How to protect your skin when taking these medications

woman-under-an-umbrella-on-sunny-day

Have you developed a sudden sun sensitivity? Before you worry too much – the answer might actually be in your medicine cabinet.

You probably think about protecting yourself from the sun when you are heading out for a day at the beach or for an outside event in the summer, but for patients on certain medications, even a trip to their car can cause a reaction to the sun.

What is going on?

Certain medications have photosensitive side effects – meaning sunlight can trigger them.

Denise Erickson was prescribed one of these medications, and a day outdoors, enjoying the sun, caused a painful reaction.

“I had been on an antibiotic for a couple of days, and then, I spent several hours outside in my garden,” Erickson said. “The next morning, I woke up with a horrific red rash on my face, my arms and my legs—even my scalp.”

She noted the rash was very itchy and painful and lasted for several days.

“I didn’t realize how badly I looked until I got to work, and people were like ‘you are very, very red,’” Erickson said.

According to Banner Clinical Pharmacist, Cindy Boxerman, beyond a rash, patients on photosensitive medications have an increased risk of sunburn.

Other symptoms that may be triggered by sunlight include:

  • Burning and stinging sensation
  • Pain
  • Blisters
  • Inflammation and swelling
  • Itching
  • Darkening of the skin

Protect yourself from sun sensitivity

You can usually determine if your medicine can cause photosensitivity by reading the prescription label.

“If you do not see a warning placed on the prescription bottle or on the label of an over-the-counter product you’re taking, it’s always a good idea to check with a pharmacist,” Boxerman added.

Many types of medications can cause photosensitivity, or sun sensitivity, including:

  • Several common antibiotics including ciprofloxacin, doxycycline and sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim (Septra)
  • Glyburide, a medication used for diabetes
  • NSAIDs (Ibuprofen, naproxen)
  • Some oral contraceptives
  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl), an antihistamine
  • Coal tar
  • Enalapril
  • Hydrochlorothiazide
  • Itraconazole
  • Voriconazole
  • Griseofulvin
  • 5-Fluorouracil
  • Quinidine
  • Hydroxychloroquine
  • Dapsone
  • Cinnamates
  • Benzophenones
  • Salicylates

Manage your risk

Even though the thought of severe sunburn and rash can be scary, Boxerman says you should not live in fear of going outside.

“I know it’s not always possible to avoid the sunlight—you may have to walk to your car and to the store—but there are some sun-protection strategies that can help minimize your risk.”

These strategies can include:

  • Using sunscreen daily
  • Wearing a wide-brimmed hat
  • Wearing sun-protective clothing
  • Seeking shade when possible

Also read How to Select the Best Sunscreen and Protect Your Skin.

Erickson echoes this advice, so others do not experience the same reaction she did, adding that you need more vigilance when you are on these medications.

“Normally, you don’t think about putting on sunscreen when you are going to go out for a little bit to do yard work,” Erickson said, “But talking to your pharmacist and taking that precaution can help prevent what happened to me.”

If you have questions about prescriptions and sun sensitivity, call our Nurse On Call line at (844) 259-9494.

This post has been updated. It was originally published on July 7, 2017.

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