What causes skin sensitivity to sunlight and how can it be treated?

Symptom Database

Exposure to sunlight is a common occurrence in our daily lives, but for some individuals, it can lead to skin sensitivity and various related conditions. Skin sensitivity to sunlight, also known as photosensitivity or sun sensitivity, can cause discomfort and even serious skin conditions. In this article, we will explore the causes of skin sensitivity to sunlight and discuss effective treatment options.

Understanding Skin Sensitivity to Sunlight

Skin sensitivity to sunlight refers to an abnormal reaction of the skin when exposed to UV rays from the sun. This sensitivity can manifest in different ways, including sunburn, sun rash, or a sun allergy. It is important to note that skin sensitivity to sunlight is not a specific skin condition but rather a symptom of an underlying issue.

Causes of Skin Sensitivity to Sunlight

There are several factors that can contribute to skin sensitivity to sunlight:

  • Medications: Certain medications, such as antibiotics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and some antidepressants, can increase photosensitivity.
  • Medical conditions: Some medical conditions, including lupus, porphyria, and certain autoimmune disorders, can make the skin more sensitive to sunlight.
  • Genetic predisposition: Some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to sun sensitivity, making them more prone to developing skin reactions when exposed to UV rays.
  • Chemicals and cosmetics: Certain chemicals and cosmetics, such as fragrances or certain skincare products, can cause photosensitivity reactions when exposed to sunlight.

Treating Skin Sensitivity to Sunlight

While it may not be possible to completely cure skin sensitivity to sunlight, there are several measures that can be taken to manage and alleviate the symptoms:

  • Protective clothing: Wearing long-sleeved shirts, pants, and wide-brimmed hats can provide physical protection from UV rays.
  • Sunscreen: Applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF (sun protection factor) can help protect the skin from harmful UV rays.
  • Seek shade: Limiting sun exposure, especially during peak hours when the sun’s rays are strongest, can reduce the risk of skin reactions.
  • Medication adjustments: If medications are causing photosensitivity, consulting with a healthcare professional to explore alternative options or adjusting the dosage may be beneficial.
  • Avoid triggers: Identifying and avoiding triggers, such as specific chemicals or cosmetics, can help prevent skin reactions.

Understanding Sunburn and Sun Rash

Sunburn and sun rash are two common skin conditions that can occur as a result of skin sensitivity to sunlight. Understanding these conditions can help individuals better manage their symptoms and seek appropriate treatment.


Sunburn is a common condition characterized by red, painful skin that occurs after excessive exposure to UV rays. It is important to note that sunburn is a form of radiation burn caused by the sun’s UV rays. The severity of sunburn can vary, ranging from mild redness and discomfort to blistering and peeling.

To treat sunburn:

  • Cool compresses: Applying cool compresses or taking cool showers can help soothe the skin and reduce inflammation.
  • Moisturize: Applying a gentle moisturizer can help hydrate the skin and promote healing.
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation.
  • Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water can help replenish fluids lost due to sunburn.

Sun Rash

Sun rash, also known as polymorphic light eruption (PMLE), is a condition characterized by an itchy or painful rash that develops after sun exposure. It is more common in individuals with fair skin and can occur in both adults and children.

To manage sun rash:

  • Cool compresses: Applying cool compresses or taking cool showers can help relieve itching and soothe the skin.
  • Topical corticosteroids: Over-the-counter or prescription corticosteroid creams can help reduce inflammation and itching.
  • Antihistamines: Taking oral antihistamines can help alleviate itching and reduce allergic reactions.
  • Avoid scratching: Scratching the rash can worsen symptoms and increase the risk of infection.


Skin sensitivity to sunlight can be a challenging condition to manage, but with proper precautions and treatment, individuals can minimize discomfort and reduce the risk of skin damage. Understanding the causes and symptoms of skin sensitivity to sunlight is crucial in developing an effective treatment plan. By protecting the skin from UV rays, avoiding triggers, and seeking appropriate medical advice, individuals can enjoy the outdoors while keeping their skin healthy and comfortable.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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