Taking good care of your body can be a delicate process. When something goes wrong, it’s best to seek help from a medical professional who can prescribe you with certain medications to treat whatever ails you. But even if said medication is effective, you may have to deal with its side effects. In other words, the solution to one problem may lead to a new problem entirely. Sometimes the environment can trigger or exacerbate these side effects. The sun, for instance, is a powerful source of energy that can damage one’s skin when exposed for too long. Additionally, certain medications can actually worsen the sun’s negative effects in some individuals. These drugs are often called sun-sensitizing drugs, as they increase one’s sensitivity to the sun.
Let’s go over how prescription medications might be affected by the sun and what these sun-sensitizing medications are.
Let’s recap how the sun’s rays affect our skin in the first place. The sun emits ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which can be broken down into three categories based on their energy levels -- from least to most energetic, these are UVA, UVB, and UVC rays. Though UVC radiation is the most powerful and dangerous, it doesn’t reach our skin naturally as it cannot travel as far as UVA or UVB rays. The majority of UV rays that reach us are of the weakest variety -- UVA. Still, while UVA rays only affect the outermost layers of our skin, they can cause minor to moderate sun damage and contribute to premature aging. UVB rays, though less prevalent, penetrate deeper into the skin and can cause sunburn and eventually skin cancer by mutating the DNA of skin cells.
So, you might wonder what medications have to do with any of this. Simply put, certain medications alter the normal functions of various processes that would otherwise help protect our bodies from sun damaged skin, overheating, etc. For instance, some drugs constrict blood vessels, some suppress one’s immune system, some inhibit the body’s ability to sweat, and so on. Certain drugs even absorb UV radiation themselves. When present in one’s system, these drugs in turn make one’s skin more of a target to sun damage, releasing the UV radiation inside the skin. This reaction is known as phototoxicity and often resembles sunburn or severe rash. Phototoxic reactions may cease shortly after the medication is no longer taken, but symptoms have been known to last for as long as 20 years after the fact as well.
On the other hand, when the sun itself causes a change in the functioning of a given medication, one’s body may deliver an immune response that often results in an allergy rash. This reaction is known as a photoallergy. These photoallergic rashes may only last a few days, though they can spread beyond the area of initial exposure.
Unfortunately, the list of sun-sensitizing medications is fairly extensive. Of course, the degree to which these medications increase one’s sensitivity to the sun varies from person to person. So, if your prescription medication is necessary for treating a serious, ongoing condition, your best bet against sun sensitivity is not to stop taking the drug but rather to avoid prolonged sun exposure. As always, it’s important to speak with your doctor about the medications prescribed to you and your experiences with them.
Sun-sensitizing prescription medications include but are not limited to:
Avoiding the sun is difficult, and there are times where you’d rather enjoy some sunshine while it lasts. Just know that doing so can have negative effects on your skin and overall health, especially if you’re taking certain medications at the time. So, when you do decide to have fun in the sun, make sure you do so safely: wear protective clothing, apply 30+ SPF sunscreen, seek shade, and stay hydrated.
The experts at Premier Dermatology Partners are also happy to give you more information on sun safety and sun-sensitizing drugs. To learn more about our providers and all the services we offer, contact us today.