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Some Medications Can Make You More Susceptible To Sunburn

Did you know that sometimes sunshine and medication don’t mix? Although the two may be inextricably connected to your health, you might not know the effect some medications can have on your sunshine sensitivity.

We all know that it’s important to wear sunscreen and sunglasses to guard against the sun’s harmful effects. But some extra precautions might be in order if you take a drug that boosts the sun’s impact on your skin.

The increased risk of a burn comes from the interaction between ultraviolet light and some pharmaceuticals. If you’re ingesting or slathering on those preparations, you could experience heightened sun sensitivity.

The side effect is made more dangerous because many people aren’t aware of it. 

“Unless someone points it out to them, they just, it isn’t something that you would think of,” says Pharmacist Barbara Jotham.

Ask your pharmacist if any of your prescriptions are putting you at risk of a burn.  Here are some known culprits in creating sun sensitivity:

  • Antibiotics – (Tetracyclines, Quinolones and Sulfa Drugs)
  • Diuretics – like the blood pressure medication, hydrochlorothyazide
  • Glyburide, a medicine for diabetes
  • Amiodarone, for treating heart conditions
  • Skin care products like alpha hydroxy acid, and retin-A
  • Some NSAID pain killers like Advil, Aleve, Motrin, and ibuprofen, and the prescription drug Celebrex.

Many of these drugs are quite common.  “Sulfa drugs, that’s an antibiotic, often used for bladder infections, and tetracyclines that a lot of teenagers might be taking,” Jotham explains.

Whether or not you use these products, protection from the sun is important to prevent damage that can lead to skin cancer.  

Do your best to avoid getting burned:

  • Be sure to use sunscreen – and lots of it – whenever you’re exposed to the sun. The biggest mistake is having a false sense of security around your sun lotion.  Since UV rays pass through water, it’s necessary to apply the stuff even when you’ll be swimming, and then again afterward. Apply liberally – a thin layer will not provide the protection you need.
  • Cover up – even though it’s hot, covering up is a great way to shield yourself on a sunny day. Hats, long sleeves, umbrellas and sunglasses all provide protective layers.
  • Avoid peak hours – between 10am and 3pm the sun is at its strongest. Try to avoid direct exposure during those times. Save your gardening for the early morning or evening!
  • Don’t forget the tanning booth – burns often happen when we don’t feel the heat of the sun. Watch your exposure while you’re bronzing up.

If, despite your best efforts, you still get burned, try some of these methods for relief:

  • Cool baths, or cool compresses on the burned areas

  • Use a soothing lotion that contains aloe, or a low concentration of hydrocortisone (with a doctor’s recommendation for younger children)

  • NSAIDs (Advil, Aleve, Motrin) can be used, paradoxically, to relieve the pain of sunburn – just don’t go back out in the sun!

As the weather warms up and we strip off our layers of clothing, it pays to be aware of this unavoidable seasonal hazard.

For more information:

WebMD on drugs that can cause photosensitivity

The Mayo Clinic talks about sunburn