Are you allergic to the sun?

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Lucija Kračun, MD
Specialist of family practise
AAAMED diploma for aesthetic medicine

Perhaps the following information will not comfort you, but it is a very telling fact – the frequency of sun – related skin reactions and allergies has increased significantly in recent years. Almost every fifth person deals with them in this way, more often women. And what causes itchy pimples or reddened skin soon after exposure to the sun’s rays?

Sometimes just being exposed to the sun is enough. In this case, the allergic reaction is triggered by excessive ultraviolet UVA and UVB radiation, which penetrates the skin and damages skin cells. The immune system then mistakenly identifies the proteins in the skin cells as intruders and (too) quickly releases the defenses, which causes the appearance of various symptoms.

But much more often, our carefree enjoyment of the sun is spoiled by the combination of radiation and synthetic, irritating ingredients in cleaning or skin care products, often also in sunscreens. The simplest measure is to avoid substances to which we are allergic. Natural and organic cosmetics that contain as few additives, artificial fragrances, and preservatives as possible are the most suitable. If the allergy is already present, even with natural products we avoid substances that are considered potentially allergenic, the most suitable are cosmetic products for children.

Medicines that are photosensitizing also increase the sensitivity of the skin. These include some antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, St. John’s wort, some blood pressure lowering drugs… Look for information on sun sensitivity in the instructions that come with the medicine. And what are the symptoms?

Signs and symptoms

The term sun allergy is used quite miserably, as there are actually very few true sun allergies. A more appropriate term is photodermatosis, or hypersensitivity of the skin to sunlight.

The belief that we most often struggle with it in the summer, when the sun is strongest and we are exposed to it for the longest time, is equally erroneous. The fact is that allergies mostly appear in the spring when the skin is not yet ready for the sun’s rays after the winter.

For some, hives appear more often due to the sun and are repeated, while others only experience it a few times in their lives. But when we struggle with it for the first time, we never ignore the symptoms again. These are itchy redness or even open blisters on the back, shoulders, upper arms, décolletage, and soles of the feet. Although it most commonly affects women between the ages of 20 and 40 who have fair and sensitive skin, it can occur in anyone, regardless of gender or age.

Of course, the signs and symptoms differ depending on which allergic reaction to the sun you are suffering from. The most important ones include polyform solar eruption, acne mallorca, actinic prurigo and photoallergic reaction. If you suspect a contact allergy (e.g., hypersensitivity to fragrances or preservatives, etc.), always consult a dermatologist.

Polyform Solar Eruption (PLE)

Polyform Solar Eruption (PLE)

The so – called polymorphic photodermatosis (PFD) accounts for almost 90% of all sun allergies. It most often affects residents of Western Europe and the United States, usually several members of the same family. In the majority of affected people, almost 80%, it is triggered by UVA, in 12% by UVB, and in 8% by both UVA and UVB radiation. It is commonly known as sun allergy or sun eczema – both mean the same thing.

The most common signs include reddened skin, itchy pimples, or open blisters. Symptoms appear only after a few hours to a few days. Initially as itching and small pimples that are white to yellow on a red background. Swelling or lumps may also appear afterwards, and inflammation of the blood vessels may cause the skin to redden and swell. Polymorphic light eruption, which some even call ‘sun poisoning’, affects the neck, back of the hands, face and back of the hands. The symptoms disappear within a few days, but only if we properly protect ourselves from the sun’s rays. It’s different for every person, but it always appears in the same form, so it’s easier to detect and heal.

Acne mallorca

Acne mallorca got its name from the inflamed pimples that strongly resemble classic acne. This type of reaction is affected by both juicy radiation and emulsifiers and preservatives used in cosmetics.

Actinic prurigo

It is most common in children and young adults. Symptoms include red, raised patches of skin and itchy bumps that may spread to areas that have not been exposed to the sun. Fluid – filled lumps may burst and open. It also often causes chapped lips and affects the cheeks, neck, ears, and hands. In some people, this type of allergy even leaves scars. Symptoms begin to appear in the summer months and improve by late fall.

Photoallergic and toxic reaction

It is affected by the intensity of UV radiation, as well as certain medications, such as antibiotics, antidepressants, preparations with St. John’s wort, or various foods (citrus, celery, figs). It manifests itself as an inflamed and itchy spot on the skin.

Actinic keratoses

It can cause thin patches of dry, itchy, and inflamed skin on the face, scalp, back and sides of the neck, upper chest and back of the arms. On larger areas of the affected skin, ‘islands’ may also appear, which are completely healthy. For some, the symptoms appear on the palms and soles and are remarkably similar to contact dermatitis, an allergic reaction that occurs when coming into contact with an allergen.

Solar urticaria

It is a reaction that occurs within minutes of exposure to the sun’s rays and includes hives, itching and blisters. It affects the whole body – both the exposed parts and those protected by clothing. It is most common in older adults, and symptoms usually improve after staying out of the sun.

What helps? Prevention!

We can never completely avoid the sun, and it also plays an important role in the synthesis of vitamin D. In order not to be unpleasantly surprised, however:

• use sunscreens with a high protection factor against UVA and UVB radiation, apply them every two or three hours and remember that water destroys the protection,

• don’t forget about after-sun creams and moisturize the skin, the best choice is products that contain a combination of aloe vera, shea, cocoa, and coconut butter, which intensively cares for, nourishes and protects the skin from external influences,

limit exposure to the sun and sunbathing between 11 am and 4 pm,

• gradually prolong the sunbathing so that the skin slowly gets used to it and becomes more hardened,

• don’t forget about your face and apply a cream with intensive nourishing and antioxidant effects every evening; in this way, you will ensure enough moisture and stimulate the formation of collagen, which will improve the firmness and elasticity of the skin and prevent the formation of wrinkles,

• have a lot of food or nutritional supplements on your menu that contain calcium, selenium, zinc, and beta – carotene,

• you drink a lot,

• choose clothes in your wardrobe that protect you from the sun

A natural pharmacy

In the acute state of the reaction, we inhibit and mitigate the consequences of inflammation by cooling the area and relieving itching.

In case of moderate to severe allergic reactions, see a doctor.

From medicinal plants, all types of peppers and paprika help, as they contain a substance called capsaicin, which reduces itching by numbing the nerves that transmit stimuli, itching and pain. You can buy ointments with capsaicin in pharmacies, but they should not be used on inflamed skin. The essential oils of immortelle (Helychrisum Italicum) and lavender, chamomile and arnica have an anti-inflammatory effect, but they should only be used if we are not hypersensitive to the compounds they contain. Place a linen cloth moistened with chamomile tea on the parts with rashes. Support for hypersensitivity is the consumption of foods that deacidify the body, e.g., millet porridge, food supplements are also available – basic powders, barley grass or green algae that help with cleaning.

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