Before heading outdoors this summer, our pharmacists are reminding you to be aware of sun-sensitizing drugs. Widely-used over-the-counter and prescription medications – such as antibiotics, sulfa-containing medications, and acne treatments – can make skin more vulnerable to sunlight, increasing the risk of sunburn, and in some cases, make the skin photosensitive. This photosensitivity can cause photoallergic or phototoxic reactions to the sun’s UV rays, in the form of painful and itchy rashes, or even blisters and sunburns.
Phototoxic reactions are the most common and result in a sunburn-like rash within minutes or hours of the medication interacting with UV rays. Meanwhile, photoallergic reactions can develop days after sun exposure. They occur when UV rays trigger chemical changes, resulting in the body reacting to the medication as if it is an allergen. Side effects include a red, itchy, scaly rash and in severe cases, blisters. Reactions are somewhat unpredictable and can be a one-time occurrence, or it can happen each time the drug is taken and sun exposure occurs.
Be Proactive About Sun Protection
Everyone should be proactive about protecting themselves from the sun, but for those on sun-sensitizing drugs, it’s even more critical. Wearing protective clothing and applying sunscreen regularly are two important measures.
If you’re taking sun-sensitizing medications, you can also reduce your likelihood of a reaction by planning sun exposure for earlier or later in the day to avoid the sun’s rays when they are strongest.