That patchy, irritated skin might not be a sunburn after all

Woman outside with sun hat on

The warm weather has finally arrived, and summer is in full swing. As we spend more and more time outside, whether camping, cottaging or even in our own backyards, sun protection is usually top of mind.

But while we’re often quick to slather on the sunscreen and protective clothing and try to reapply regularly, sometimes we still return indoors to find a painful rash, discoloured skin or inflammation. After spending time outside, we can be quick to pass it off as sunburn and begin to apply the aloe or other after-sun creams. Sometimes though, the real culprit might actually be photosensitivity, rather than a pesky sunburn.

Photosensitivity is an immune system reaction and is triggered by spending even a short amount of time in the sun. The severity of the reaction can vary depending on the person and can present as either phototoxic or photoallergic. A phototoxic reaction can be caused by new chemicals being introduced to the body, while a photoallergic reaction is rarer and typically caused by topical medicines or photosensitizing agents.

Although these are two types of reactions, both include symptoms like an exaggerated sunburn or skin rash. These rashes can often be itchy, and in extreme cases, you may experience blistering and peeling skin.

The most common cause of photosensitivity is a reaction to a medication. Antihistamines, antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, diuretics, and even some skincare agents are known to create a reaction. Certain medical conditions, such as lupus and rosacea, can also cause photosensitivity.

If you believe you could be experiencing a photosensitivity reaction, your local Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacist may be able to help by looking at your current prescriptions to see if you’re taking any medications that could make you susceptible. If a medication or skin product is making your skin more sensitive to sun exposure, there may be other options available that your pharmacist can recommend that do not cause the same reaction.

Whether or not you have photosensitivity, minimizing your exposure to direct sunlight is the most effective way to protect your skin. Applying sunscreen and covering up with clothing are also ways to protect skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays. Don’t forget to stock up on SPF before hitting the beach or cottage this summer.

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