Summer means fun in the sun for most, but for a group of sun-sensitive people sunshine could have terrible consequences. Here's all you need to know about summer sun allergy.

With summer fast approaching, many of us are keen to get our bodies bikini-ready so that we can spend those lazy summer days on the beach.

But what if, after a glorious day in the sun, you return home only to discover you've developed a nasty, itchy rash? It could be the heat, or something you ate, but you could also have developed an allergy to the sun’s rays.

Allergic reactions to the sun
Sun allergy (also called photosensitivity) is not the same as sunburn. It occurs when the body's immune system overreacts to sunlight exposure. In contrast, sunburn is a result of damage to the skin cells.

Photosensitivity is typically characterised by an itchy, red rash on areas of the skin exposed to light. In severe cases, hives or blisters may develop.

Research suggests that the body identifies the parts of the skin exposed to the sun as a foreign substance. This triggers the immune system to launch an attack, producing irritated or chapped skin.

For people sensitive to the sun, the allergic reaction can be triggered by brief or prolonged sun exposure. It can also be triggered by spending time in the sun while taking certain drugs or using certain skincare products or perfume. Over 50 different drugs can be a trigger for the condition, including several antibiotics, diuretics, as well as certain sedatives and some narcotics.

Photosensitivity can be hereditary and is more common for those who have other skin disorders such as eczema and psoriasis. It’s more common in women than in men, and affects people of all skin types.

Preventing sun allergy
Once sun allergy has been diagnosed by your GP or dermatologist, you should:

    •  Try to stay out of direct sunlight as much as possible.

    • Wear protective gear: sun hats, sunglasses and long-sleeved shirts.

    •  Always wear broad-spectrum sunblock with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher – also on cool or overcast days.

    • Stay away from artificial tanning beds, spray-on tans and self-tan lotions.

Treating sun allergy
People with a sun-related rash should:

    • Take an antihistamine to curb the body's release of histamines (which occurs when any allergic reaction takes place in the body).

    •  Consider discontinuing the use of medication if the rash is linked to medication use and sun exposure. It’s important to speak to your doctor first.

    •  Refrain from using scented soaps, shower gels, foam bath and lotions.

    • Use calamine lotion, buchu or aloe gel, corticosteroids cream or nappy-rash cream on the affected areas to soothe the burning sensation and swelling.

If a sun-related rash doesn't respond to these general treatment methods, or if you think you may be affected by this type of allergy, you should consult your GP or dermatologist. This kind of rash can lead to a skin infection.

A skin expert explains:

Sources: Daily Mail,, Mayo Clinic

Image viaThinkstock

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