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Skin Care and Diseases

Sun poisioning

08/24/2006

Question:

I am 54 years old, and approximately 15 years ago I suffered my first expierience with what was diagnosed as sun poisioning. Prior to this, I had never had a problem with sun exposure (other than normal sunburn). My question is this: after visiting several doctors and a reputable dermatologist in my area, I was told to "never" go into sunlight without applying sunscreen lotion. My problem is every time I have applied suncreen it seems to trigger and alergic reaction rather than prevent one. Is there an explanation for this? I am presently suffering another bout with this and it`s only April. Normally it does not occur until June or July when the temp reaches 90 degrees or more. Also, is there a specific type of treatment for the symptoms when they occur? Thanks.

Answer:

Many people have a reaction to the products in sunscreens themselves. You many need to test different products made especially for sensitive skin that don't contain extraneous chemicals to find the one that works the best on you. Some to try may be Blue Lizard Australian Sunscream or Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Sunblock. The sunscreens made for children may also give you a better result than those for adults.

I don't know what type of sun poisoning with which you have been diagnosed. There are two reactions that commonly are referred to as "sun poisoning".

The first is called Polymorphous Light Eruption. Women are more likely to get this than men. It occurs in susceptible individuals when they are exposed to sunlight that is more intense than usual, for example as in the first time you go out in the sun during the summer or when you expose a body part to sunlight that has no prior sunlight exposure. It may also occur if you travel to a higher latitude or lower latitude such as to a country closer to the equator where the sunlight has more strength.

Normally the resulting skin-rash reaction heals within 7-10 days with no treatment as long as additional sun exposure is avoided. In the future using sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays is mandatory. (Sunlight is made up of UVA and UVB rays). Make sure the sunscreen protects against both UVB and UVA since these protective agents are more effective in preventing these breakouts.

The second is called Solar Urticaria. It is a rare reaction to sun exposure. This is a true sun allergy. It develops rapidly--moments after exposure, the skin begins to itch, and then becomes red. Wheals or vesicles appear. The actual mechanism that causes this reaction is unknown, however, antihistamines are effective in treating the reactions of some patients.

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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