Redness, swelling, spots, itching and a burning sensation on the skin, these are just some symptoms of a sun allergy. Often people think they have a sun allergy, but a true sun allergy is relatively uncommon.
Usually people with itching and spots are allergic to their sun protection products or have the disorder ‘Miliaria rubra’ or ‘Lichen tropicus’. This is a skin disease which occurs due to swelling and prickling of the sweat glands. But what if you do actually suffer from a sun allergy?
What is sun allergy?
The most common form of sun allergy is ‘Polymorphic Light Eruption’ (PMLE). This is over-sensitivity of the skin due to ultraviolet rays (UVA-UVB rays). Symptoms such as redness of the skin, itching, burning sensation and swelling are caused. This is caused after normal sun exposure. So it doesn’t only happen if you are sunburnt! It is not only sunlight which can cause PMLE, but also a sun bed, fluorescent lamp or a light bulb.
Sunlight is made up of UVA rays (which cause ageing of the skin) and UVB rays (which make the skin brown). Sun allergy is usually a matter of an abnormal reaction to UVA rays.
Certain medicines, cosmetics, perfume and eczema may also cause an allergy to the sun. Annoyingly, it can just arise out of nowhere, when you haven’t previously had a problem with being in the sun.
Light testing can reveal if either UVA, UVB or visible light is the offender. This can also pick up other light causing disorders or certain ingredients, which, when combined with light are causing the over-sensitivity.
If the sun allergy isn’t severe, then it is all right in the Spring to start gradually getting the skin used to the (natural) sun. Obviously it is then also important that the skin is protected with a sun protection cream, preferably with at least a factor 30. The Nederlandse Vereniging voor Dermatologie en Venereologie (NVDV) even states that a factor 30 or above is required with skin conditions which are caused by (sun)light.
Artificial light is used for gradually getting the skin used to UVA-UVB rays.
Sun protection creams
As may already be clear from my blog, it is important to protect the skin with a sun protection cream. Sun allergy is usually only caused by UVA rays. The SPF on a product indicates the UVB protection. If a product protects against UVA rays as well, then it will show the letters UVA inside a circle on the packaging. UVA protection should always be at least 1/3 of the SPF (so the UVB) displayed on the product. Therefore the higher the SPF (UVB protection) the higher the UVA protection. Because even the highest possible filter will not provide 100% protection from UV rays, it is wise to avoid sunlight as much as possible. You should make sure then that you take Vitamin D supplements!
Corticosteroids suppress the immune reaction of the skin to sun light and are therefore able to help with sun allergy. Corticosteroids are also used for eczema and psoriasis. Additionally, anti-histamine tablets can suppress the allergic reaction somewhat.
What you should also be aware of
Be careful if you sit by a window (possibly at your work); UVA rays just pass straight through them. In addition UV rays reflect off water and snow: water reflects 20% of the rays and snow as much as 80%!
If you think you may be suffering from a sun allergy, then make an appointment with your Doctor or a Dermatologist. Through a few simple tests you will promptly know if you really have an allergy to the sun. I hope for you that you don’t, as a sun allergy is an awful thing to have!
(Dr. Jetske Ultee – Research Physician Cosmetic Dermatology)
You can also read the following blogs:
‘Itching and Bumps Caused by the Sun’,
‘A Good Sun Cream?’,
‘Help with Choosing Your Sun Protection Cream‘ and