What is sun allergy?

Sun allergy is a term often used to describe a number of conditions in which an itchy red rash occurs on skin that has been exposed to sunlight. The most common form of sun allergy is polymorphic light eruption, also known as sun poisoning.

Some people have a hereditary type of sun allergy. Others develop signs and symptoms only when triggered by another factor — such as a medication or skin exposure to a plant such as wild parsnip or limes.

Mild cases of sun allergy may clear up without treatment. More severe cases may be treated with steroid creams or pills. People who have a severe sun allergy may need to take preventive measures and wear sun-protective clothing.

How common is sun allergy?

sun allergy is a rare allergy that occurs around the world. The median age at the time of a person’s first outbreak is 35, but it can affect you at any age. It can even affect infants. Sun allergy can occur in people of all races, though some forms of the condition may be more common among Caucasians. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of sun allergy?

The appearance of skin affected by sun allergy can vary widely, depending on the disorder that’s causing the problem. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Redness
  • Itching or pain
  • Tiny bumps that may merge into raised patches
  • Scaling, crusting or bleeding
  • Blisters or hives

Signs and symptoms usually occur only on skin that has been exposed to the sun and typically develop within minutes to hours after sun exposure.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

See a doctor if you have unusual, bothersome skin reactions after exposure to sunlight. For severe or persistent symptoms, you may need to see a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating skin disorders (dermatologist).


What causes sun allergy?

Certain medications, chemicals and medical conditions can make the skin more sensitive to the sun. It isn’t clear why some people have a sun allergy and others don’t. Inherited traits may play a role.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for sun allergy?

There are many risk factors for sun allergy, such as:

  • Anyone can have a sun allergy, but certain sun allergies are most common in people of certain racial backgrounds. For example, the most common type of sun allergy (polymorphic light eruption) occurs mostly in Caucasians. A less common sun allergy, but a more severe variety, is most common in Native Americans.
  • Exposure to certain substances. Some skin allergy symptoms are triggered when your skin is exposed to a certain substance and then to sunlight. Common substances responsible for this type of reaction include fragrances, disinfectants and even some chemicals used in sunscreens.
  • Taking certain medications. A number of medications can make the skin sunburn more quickly — including tetracycline antibiotics, sulfa-based drugs and pain relievers, such as ketoprofen.
  • Having another skin condition. Having dermatitis increases your risk of having a sun allergy.
  • Having relatives with a sun allergy. You’re more likely to have a sun allergy if you have a sibling or parent with a sun allergy.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is sun allergy diagnosed?

Your doctor may be able to diagnose sun allergy from a physical examination. They will look at your rash and ask you about the history of its appearance and disappearance. sun allergy usually breaks out within minutes of sun exposure, and it goes away fast if you get out of the sun. It doesn’t leave any scars.

Your doctor will ask you questions about your history and your reaction to sunlight. Your doctor may also need to do one or more tests to confirm a diagnosis:

  • Phototesting looks at how your skin reacts to UV light from a sun lamp in different wavelengths. The wavelength your skin reacts to may help identify your particular sun allergy.
  • Patch testing involves putting different substances known to trigger allergies on your skin, waiting a day, and then exposing your skin to UV radiation from a sun lamp. If your skin reacts to a particular substance, that may be what triggered the sun allergy.
  • Blood tests or skin biopsies may be used if your doctor thinks your hives may be caused by another medical condition, such as lupus or a metabolic disease.

How is sun allergy treated?

Sometimes sun allergy will disappear on its own.

Treatment for sun allergy depends on the severity of your symptoms. Staying out of the sun may resolve symptoms if your reaction is mild.

In mild cases, your doctor may prescribe oral antihistamines to calm the hives or over-the-counter creams, such as aloe vera or calamine lotion.

If your reaction is more severe, your doctor may recommend other medications, such as:

  • Montelukast (singulair), which is usually used to treat asthma
  • Corticosteroids
  • Hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil), an antimalarial drug

Your doctor may also recommend phototherapy. This treatment will prepare your skin for the summer sun by regularly exposing it to ultraviolet radiation from a sunlamp in the spring. This may desensitize you, but the effects may not be long-lasting.

The British Association of Dermatologists suggests other treatments to try, including:

  • Cyclosporine (sandimmune), an immunosuppressant
  • Omalizumab (xolair)
  • Plasma exchange
  • Photopheresis
  • Intravenous immunoglobulin

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage sun allergy?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with sun allergy:

  • Avoid sun exposure. Most sun allergy symptoms improve quickly, within hours to a day or two, when the affected areas are no longer exposed to sunlight.
  • Stop using medications that make you sensitive to light. If you’re taking medications for other conditions, talk with your doctor about whether they may be making your skin more sensitive to the sun.
  • Apply skin moisturizers. Moisturizing skin lotions can help relieve irritation caused by dry, scaly skin.
  • Use soothing skin remedies. Home remedies that may help include calamine lotion and aloe vera.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Review Date: December 14, 2017 | Last Modified: December 14, 2017

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