Allergy to the sun and its consequences on the body

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Allergy to the sun and its consequences on the body

When we talk about “sun allergy» We mention a colloquial collective term to highlight the skin’s reactions to excess sun, often in combination with chemical ingredients in cosmetics, its medical name is polymorphous photodermatosis and it is a series of skin disorders that are aggravated by ultraviolet lighta. In the rarest cases, the various skin lesions are a true allergy in the medical sense, also called solar urticaria.

Sunlight is an ultraviolet light that has it all

Sunlight consists of ultraviolet light at different wavelengths. UV radiation stimulates the release of the body’s own messenger histamine, causing dermal vessels to expand.

If the body receives too large a dose of solar radiation, the skin reacts after a few hours with redness, small itchy nodules or pustules. In the long term, prolonged exposure to the sun damages the skin. Too much UV light leads to premature skin aging and can cause skin cancer.

sun allergy is considered a primary idiopathic photodermatosis. Typical is the local limitation of sun allergy: symptoms occur mainly on the neck, chest, arms, back of the hand, legs and on the face.

Polymorphic photodermatosis and sun sensitivity

What is often referred to as a sun allergy is also called polymorphous photodermatosis or solar eczema. The symptoms of skin allergy: redness of the skin, itchy blisters or hives after long exposure to the sun, are manifestations that in the medical sense are not considered a real allergy, such as hay fever.

Especially skin areas like the neckline, shoulders, upper arms, or abdomenwhich are covered for most of the year with clothing, are very sensitive to ultraviolet radiation from the sun.

Causes of sun allergy

The causes of sun allergy are always based on high UV radiation, which is why sensitive and easily irritated skin can be affected more often, especially during vacations in southern countries or at sea, and especially women. They are the ones who suffer the most.

Not infrequently, creams or lotions, perfumes, or other cosmetics can contribute to the development of skin irritation. To avoid sun allergy and to reduce the risk of skin irritation, it is not recommended to apply perfumed creams or sun creams of inferior quality and of doubtful efficacy when sunbathing.

If the sun allergy is very severe and the affected skin areas do not improve, even if you avoid UV rays, you should see your doctor so that a reliable diagnosis can be made.

Diagnosing sun allergy is easy by consulting a specialist who irradiates a sensitive area of ​​skin with UV light and, after a short time, the effect of the radiation can be assessed.

If the skin turns red and the irradiated area begins to itch or burn, even if bubbles form, the diagnosis can be made and treatment can be started.

Types of sun allergy

The Allergic-type lesions are always produced in the parts of the body exposed to the sun. Sun allergy symptoms usually go away within a few days, as long as the affected areas of the body are protected from the sun.

Majorca acne a form of sun allergy

It gets its name from the Spanish island of Mallorca, and it is another disease in which the sun plays a crucial role.

Majorca acne affects travelers in southern European resorts who want to tan their skin and makes them suffer from itchy skin lesions after taking intense sunbaths.

This form of acne is often associated with cosmetics that are not tolerated by the skin. The combination of UV radiation, fatty sunscreen, endogenous fat or emulsifiers causes the typical pustules and redness. A good tip here would be to go for fat-free products without emulsifiers.

Photoallergic reaction: Various substances cause this form of sun allergy

In contrast to the diseases mentioned above, the photoallergic reaction is a true allergy It affects the immune system, which forms antibodies against the allergenic substance.

Some people’s skin develops clammy, red, or itchy skin when certain chemicals or fragrances in skin care products react to sunlight.

Medications and contact with certain plants are also the trigger for these skin symptoms.

Since the symptoms are very similar to those of polymorphic photodermatosis, only the dermatologist can decide whether or not the affected person has a predisposition. hereditary allergic. However, the photoallergic reaction occurs less frequently.

Phototoxic reaction: foreign substances that interact with the sun can be toxic

Some substances in medicines or plants can be completely poisonous (toxic) when interacting with sunlight. This is where the dermatologist talks about phototoxic reactions.

Foreign substances, for example from perfumes, medicines or plants, are deposited on the skin surface and increase photosensitivity. The skin is increasingly irritated, so it comes to reactions such as redness, blisters, burning, color changes and itching.

People taking antibiotics or medications for high blood pressure, rheumatism, or diabetes may find clues in the medication directions about possible interactions. You can also get advice from your doctor.

How can we prevent sun allergies?

The best protection against sun allergy is to avoid sunbathing at certain times of the day and direct exposure, as well as the use of sunscreens are also a form of prevention, especially in the face of the possible damage that the sun can cause. like skin cancer.

Allergic reaction on the face due to sun allergy

Protect yourself with a hat and light clothing

Even light cotton clothing protects against the harsh rays of the sun and sun allergies. A sun hat, long shirts or loose fitting pants will retain at least some of the UV radiation.

Meanwhile, there are also UV sun protection clothing with special weaving technique or UV repellent material. The tighter the special clothing is woven, the greater the protection.

However, it is difficult to say whether garments knitted from different materials actually provide safe sun protection. It is worth paying attention to the seal of quality «UV Standard 801».

Variety of sunscreen options

A must for sun lovers is sunscreen with a high sun protection factor, which are available as creams, sprays or lotions. We recommend products that protect against both UV-A and UV-B radiation.

The most compatible with the skin are preparations without fragrances or preservatives. All areas exposed to the sun should be thoroughly protected with a sunscreen. It is better to apply it for at least half an hour before sunbathing. And don’t forget this: apply cream again and again. In this way you can avoid an allergy to the sun.

An acute sun allergy is easy to treat. However, the most complex part is knowing how to take effective preventive measures against polymorphic photodermatosis.

Gradually increase the dose of sun

Little by little, get your skin used to UV radiation, this is also a effective protection against sunburn or sun allergies. Anyone who extends their sunbaths for a few minutes each day on a long beach vacation helps the skin to develop its natural protection mechanisms.

It increasingly produces the pigment melanin, which tans the skin and protects it from UV radiation.

Antihistamines and cortisone agents

Anyone who frequently has severe symptoms, such as severe skin reactions and agonizing itching, can take antihistamines. These substances block the body’s release of histamine, which is the main messenger for itching. Antihistamines are available, for example, as tablets, juice, or drops. They should be taken about three days before the start of your vacation. Cortisone-containing agents help against inflammation. Talk to your doctor about this.

Protective films in case of sun allergies

UV light also penetrates through windows. Sellers often offer films or meshes for cars or windows, through which UV radiation cannot penetrate.

Sun protection films consist of different, partly extremely thin, layers that are vapor-bonded to the metal. As a result, they reflect a large part of the solar radiation. However, not everyone likes the mirror effects of these. From the outside, they prevent the penetration of the sun almost completely.


People who are extremely sensitive to solar radiation can undergo phototherapy before a planned trip to the southern countries after consulting with their doctor. Here, the skin is irradiated with dosed artificial UV light a few weeks before the start of the holiday and its protective mechanisms are reinforced.

Wet gels and compresses help prevent itching

Cooling cortisone gels or wet compresses help relieve itching and inflammation in case of sun allergy. Under no circumstances should you scratch the itch. As a result of this, the symptoms will only become aggravated or infections caused by germs will occur, since bacteria, viruses or fungi can easily penetrate the skin.

Mix herbs and make your own creams

Mother Nature also helps with sun allergies: medicinal plants such as calendula or oak bark relieve symptoms. This is how it is done: prepare a broth with the plants that you will use and, after cooling, soak a clean cotton cloth and place it on the affected areas of the skin.

Or make your own calendula salve. For this, pour 20 g of calendula leaves with 200 ml of olive oil and let the mixture rest in a warm place. Melt 5g of beeswax and cocoa butter and stir together with the oil mixture.

Quark wraps relieve discomfort and refresh

Quark wraps have also proven their efficiency in case of a bothersome allergy to the sun. Simply put the cold quark on a clean cotton cloth and dab it on the affected skin areas. The envelope must remain in the area until the quark has heated up and dried. If necessary, this application can also be repeated several times a day.

Avoiding too much sun is the best protection against a sun allergy. Whether skin problems caused by UV radiation are an actual allergy in the medical sense or not, only a doctor can determine, and recommend the best treatment.


  1. Roelandts R. Diagnosis and treatment of solar urticaria. Dermatol Therapy 2003; 16:52-6.
  2. Lehmann P, Schwarz T. Photodermatoses: diagnosis and treatment. Dtsch Arztebl Int 2011; 108(9):135-41.
  3. Gruber-Wackernagel A, Byrne SN, Wolf P. Polymorphous light eruption: clinical aspects and pathogenesis. Dermatol Clinic. 2014;32(3):315-334. PMID: 24891054 [Link]

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