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Sun allergy

Surprised by itchy bumps or skin redness immediately after sun exposure? This is a clear sign of sun allergy – something which about 1/5 of people suffer from. Some individuals suffer from sun rash frequently and repeatedly, others only experience it a handful of times in their lives. Once you’ve gone through an allergic reaction to sun for the first time, you’ll be able to recognise the signs instantly.

What Causes Sun Allergy?

Allergic reactions to sunlight happen mainly because of excessive exposure to the ultraviolet UVA and to some extent also UVB light which penetrates the skin and damages skin cells. The skin reacts to sunlight with an immune response, usually redness and infection.

The occurrence of sun rash can be exacerbated by certain ingredients in skin care as well as certain medications that increase photosensitivity and skin sensitivity in general. These include some antibiotics, chemotherapy medication, St John’s wort, medication for high blood pressure, or hormonal contraceptives. Always check for information about photosensitivity in the instructions.

What Does Sun Allergy Look Like?

Sun allergy manifests for instance as skin redness, itchy rash from sun exposure, or festering blisters on your back, shoulders, arms, your chest, and the tops of your feet. Even though it most often affects women between 20 and 40 years of age with pale or sensitive skin, it can happen to anyone regardless of age or gender.

Depending on the intensity of sunlight and other factors, the skin reactions can vary. Some of the most common types of sun allergy are polymorphous light eruption, Mallorca acne, and photoallergic eruption.

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Most Common Types of Skin Reaction to Sun

Polymorphous Light Eruption (PLE)

It’s the most common form of allergic reaction to sunlight. Usually referred to simply as sun allergy or sun rash, this reaction often occurs in the spring after you’ve exposed your skin to the sun after a long winter and your skin is not ready for its impacts. This is why you might get sun rash more often in the spring than for instance at the end of summer when your skin is more used to the sun thanks to a phenomenon called the “hardening” of skin. 

The most common symptoms of PLE are reddened skin, itchy pimples, or festering blisters. The symptoms will manifest within hours, sometimes days – every case is slightly different. When they do occur, they keep coming back in the same form, which makes it much easier to discover and treat your allergy.

Mallorca Acne

The infected zits are reminiscent of standard acne or even PLE. This type of reaction comes about based on the intensity of sunlight as well as emulsifiers and preservatives in the skin care you’re using.

Photoallergic and Phototoxic Reactions

They depend on the intensity of UV light and are also affected by medication like antibiotics, antidepressants with St John’s wort, or various foods (citruses, celery, figs). They manifest as infected and itchy areas on the skin.

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What Helps with Sun Allergy? Being Prepared!

You can never completely avoid exposure to sunlight – in fact you need it to be able to synthesise vitamin D. If you want to protect yourself from abrupt sun exposure in the spring, you’ll need to reduce the amount of sunlight your skin will be exposed to. There are a few ways to do that:

  • Use sunscreens with high SPF against UVA and UVB light. Trust specialised sunscreens for sun allergy by reliable brands such as La Roche-Posay, Eucerin, Avène, or Bioderma, whose products are tested by dermatologists.
  • Reapply your sunscreen every two to three hours if your skin is exposed to the sun. Don’t forget that water can disturb the protective function of the product.
  • You should also use after-sun care and moisturise your skin. The best choice are products containing aloe vera or panthenol.
  • Your diet should include foods or supplements that are rich in calcium, selenium, zinc, and beta-Carotene.
  • Don’t forget to hydrate! Ideally by using moisturising products with aloe vera, but also through drinking enough liquids.
  • Stay mostly away from the sun between 11 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon.
  • Increase your sun exposure gradually to help your skin get accustomed to it – just like with cold baths.
  • Choose clothes that will protect you from the sun: ideally darker colours and materials that are not too thin.
  • Try products with beta-Carotene and vitamins E or C to help your skin tan more easily.

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What to Do When You Have a Sun Allergy?

Have you already experienced pimples, blisters, or skin redness? Irritated skin can be very itchy, plus it really doesn’t look great. If you’re interested in getting rid of your sun allergy, try a few tips and tricks that might help you prevent allergic reactions:

  • Apply cold compress to sunburnt areas.
  • Use baby powder on suppurating blisters.
  • Cover up affected areas with clothing.
  • Take a shower in freshwater after swimming in the ocean.
  • You can reduce or prevent sun rash by using medication designed for various types of allergies. These are, among others, Clarityn, Benadryl or Piriteze.

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