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Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jun 6, 2022.

What is photosensitivity?

Photosensitivity, or sensitivity to sunlight, is a skin reaction to sunlight. It may be caused by sunlight alone or by sunlight and chemicals. These chemicals are found in perfume, makeup, creams, lotions, food, or medicines.

What increases my risk for photosensitivity?

  • Fair skin, light-colored hair, and blue eyes
  • Working outside
  • Medicines, such as antibiotics, birth control pills, diuretics, or anti-inflammatories
  • Family history of photosensitivity
  • Autoimmune disease, such as lupus

What are the signs and symptoms of photosensitivity?

Your signs and symptoms usually start within 2 to 3 hours of sun exposure. They usually go away within 24 hours after sun exposure. Your signs and symptoms can last up to a week or more. You may have any of the following:

  • Itchy, red rash on skin that is exposed to the sun
  • Hives
  • Blisters

How is photosensitivity diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your signs and symptoms and examine your skin. Tell him about any medicines you take and what kinds of creams, lotions, or perfume you use. You may need any of the following:

  • Phototesting, or photopatch, testing are procedures where a small area of your skin is exposed to an artificial light. This test may show if your symptoms were caused by light alone or by light and a chemical.
  • A skin biopsy may be needed to test for medical conditions that may be causing your symptoms.

How is photosensitivity treated?

  • Steroids may help decrease itching and inflammation. This medicine may be a cream, shot, or pill.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children younger than 6 months without direction from a healthcare provider.
  • Antihistamines may help decrease itching.
  • Phototherapy is a treatment where you skin is slowly exposed to doses of ultraviolet light. This may help your skin adjust to the sunlight.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

How can I manage my symptoms?

Apply a cool, damp cloth to your rash area or mist the area with cool sprays of water. Protect your skin from the sun with any of following:

  • Wear a broad spectrum sunscreen that is at least SPF 30, even on cloudy or cool days. Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours.
  • Avoid direct sunlight between 10am and 3pm. Instead, sit in the shade.
  • Do not use tanning beds.
  • Wear long sleeves, pants, or long skirts when you are in the sun.
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim all the way around to shade your face, ears, and neck.
  • Wear sunglasses.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have severe pain.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • The rash spreads and covers large parts of your body.
  • The rash starts to turn into blisters.
  • Your rash does not get better, or it gets worse, even after treatment.
  • You have a rash on your cheeks and nose that looks like a butterfly.
  • Your skin bruises easily.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.