4 Things That Can Make Your Skin Sensitive to the Sun

Categories: Cancer Prevention, Skin Cancer

May 22, 2018

Have you ever gotten a sunburn even after taking all the necessary precautions, such as slathering on sunscreen or wearing a hat? If so, you’re well aware that it’s not just painful, but frustrating as well.

It may be shocking to learn that certain medications, foods, skin care products, and other agents can actually increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun’s harmful rays (photosensitivity). While many of these “sunburn boosters” aren’t considered harmful in and of themselves, it is important to use them with caution on days you know your skin will be exposed to the sun.   

Since “Don’t Fry Day” is coming up soon (Friday before Memorial Day), it only makes sense to talk about some culprits that can cause photosensitivity. Knowing what they are can help you be better prepared to enjoy the summer sun.  

Below are four things that could increase your likelihood of sunburn, especially if you’re not using SPF.

1. Cosmetic Skin Treatments

Demand for over-the-counter and prescription products to smooth fine lines and lighten dark spots, as well as firm, plump and exfoliate the skin are in high demand. One 2015 study conducted by the Global Cosmetic Industry estimated that the U.S. skin care market will reach $11 billion in sales in 2018.

Consumers who buy skincare products to keep their skin looking younger and/or clearer often reach for products whose ingredients include alpha-hydroxy acids, beta-hydroxy acids, tretinoins (found in Retin-A) and benzoyl peroxide (found in acne treatments).

These ingredients keep the skin looking radiant by stripping away the outer layer, revealing the young skin underneath. The problem is, while the outer layer of the skin may appear dull to the eye, it provides valuable protection from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. When it’s removed, the skin underneath is especially susceptible to sunburn. Prescription skin care products and treatments typically contain higher concentrations of these ingredients. The higher the concentration, the more prone the skin will be to sunburn.

2. Essential Oils and Scented Products

Be mindful of the scent of products that you apply to your skin. Perfumes may cause sensitivity to the sun when rose or musk scents are present. Likewise, certain essential oils can make your skin more prone to sun damage. These include lavender, rosemary, sandalwood and most citrus oils among others.

3. Oral Medications

Medications that have nothing to do with your skin may have the unwanted side effect of increasing your skin’s sun sensitivity. These medications include:

  • Allergy treatments containing diphenhydramine
  • Heart medications (such as Cordarone and Procardia)
  • Pain relievers (such as Advil, Aleve and Motrin)
  • High-blood-pressure medications (such as hydrochlorothiazide)
  • Diabetes medications (such as sulfonylureas)
  • Antibiotics (such as tetracyclines and sulfa drugs)
  • Chemotherapy drugs (such as imatinib and dasatinib)

4. Certain Foods

Even more surprising is the fact that some foods and herbs can increase your risk of sunburn, too! After you consume celery, dill, figs, fennel, lime, parsley or grapefruit, take steps to shield your skin from the sun as these foods have been shown to increase your skin’s sunburn risk. Also, when citric food (or their juices) is applied to the skin can cause a chemical burn with it reacts with the sun. This sun-induced condition is referred to as phytophotodermatitis. So be careful with that glass of lemonade!

What You Should Do

If you find that you’re using a product that may be increasing your risk of sunburn here is what you should do to protect your skin from those risks, which could possibly lead to skin cancer.

  1. Stay aware. Knowing that you could potentially have a higher risk for sunburn is important so that you are careful to think about what products you use before a long day outdoors.
  2. Check the labels of any medications or skin treatments you’re using to determine if they include any of the trigger ingredients listed above. Or in some cases, they’ll simply tell you that you need to be extra careful in the sun.
  3. Remember to “Slip! Slop! Slap!® and Wrap” before you head out into the sun. This is especially important if you are using products that can make your skin extra sensitive to the sun. Slip! Slop! Slap!® and Wrap means to:
    - SLIP on a shirt or under some shade to buffer the sun’s rays
    - SLOP on broad-spectrum sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher) and reapply every 2 hours
    - SLAP on a wide-brimmed hat to protect sensitive areas such as the face and neck
    - WRAP on sunglasses that block at least 99% of UV light to protect your eyes and the skin around them

Regardless of whether you are using any of the listed products or not, the skin cancer specialists at Virginia Oncology encourage you to practice sun safety and get a yearly skin exam to check for signs and symptoms of skin cancer. If you are located in or around Hampton Roads, Virginia, Northeast North Carolina or the surrounding areas and would like to make an appointment with one of our skin cancer specialists, please contact Virginia Oncology Associates for an appointment.

 Find More Skin Cancer Education from Virginia Oncology Associates