Most of us enjoy the sunny days with pleasure, but for people sensitive to light, sunny days can be a bummer: the sun’s rays — among other light sources — cause serious skin problems in them.

Photosensitivity is the generic term used to refer to these abnormal reactions to sunlight or other sources, such as a sun bench or tanning lamps. Doctors also often talk of sun allergy. Polymorphic lucitis and urticaria are its most frequent manifestations. The mechanisms refer to an inadequate reaction of the immune system to ultraviolet rays.


Photosensitivity often results from taking drugs known to trigger this process, such as antibiotics, antidepressants, anti-inflammatory drugs, and anti-cancer drugs (chemotherapy). Ointments, cosmetics (beauty products), and contact with certain plants (such as St. John’s Wort) can also be the cause. In rarer cases, sometimes hereditary, the disease occurs spontaneously.

The symptoms are much more annoying than a simple sunburn: itching, burning sensation, pain, large blisters, red spots, nodules… Their degree of severity is variable.

What treatment?

These problems can be resolved easily if the cause is well identified (such as a drug).

But if it is not clear, the care is much more complicated. Several treatment options exist to slow the process down. Light therapy is one of them: it allows the skin to gradually get used to the ultraviolet radiation. The doctor may also prescribe medication, including a corticosteroid.

What prevention?

Prevention is based on limiting direct exposure to the sun, wearing protective clothing, and applying sun protection. In severe cases, you should even be careful on cloudy days and in the shade. In even more exceptional cases, it is necessary to cover the windows with a special foil intended to filter out ultraviolet rays.

Betsy Wilson

Betsy is a true science nerd, down to the glasses. Her words, not mine! She works as a nurse specializing in pediatric nursing. She holds a Master's degree from the University of Pennsylvania. She is passionate about all thing pregnancy and baby-related.