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Drugs Which Can Cause Photosensitivity!

Jun 20th , 2014 
Posted By Terry

Whether it be a simple over-the-counter painkiller, or a prescription drug authorized by your doctor, some medication can increase your skins sensitivity to sun and UV rays. Be aware!

Photosensitivity (or sun sensitivity): inflammation of the skin induced by the combination of sunlight and certain medications or substances. This causes redness of the skin, and may look similar to sunburn. Both the photosensitizing medication or chemical and light source have to be present in order for a photosensitivity reaction to occur.

Phototoxic Reactions


  • The drug may become activated by exposure to sunlight and cause damage to the skin; the skins appearance resembles sunburn, and the process is generally acute (has a fast onset).
  • Ultraviolet A (UVA) radiation is most commonly associated with phototoxicity, but ultraviolet B (UVB) and visible light may also contribute to this reaction.
  • Rash from a phototoxic reaction is mainly confined to the sun-exposed area of the skin. A phototoxic reaction typically clears up once the drug is discontinued and has been cleared from the body, even after re-exposure to light.
  • Someone with a phototoxic reaction may initially complain of a burning and stinging sensation. Then the redness typically occurs within 24 hours of the exposure to sun in the exposed areas of the body such as the forehead, nose, hands, arms, and lips. In severe cases, the sun protected areas of skin may be also be involved.
  • The range of skin damage may vary from mild redness, to swelling, to blisters (severe cases). The rash from this photosensitivity reaction usually resolves with sloughing off of the affected area within several days.

Photoallergic Reactions


  • The ultraviolet exposure changes the structure of the drug, so that is seen by the bodys immune system as an invader. The immune system initiates an allergic response, and cause inflammation of the skin in the sun-exposed areas. These usually resemble eczema and are generally chronic (long-lasting). Many drugs in this family are topical drugs.
  • This type of photosensitivity may recur after sun exposure even after the drug has cleared from the system and can sometimes spread to areas of the skin unexposed to the sun.
  • Someone with a photoallergic reactions may initially complain of itching. This is then followed by redness, as well as possibly swelling and eruption of the involved area. Because this is considered an allergic reaction, there may be no symptoms for many days when the drug is taken for the first time. Subsequent exposure to the drug and the sun may cause a more rapid response in 1-2 days.
  • Hyperpigmentation (darkening) of the affected area of the skin may develop after the resolution of a phototoxicity reaction, but it is rare in a photoallergic reaction. In phototoxic reactions, high doses of the drug and long exposures to light may be required to cause the reaction.


Common Medications Which Can Lead to Sun Sensitivity


  • Hormonal contraceptive methods: oral contraceptive (the Pill), Ortho Evra (the Patch), Depo Provera injections (the Shot), NuVa Ring, Implanon, and the Mirena IUD.
  • Hormone replacement therapy drugs.
  • Corticosteroid drugs such as Prednisone.
  • Many antibiotics.
  • Antihistamines such as Benadryl.
  • Systemic tretinoin/retinol for acne treatment (i.e. Accutate).
  • Some chemotherapy and cardiac drugs.
  • Prescription and over-the-counter strength NSAID drugs such as Naproxen, Anaprox, Aleve, and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin).
  • Some prescription diuretics.
  • Topical retinol such as Retin-A and Renova.
  • A more comprehensive list of medications.


Though we cannot offer medical advice, we do suggest that you read all details when filling a new prescription, and ask your doctor or pharmacist about potential sun-related side effects.

All the more reason to ensure that your sunscreen is applied every day, thoroughly, and steps are taken to be safe in the sun!

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