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What is photosensitivity?

What is photosensitivity?

Photosensitivity is a heightened skin sensitivity or an occurrence of skin irritation due to ultraviolet radiation (UV) from sunlight or a tanning bed. You can be photosensitive for genetic reasons or due to the use of skin care products, over the counter or prescription drugs.

There are two main types of photosensitivity: phototoxic and photoallergic.

Phototoxic photosensitivity

The most common reaction, phototoxic photosensitivity occurs when chemicals in your body reacts to sun exposure. This reaction causes severe damage to the skin which can look and feel like an exaggerated sun burn or a skin rash. The reaction can be immediate or delayed and usually only impacts skin that has been exposed to the sun.

This can be triggered by medications which include tetracycline and doxycycline.

Tetracycline is a common antibiotic that is used to fight bacterial infections of the skin, urinary tract, respiratory tract, intestines, genitals and lymph nodes. Common side effects include vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite and photosensitivity.

Doxycycline is a synthetic chemical derived from tetracycline. Doxycycline is used to treat infections relating to the chest, dental and sexually transmitted. Side effects include vomiting, headaches and photosensitivity.

Photoallergic photosensitivity

Far less common, photoallergic reactions is a side effect of chemicals in medication and skincare products applied to the skin. 

UV interrupts the structure of these chemicals triggering an immune system reaction. Your body produces anti-bodies to attack the foreign threat. Photoallergic reaction may take a number of days following sun exposure to occur. The duration of a photoallergic eruption is unpredictable but may last as long as the chemical is being used.

Autoimmune diseases including lupus can result in an increased sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation.

Benzoyl peroxide is known to increase the likelihood of photosensitivity. Benzoyl peroxide is an ingredient used in medication to treat mild to moderate cases of acne. It is an anti-septic which removes bacteria from the surface of the skin.

Skincare ingredients which can trigger an adverse photosensitive reaction include retinol (used in anti-aging products), glycolic acids (also known as AHA, is an exfoliant which is commonly found in cleansers, toners, moisturisers, scrubs, peels and masks) and hydroquinone (which is an agent used to lighten areas of skin including freckles, age spots and melasma. 

Individuals who suffer from photoallergic reactions can feel a burning or stinging sensation on their skin resulting from extreme sun burn reaction. Other skin sensitivities can occur resulting in dermatitis like symptoms: skin dryness, bumpiness, blistering or rash.

How can I protect myself if I have photosensitive skin?

Minimising your exposure to UV by managing your time in sunlight and be sure to avoid tanning beds. If you are outside during daylight hours, you can wear UPF 50+ sun protective clothing and a broad brim sun hat and SPF50+ sunscreen to minimise sun exposure.

Solbari offers an award-winning range of sun protection products in including SPF50+ Sunscreen, UPF50+ sun protective clothing, sun hats, UPF 50+ arm sleeves, UV driving gloves and sun protective umbrellas.

You can find out more about Solbari's certified UPF50+ sun protective range by clicking the blue links below:
Women UPF50+
Men UPF50+
Sun hats UPF50+
Accessories UPF50+ 
SPF50+ Sunscreen

The Solbari Team



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