When you're out and about on a beautiful sunny day, you may experience some redness on exposed areas of your skin. Naturally, you think sunburn, and it very well could be. But if the redness is more severe or causes itching, you may be dealing with a sun allergy.
Also known as photosensitivity, sun poisoning, or a sun rash, this condition shares many of the symptoms of a sunburn, like that telltale redness or pain. But an allergy is more serious, so it's important to be able to identify the differences between the two.
Sunburn vs. Sun Allergy
You're probably familiar with the redness, pain, and itching of a sunburn. While uncomfortable, sunburn usually fades after a few days with some soothing moisturizer. But if you're experiencing red patches, hives, blisters, or crusting, you likely have an allergy. These symptoms tend to show up on areas that catch the most rays, like your neck, arms, and hands. And the reaction typically happens fast—sometimes within minutes of being outside.
Sunburn happens when ultraviolet rays (UV) damage your skin, while sun poisoning is your body's immune response to sunlight. This exposure can cause changes in your skin, and if you're allergic to the sun, your body misinterprets these changes as being foreign. Sensing the need to fight off an outside threat, your immune system then creates a reaction—similar to how it combats germs when you're sick.
How to Treat Sun Allergy Symptoms
Most of the time, a sun rash will resolve on its own without special treatment. However, you may want to seek more immediate treatment, especially if your symptoms last a long time or occur frequently. Luckily, sun allergies can be treated similarly to sunburn, with aloe vera gel, gentle exfoliation, hydration, and limiting sun exposure. If your rash persists, visit your Dermatologist, who may recommend corticosteroid creams or pills. If you experience nausea, vomiting, or dizziness, you should seek medical treatment.
Preventing a Sun Allergy
If you have a family history of sun allergies or take certain medications, you may be more at risk of having a reaction, so you should be aware of this and take proper precautions. Practicing good sun safety is key to preventing sunburns and allergies. Consider wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 every day, like the EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46. And when you're out in the sun, make sure you cover up with protective clothing.
According to the Mayo Clinic, you should avoid touching certain triggers, such as lime juice, which can cause rashes on sun-exposed skin. Some experts also recommend introducing your skin slowly to the sun at the start of spring and summer, especially if you burn easily. This may give your body the ramp-up it needs to prepare for the warmer season.
It's never fun to come away from a day outdoors with a bothersome burn or reaction. But with some planning, careful observation, and the help of a Dermatologist when needed, you can keep your skin healthy and ready for some fun in the sun.