Are you allergic to the sun?

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A day out at the beach is always a good time. But what if after that glorious day in the sun, you return home to discover that you've developed a nasty, itchy rash? It could be something you ate, but you could have also developed an allergy to the sun’s rays.

What is sun allergy?
Sun allergy (also called photosensitivity) occurs when the body's immune system overreacts to sunlight exposure. It's not the same as sunburn. Sunburn is a result of damage to the skin cells. 

Photosensitivity is characterised by an itchy, red rash on areas of the skin exposed to sunlight. In severe cases, hives or blisters may develop.

Research suggests that the body identifies the parts of the skin exposed to the sun as a foreign substance. This triggers the immune system to launch an attack, producing irritated or chapped skin.

For people sensitive to the sun, the allergic reaction can be triggered by brief or prolonged sun exposure. It can also be triggered by spending time in the sun while taking certain drugs or using certain skincare products or perfume. Some of these drugs include antibiotics, diuretics, as well as certain sedatives and some narcotics.

Photosensitivity can be hereditary and is more common in those who have other skin disorders like eczema and psoriasis. It’s more common in women than in men, and affects people of all skin types.

If you have a sun-related rash:

  • Take an antihistamine to curb the body's release of histamines, which occurs when any allergic reaction takes place in the body.
  • Consider discontinuing medication if the rash is linked to medication use and sun exposure. Speak to your doctor first though. 
  • Refrain from using scented soaps, shower gels, foam bath and lotions.
  • Use calamine lotion, buchu or aloe gel, corticosteroids cream or nappy-rash cream to soothe the burning sensation and swelling.

Once the allergy is diagnosed:

  • Try to stay out of direct sunlight as much as possible.
  • Wear protective gear: sun hats, sunglasses and long-sleeved shirts.
  • Always wear broad-spectrum sunblock with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher, even on cool or overcast days.
  • Stay away from artificial tanning salons, spray-on tans and self-tan lotions.

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