Sun Allergies, Explained
It turns out, sun allergies are real. Don’t panic though. Besides being extremely rare (the Cleveland Clinic reports that only 10 to 15 percent of people in the U.S. are affected by this type of allergy), the symptoms are fairly easy to spot.
Here’s everything you should know about sun allergies, from what they are to how to treat them — and the best skincare products to make everything a whole lot chiller.
WHAT IS A SUN ALLERGY?
Officially called solar urticaria, a sun allergy is a type of allergic reaction that occurs when the immune system reacts to sunlight. According to dermatologists, there are several types of sun allergies.
The most common one is known as polymorphous light eruption (PMLE), otherwise known as sun poisoning. Actinic prurigo is a common variant. It occurs on the first days of sunny seasons when your skin first experiences sun exposure. On the plus side, your skin will adjust to the sunlight with increased exposure, so it’s not going to be something you’ll constantly have to deal with.
Other, less common, types of sun allergies are photosensitivity reactions which fall into two main groups: phototoxic and photoallergic. Phototoxic reactions happen when wearing a skincare product contains an ingredient that reacts with the sun’s UV rays. Symptoms usually occur a few minutes after exposure, although for some it can take hours.
Photoallergic reactions are similar but less common. This type of reaction triggers the immune system, resulting in hives, blisters, or an itchy rash after sun exposure.
SYMPTOMS OF SUN ALLERGIES
Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to tell if you’re experiencing an allergy to ultraviolet rays. Signs to look out for include red, itchy skin, bumps, blusters, a sun poisoning rash, or hives on sun-exposed skin. It’s not the same as sunburn, and it’s unlikely that sun allergies cause sun marks or sun spots on skin. Ageing spots can be caused by UVA and UVB exposure, but they’re not a symptom of an allergy.
These symptoms typically occur minutes to hours following sun exposure. If you’re experiencing severe skin reactions, visit a dermatologist or health care provider as soon as possible to receive the appropriate treatment or medical attention.
According to the pros, those with skin conditions such as eczema, dermatitis, or psoriasis have an increased risk of experiencing a sun allergy.
HOW TO TREAT A SUN ALLERGY
If you think you’re experiencing a sun allergy, you can treat it at home. Here are a few easy ways to alleviate sun allergies.
Take An Oral Antihistamine
Oral antihistamines should quickly relieve the symptoms of a sun allergy. Some of the best over-the-counter and prescription antihistamines include Claritin, Zyrtec, and Allegra. However, bear in mind that certain antihistamines simply don’t work for some people. You’ll need to try each one until you’ve found the one that works for you.
Apply a Topical Anti-Inflammatory Cream
Another easy way to quickly relieve sun allergy symptoms is by applying an over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream, a type of medicine known as a steroid (corticosteroid). Remember that this cream shouldn't be used for more than two weeks in a row. Consult your dermatologist about treatment if you haven’t seen an improvement since using.
Stay Out of the Sun
If your reaction is mild, you don’t really have to do much other than avoid the sun for a few days. Your reaction should clear up in a couple of days.
Hydrate Your Skin
Moisturizing lotions can help relieve irritation caused by dry, irritated skin. Look for fragrance-free, alcohol-free formulas with soothe and nourish skin, like watermelon, vitamin E, and CBD.
You’ll find all of these ingredients and more in Truly’s After Sun Kit. It’s basically post-UV therapy for your skin, and it works like a charm. Inside the kit, you’ll find a serum, mask, and body balm all enriched with cooling and hydrating ingredients to quickly calm down irritated skin. In addition to soothing your sun rash and bumps, these three formulas help fade the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and liver spots. Apply to affected areas daily until symptoms disappear.
THE BEST WAY TO PREVENT A SUN ALLERGY
While it may sound obvious, one of the best ways to avoid sun allergies is by staying out of the sun. If you experience a severe case of sun allergy every time your skin comes in contact with the sun, it may be the best option for you. However, there are other ways to prevent sun allergies.
Apply Sunscreen Every Day
Approximately 30 minutes before leaving the house, apply a broad-spectrum SPF all over your face and body — or areas exposed to sunlight. A good sunscreen will block both UVA and UVB rays which contribute to sun allergies, as well as skin cancer. The derms suggest mineral formulations as they block more wavelengths. Either way, make sure you never go outside without sun protection.
Cover Up in Protective Clothing
If exposure to the sun’s UV lights leaves you dry, itchy, and full of blisters, it’s a good time to start dressing in a way that’s sun-safe. Instead of short skirts and strappy shirts, opt for clothes that shield your skin from the sun. You can also protect your skin even further by wearing large sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat.
Desensitize Your Skin
“Desensitization can also be used as a long-term treatment for sun allergies,” says board-certified dermatologist Dendy Engelman. “This involves treating the skin with UV light exposure, called phototherapy, to try to desensitize the skin.”
To do this, gradually increase the amount of time you spend outside. Over time, your skin will slowly adapt to the sunlight and eventually prevent the allergen from affecting your skin.
Steer Clear of Certain Antibiotics
Dermatologists warn that some antibiotics can make skin burn more quickly and should be avoided if you have sun allergies. Some of those antibiotics include tetracycline, doxycycline, and ciprofloxacin.
Usually, sun allergies aren’t life-threatening. However, if you have hypersensitivity to the sun, it’s worth paying your derm a visit for professional advice.