Sunshine is often associated with happy days spent outdoors, but for some, exposure to the sun can lead to more than just a sunburn. Sun allergies, or photosensitivity reactions, can be not only uncomfortable but also bewildering. At Premier Allergy, Asthma & Sinus Care, we often encounter patients who are surprised to learn that their skin’s adverse reaction is due to sunlight. In this blog, we’ll explain what sun allergies are, the different types, symptoms, and how you can manage and treat them effectively.

What Are Sun Allergies?

Sun allergies, or photosensitive reactions, occur when an immune system reaction is triggered by sunlight. Most commonly, these reactions are triggered by changes in the skin that occur after sun exposure. It’s important to distinguish these from the more common sunburn; while both can cause discomfort, sun allergies are specifically immune-system responses to sunlight-induced changes in the skin.

Types of Sun Allergies

Several types of sun allergies can affect individuals, each with distinct triggers and symptoms:

Polymorphic Light Eruption (PMLE) – Often considered the most common form of sun allergy, PMLE causes an itchy or burning rash on the skin that has been exposed to the sun. This can happen in both people who are used to frequent sun exposure and in those who are suddenly exposed to intense sunlight.

Photoallergic Eruption – This occurs when a substance on the skin or in the body changes upon exposure to UV light and leads to an allergic reaction. Common triggers include certain ingredients in sunscreens, cosmetics, or medications.

Solar Urticaria – This is a rare condition where exposure to ultraviolet light causes hives to appear on both covered and uncovered skin shortly after exposure.

Chronic Actinic Dermatitis – A severe form of sun allergy that mainly affects older adults with sensitive skin. It results from prolonged exposure to UV radiation and can also be aggravated by artificial lighting.

Symptoms of Sun Allergies

The symptoms of sun allergies can vary depending on the type but typically include:

-Redness and rash on the skin

-Itching or burning sensation

-Blisters or hives

-Peeling or flaking skin

-Pain and tenderness

These symptoms can appear within minutes of sun exposure or after several hours.

Diagnosis of Sun Allergies

Diagnosing sun allergies usually involves a thorough examination by an allergy provider. The process may include:

Medical History – Discuss your symptoms, when they occur, your family history, and any known reactions to sun exposure.

Physical Examination – Looking at the affected skin.

Phototesting – Exposing small areas of your skin to controlled amounts of UVA and UVB light to observe reactions.

Patch Testing – Checking for photoallergic reactions to chemicals by applying them to the skin and exposing these areas to light.

Managing and Treating Sun Allergies

Avoidance and Protective Measures

The first and most effective treatment for managing sun allergies is to minimize exposure to the triggers:

Sun Avoidance: Limit time spent in direct sunlight, especially during peak hours between 10 AM and 4 PM when UV radiation is strongest.

Protective Clothing: Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, wide-brimmed hats, and sunglasses to protect your skin and eyes from UV rays.

Use of Sunscreen: Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF (at least 30) to all exposed skin, reapplying every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating. For those with photoallergic reactions, mineral-based sunscreens (containing titanium dioxide or zinc oxide) are preferred as they are less likely to cause skin irritation.

Topical Treatments

For immediate relief from symptoms such as itching and inflammation, topical treatments can be effective:

Corticosteroid Creams: Prescription or over-the-counter corticosteroid creams can help reduce inflammation and soothe irritated skin.

Moisturizers: After sun exposure, using aloe vera or other soothing moisturizers can help calm the skin and provide relief from dryness and peeling.


In cases where symptoms are severe, additional medications may be necessary:

Oral Antihistamines: These can help manage reactions such as itching and hives associated with solar urticaria.

Oral Corticosteroids: For severe allergic reactions, a short course of oral corticosteroids may be prescribed to reduce swelling and other symptoms.

Immunosuppressants: In chronic and severe cases, such as those suffering from chronic actinic dermatitis, doctors may prescribe immunosuppressants to manage the immune system’s overreaction to sunlight.


For some types of sun allergies, particularly polymorphic light eruption (PMLE), desensitization or phototherapy might be an option:

Gradual Exposure: Slowly increasing amounts of sun exposure may help desensitize the skin. This method should be guided by a healthcare professional to prevent exacerbation of the condition.

Phototherapy: Controlled exposure to artificial UV light in a clinical setting has been effective for some people in building up tolerance to sunlight.

Lifestyle and Home Remedies

Lifestyle changes and home remedies can also play a supportive role in managing sun allergies:

Dietary Adjustments: Increasing antioxidants through diet can help protect the skin. Foods rich in antioxidants, like berries, nuts, and green leafy vegetables, may provide some protection against UV damage.

Vitamin D Supplementation: Since avoiding the sun can reduce Vitamin D levels, consider supplementing with Vitamin D after consulting with your doctor.

Herbal Remedies: Some herbal remedies, such as calendula or chamomile cream, might provide symptom relief due to their anti-inflammatory properties. However, always check with your allergy provider before starting any new treatment to ensure it won’t cause an adverse reaction.

Monitoring and Professional Guidance

Monitoring the condition and regularly consulting with an allergy provider are essential for managing sun allergies effectively. Since symptoms and severity can change over time, ongoing evaluation and adjustments to the treatment plan may be necessary.

By understanding the available treatments and how to implement preventive measures, those affected by sun allergies can often enjoy outdoor activities while minimizing their risk of reactions. Always consult with a healthcare professional to tailor the treatment approach based on individual needs and specific conditions.

Living with Sun Allergies

Living with sun allergies requires adjustments, especially for those who love the outdoors. With the right strategies and treatments, however, you can enjoy sunny days without significant discomfort. Always consult with an allergist if you suspect you have a sun allergy, particularly if over-the-counter treatments do not alleviate your symptoms. With careful management, you can often keep the symptoms of sun allergies under control and continue to enjoy life under the sun, albeit with a bit more shade.