I was diagnosed with a sun allergy—here’s what I’ve learned

The Twilight effect


By Low Sue Mae

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I was diagnosed with a sun allergy—here’s what I’ve learned

If you think the tropical heat is getting to you, imagine how it feels for people with a sun allergy (yes, it’s a real thing)!

Sun allergy (also known as photosensitivity) is a condition in which one’s immune system is triggered by sunlight, making the skin extremely sensitive to UV rays from the sun and different sources of light. The allergy causes one to break out in an itchy rash that peels almost like a sunburn—even with just a short time of exposure to the sun.

As someone who had always tried to hide from the sun just to avoid getting tanned, I didn’t even know that sun allergies existed—until I became a victim of it myself. During a fun snorkelling trip on an island, I got a pretty bad ‘sunburn’. But, after two weeks of trying to treat it with aloe vera gel, I finally gave up and went to the doctor. It turned out that what I thought was just a normal sunburn was actually a sun allergy. True enough, my medication-healed skin would immediately start itching and peeling every time I would come in contact with the sunlight (even if it was just for a few minutes). 

Ahead, here’s what I’ve learned since being diagnosed. If you’re struggling with a sun allergy too, here’s what you should know about this condition and how to lessen the chance of its relapse.


What causes a sun allergy?

According to my doctor, there are four main causes behind sun allergies. The first is the allergy being hereditary, where you’re born with it. The second is the allergy being triggered by certain medications like antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, and antihistamines, making you more sensitive to sunlight. Thirdly, it may come up if you have an underlying disease that worsens your immune system. Finally, if you’ve just undergone chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer, the treatment can also trigger a sun allergy.

Ultimately, if you’re worried about any of your habits or routines potentially giving you a sun allergy, it’s best to consult a dermatologist to seek advice.


What does a sun allergy look like?

For me, the allergy looked like a bad sunburn that came back repeatedly, showing an almost immediate reaction whenever I went under the sun. Overall, my face was red and itchy, with scaling skin on my cheeks as well as swollen eyelids. The worst part was that my face would actually sting when I applied my moisturiser during that allergy period. I would also feel extremely fatigued and a little dizzy, which probably wasn’t helped by my swollen eyes.

There are other ways it can present, such as papules or nodules (called Actinic prurigo), small bumps (called polymorphous light eruption) or hives (called solar urticaria). Fortunately, my allergic reaction was moderate, so I did not have to deal with the more severe symptoms. That said, if you do have a more severe allergy than I do, you may also get other symptoms such as headaches, light-headedness, nausea and vomiting, shortness of breath and—in the worst case—anaphylaxis.


How to treat a sun allergy and prevent a relapse

Ideally, you should try to avoid going under the sun as much as possible. However, if you have no choice but to head out during the day, at least make sure to cover up with hats, umbrellas and long-sleeved tops to make sure that the sunlight does not strike your delicate skin. Basically, stay in the shade.

Further, it’s best to avoid known triggers, especially with cosmetics. If you’ve applied a cream, lotion, or fragrance that you suspect made your skin photosensitive, it’s best to stop using them entirely.

If you are suffering from a relapse after forgetting to hide from the sun, the fastest way to treat it is to head to your nearest clinic where you will be prescribed anti-allergy medicine and ointments. Also, you should consume vitamin B3 regularly because many sun allergy patients tend to lack this nutrient. That said, prevention is always better than the cure. My best advice is to make sure to lather on your sunscreen and remember to do your bi-hourly touch-ups. Good luck!


This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you suspect you may have a sun allergy or you would like to learn more, it’s best to consult a dermatologist.


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