More time in the sun may not be the only reason for your sunburn. Do you know that the use of certain medications increases the risk? Take more care to apply sunscreen and minimize direct exposure to sunlight if you are taking a medication that causes photosensitivity.

What is photosensitivity?

Photosensitivity of the skin makes it highly sensitive to sunlight or any other form of ultraviolet light. When the skin is photosensitive, even with very little exposure to the sun, sunburn symptoms such as a rash can appear.

Photosensitivity can be due to several reasons such as autoimmune diseases or the use of certain medications and skin care products containing retinol, glycolic acid, or benzoyl peroxide that removes the outermost layer of skin.

Medications that make you prone to sunburn

1. Antibiotics - Certain antibiotics such as doxycycline, belonging to the class of tetracycline antibiotics used to treat various bacterial infections can make the skin photosensitive. The patients on these medications may have faster and more severe sunburn. The photosensitivity reverses within two weeks of stopping the medication.

2. Oral contraceptives - The use of oral contraceptives that contain hormones such as estrogen and progestin may cause increased sensitivity to sunlight.

3. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs - The use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as naproxen, diclofenac and piroxicam can cause symptoms such as rash, blisters and eczema after sun exposure.

4. Acne medications - Oral medications for acne may contain isotretinoin, which makes the skin more sensitive, especially to sunlight. Topical acne medications such as Retin-A can also increase photosensitivity.

5. Thiazide diuretics - Thiazides used for hypertension and heart failure such as hydrochlorothiazide, furosemide, chlorothiazide, bendroflumethiazide, benzthiazide and cyclothiazide are photosensitive medications. The rashes and skin changes may even last for months to years after stopping thiazides.

6. Diabetes medications - Drugs such as metformin and sitagliptin have mild photosensitivity. However, the reaction is severe in the case of sulfonylureas - the oldest class of oral antidiabetic medication, which can cause photosensitivity for months even after stopping the medication.

7. Tricyclic antidepressants - Patients using tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline often report symptoms such as skin reddening and widespread rashes after sun exposure.

Tips to protect your skin while on photosensitive medications

  • Do not stop medications: Although the medications may make you prone to sunburn, it is not an excuse to stop taking them. Consult a doctor in case of sunburn and continue the medications as per prescriptions.
  • Minimize your sun exposure: The best way to reduce the risk of sun sensitivity is to minimize sun exposure. Avoid going out in the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sunlight is strongest.
  • Avoid indoor tanning: Stay away from tanning beds if you know that you have photosensitive skin.
  • Use sunscreen: Apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to exposed areas every day and reapply after every two hours.
  • Use protective gear: Use umbrellas, hats, sunglasses and long-sleeve clothes to protect your skin from sun exposure.
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Take more care to apply sunscreen and minimize your direct exposure to sunlight if you are taking a medication that causes photosensitivity. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.