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Skin Care and Diseases

Causes of sun poisoning

06/09/2005

Question:

My dad works outside almost constantly. His skin will sometimes be a little red, but really shows no other signs of damage. However, he makes an annual trip to Canada and every year he returns with a strange rash on his hands and face. He has just returned from his yearly trip and tells me that the rash appeared within 24 hours of arriving at their destination. Is the amount of sunlight stronger in Canada than in the United States? Why does my father not get a rash when out in our front yard?

Answer:

It may depend on where in Canada your father visits. If he is going up into the Canadian Rockies then he is exposing himself to sunlight at a high elevation. The higher up you go the greater the ultraviolet light exposure. The intensity of radiation varies according to the season of the year, time of day, geographic location (latitude), elevation above sea level, reflection from surfaces (e.g., white sand or concrete, water, snow), stratospheric ozone, clouds, and air pollution. All of these factors that are different from your front yard may be responsible for his rash. In addition, is your father sure the rash is from the sun and not from something that he is coming into contact with on his trip that he doesn't normally see at home? A rash could also be a sign of contact dermatitis.

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Response by:

Tatiana M Oberyszyn, PhD Tatiana M Oberyszyn, PhD
Associate Professor of Pathology
Associate Professor of Molecular Virology, Immunology & Medical Genetics
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University