Health Library

Categories > Skin and Scalp Care > Treating skin problems

Sunny-day warnings

Besides protecting yourself against skin cancer, there’s another important reason to monitor your time in the sun. Many prescriptions, from pills to special skin creams, don’t mix well with a dose of UV light.

The chemicals in these widely used medications can produce a photoreaction, increasing your skin’s sensitivity to sunshine and causing eczema-like rashes, eye burn, swelling, blistering, reddening and scaling, even after limited exposure to rays.

Skin that tends not to burn easily can get lobster-red in under an hour; if you’re fair-skinned, you’re likely to be even more vulnerable. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if a medication you’re using—whether prescription or over-the-counter—can make you more sun-sensitive. Look for a clear warning about photosensitivity on the bottle, too. Here are some categories of medications that have been shown to cause reactions linked to sun exposure:

  • antihistamines, commonly used in cold and allergy medicines
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and over-the-counter NSAID pain relievers that contain ibuprofen
  • antibiotics, including tetracyclines and sulfonamides, or “sulfa” drugs
  • certain antidepressants and antipsychotic medicines
  • some chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer
  • acne and wrinkle medications, including benzoyl peroxide and Retin-A
  • certain hormone medications
  • diuretics (water pills)

The degree of photosensitivity varies from person to person, and not everyone who uses medications that contain photoreactive agents will have a problem. Sometimes, you can have a photo-reaction after only your first exposure to sunlight, but not repeatedly.

If you do have to take a drug that can cause photosensitivity, use extra precautions in the sun: Cover up, apply a PABA-free sunscreen to exposed areas and limit time spent in baking rays.