, to the skin tissue, making it bubble up.  A sunburn also kills basal cells, which then lose their ability to grip on to the dermis, and the loosening of the epidermis from the dermis generates blisters too.  …  To make matters worse, sunburn continues to develop for twelve to twenty-four hours after the initial burn takes place.  It’s no wonder that a sunburn (or a lot of them) can lead to skin cancer.

Signs You’re Getting a Sunburn

If you start to feel that your skin is stinging, feels sensitive, or tender you are getting a sunburn.  Of course if your skin turns red you have a sunburn.


What to Do Once You’ve Burned


  • Getting a burn is actually an inflammatory response by the body so consider taking an aspirin (or two) or ibuprofen to help calm the inflammation.
  • Apply fresh aloe vera to the burn.  Aloe has both anti-inflammatory and humectant properties which will help sooth the burn.  Be sure to use pure aloe vera.  Aloe vera creams and gels can contain alcohol which is drying.
  • Other anti-inflammatory ingredients that can soothe your burn: black tea (apply by soaking a washcloth in the tea), shea butter, olive oil, cucumber, and allantoin.  You can even try hydrocortisone cream.
  • Drink lots of water since your body loses fluids when you burn.
  • Stay out of the sun for a free days after your get burned because you are at a risk to burn again.


What NOT to do After a Burn


  • Avoid applying topical products with alcohol, witch hazel, menthol, peppermint, calamine, or benzocaine to your burn.
  • Don’t apply milk to your burn since the lactic acid in milk can exfoliate the already injured epidermis.
  • Don’t apply just plain water to the burn.  Once the water evaporates it dehydrates the skin and makes the burn feel worse.  Make sure your cold compresses are soaked in aloe or have a cream on them before applying to the burn.
  • When you skin begins to peel do not pull on the peeling skin or use a body scrub on it.


Sources and Further Reading: 


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