There are many reasons to go outdoors and get some fresh air and sunlight. In the warm summer months, the days are long and the weather is perfect for summer activities like swimming and camping. However, if your skin is sensitive to sunlight, you may be hesitant to step out of the shade.

If you're especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of prolonged sun exposure, you may have wondered, "Why is my skin sensitive to the sun?" There are several explanations and, fortunately, solutions that can help you safely enjoy those picture-perfect sunny days.

Understanding Skin Sensitivity to Sun

Regardless of your skin type, skin tone, or pre-existing skin conditions, everyone is susceptible to the sun's effects. Some of the harmful effects include sunburns, heat rashes, and different types of skin cancer.

However, some people experience more sensitivity to the sun than others—a condition also known as photosensitivity. According to Mayo Clinic, sun sensitivity may be due to a sun allergy or sun poisoning. Some symptoms include:

  • Redness or patches

  • Itching or pain

  • Bumps

  • Crusting

  • Bleeding

  • Blisters or hives

Signs of sun sensitivity may appear within minutes or hours of exposure. Always seek professional help from a doctor or Dermatologist if you think you experience an abnormal sensitivity to sunlight.

Taking photosensitivity seriously is important. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, people who are sensitive to sunlight have increased risk of lasting sun damage and skin cancer from exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. To take extra care of your skin in sunlight, you must first pinpoint the cause of your photosensitivity.

Why Is My Skin Sensitive to the Sun?

Once you've confirmed your symptoms are related to sun sensitivity, you may still wonder about the underlying cause. A minor sunburn may be typical (if proper sun safety measures aren't taken), but if you develop hives, patches, or other abnormal symptoms, you'll likely want to identify the root of your condition.

Genetics

Photosensitivity can run in the family. Genes for light skin pigmentation may also be a factor given that sun allergies are more common in those with fair complexions. People who are genetically predisposed to certain medical conditions may also have an increased likelihood of sun sensitivity.

Medications

Certain sun-sensitizing medications can make the skin more reactive to sunlight. Common examples include antibiotics, antihistamines, and heart medicines. Some acne medications and treatments also leave the skin vulnerable. Make sure to talk to your Dermatologist about necessary skin care during any similar treatment.

Medical Conditions

Pre-existing medical conditions and diseases, including skin conditions, can increase photosensitivity. Psoriasis, dermatitis (eczema), and rosacea, for example, are all skin conditions that can yield hypersensitivity to sun exposure. Other predispositions include autoimmune diseases, such as lupus.

The most common condition found in those with exaggerated photosensitivity is polymorphous light eruption. This occurs when people develop sensitivity to sunlight usually from sudden exposure after a long period without sunlight. The main symptom is a rash, which is likely to return annually in the spring or summer months. Over time, polymorphous light eruption may improve.

Skin Care Ingredients

If you suspect your skin is extra sensitive to the sun, you may want to check the ingredients listed on your skin care and topical products. Certain ingredients, such as retinol (vitamin A) and vitamin C, are known to increase photosensitivity. Ingredients that are harsh on skin may also trigger skin sensitivity to sun. Some people prefer fragrance-free products for their sensitive skin as an added precaution.

Protecting Sun-Vulnerable Skin

Sun protection is necessary for everyone, but those with sun sensitivity need to take extra precautions. This includes keeping an eye on the UV index and avoiding peak sunlight hours, wearing protective clothing and accessories, and using topical sun protection products on a daily basis.

The importance of daily sunscreen application can't be overstated. A broad-spectrum sunscreen with 30 SPF or higher is a must for everyone—both on the face and the body—but people with photosensitivity should go the extra mile and use a physical sunscreen that's fragrance-free and suitable for sensitive skin to further minimize irritation.

Although the sun is inviting, one of the best ways to minimize skin sensitivity to sun is to simply limit exposure—after all, there's nothing wrong with admiring the scenery from the shade. But for those days when you know you'll be out and about, make sure your sun care product is up to the job.