• sun allergy

How can you help prevent a sun allergy?

Yes indeed, after a couple of days in a warm destination, floating around in the sea or a swimming pool, it strikes. Itching! Bumps all over. On the arms, on your neckline and lower legs. Your skin is red and tingly. Recognisable? There are many reasons for a skin rash in the sun. But it is highly likely that you are suffering from a sun allergy. Your fair skin which has been hidden under layers of clothes all winter, and is now all of a sudden exposed to a heavy dose of UV rays, is in protest!

An estimated 10 to 20 percent of the European population is affected by this in the summer. A sun allergy usually begins at around the age of 30, and is four times more common in women than in men.

Slightly different for everyone

A sun allergy can occur at any time and, unfortunately, there is not much that you can do about it. It has a slightly different appearance on each person. While blisters may emerge on one person, red bumps may appear on another; some people may experience swollen skin and others may just have itching. The outbreak usually happens after a number of hours in the sun and can be very itchy, can tingle and/or burn. It can even cause much discomfort for some people. Unfortunately there is no really effective treatment, however by following the right guidelines the risk of problems can be reduced.

Gradual introduction

Obviously the main one is no longer exposing your skin to excessive sunlight. This can be achieved by wearing protective clothing, sitting in the shade or avoiding the hottest part of the day.
Let your skin get used to sunlight at the beginning of the season if you are sensitive to it, and build up the sun exposure little by little.

Use a sun cream with SPF30 which has good UVA protection. A sun allergy is mainly caused by UVA rays. Ensure that you use a sun cream which displays the special UVA logo on the bottle and avoid using sun creams which come from the U.S.A.

Healthy skin

Make sure that your skin is in good condition. A healthy skin is better able to protect itself against external influences. That can be done by eating healthily, keeping your skin well hydrated, avoiding harsh soaps and irritating cosmetic products. But also by applying a cream with sufficient amounts of anti-inflammatory substances and antioxidants. There is increasing evidence that such ingredients can also limit the risk of a sun allergy (1, 2, 3, 4).

The taking of Polypodium leucotomos extract (PL) has been described as being beneficial. Other anti-inflammatory substances and antioxidants are possibly as good, but very little research has been carried out in this area. Personally I would be very interested to know about the effect of astaxanthine on the onset of a sun allergy. I would like to hear from you if you have had experience with this!

Bacteria and vitamin D

It has recently been suggested, incidentally, that your skin microbiome can play a part in a resulting sun allergy (5, 6, 7).  In other words, sunlight can influence certain bacteria on the skin to produce chemicals which cause problems. It is not clear whether, for instance, applying or orally taking probiotics is effective, however it is advisable that you take care of the good bacteria on your skin anyway. That means: no harsh cleansers and only take antibiotics if really necessary!

Research has further discovered that a low vitamin D content is connected to sun allergies (8, 9, 10). Therefore, make sure that your supply of vitamin D is sufficient and remains so – all through the year. Therefore, for many people in this Dutch climate, there is no harm in taking extra vitamin D. This vitamin is beneficial for several things, making it a ‘must’ in my opinion.

For security

Finally, if a sun allergy is familiar to you then it is a good idea to take a tube of hydrocortisone (on prescription) and anti-histamine tablets with you on holiday. In more severe reactions you can ask your Doctor for hydrocortisone tablets as a preventative measure.

There is, by the way, also good news. It appears that the defence mechanism in people with a sun allergy is very ‘well prepared’ and therefore this group potentially carries a somewhat lower risk of skin cancer. Every drawback has its advantages!

Even more summer complaints

In the coming summer weeks I am going to go through the list of skin problems which can seriously spoil your holiday. Next time I will tell you more about a skin rash which looks very similar to the sun allergy I have just described, but which is caused by ingredients in your cosmetics or medicine.

Kind regards,


Research Physician Cosmetic Dermatology

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