Solar Events

Sun Poisoning

With the thinning of the earth’s protective ozone layer it’s inhabitants are becoming more exposed to the direct radiation from the sun, and in particular that at UV wavelengths. Many still seek suntans unaware that the practice has harmful results with no balancing benefits. Too much exposure to the sun can cause various levels of skin damage and deterioration, from sunburn to sun poisoning to premature aging and even malignant melanoma (skin cancer).

Sun poisoning is a nonscientific term that refers to a variety of sun-allergic responses. Light-skinned people, who have less protective skin pigment, are especially susceptible to sun-poisoning, but it can occur in anyone who is exposed to enough sunlight. It often occurs when sun exposure is combined with a variety of drugs, chemicals, cosmetics, and plants.

The classic example of sun poisoning is sunburn. We all know that redheads suffer more from the effects of the sun’s rays than the rest of the population. This is because their skin contains less melanin pigment, which is one of the body’s main defenses against sunburn. Black people rarely suffer from sunburn because the pigment in the upper layers of their skin prevents the penetration of the sunburn rays to the sensitive, deeper layers.

The use of certain common drugs can alter the skin’s normal protective response to the sun in some susceptible people. Such individuals develop a severe rash with blisters from the slightest exposure to sunlight or even fluorescent light. Drugs most commonly implicated in this type of reaction are sulfa containing drugs, tetracycline and its relatives, various tranquilizers, high blood pressure medications, birth control pills, and oral medications used for diabetes and fungus infections such as ringworm.

Direct contact with certain chemicals, followed by sun exposure also can cause sun poisoning. The most common substances that cause these “sun-allergic” responses are found in deodorant bar soaps, detergents, certain suntan lotions, shampoos, “first-aid” creams, and various cosmetics and toiletries. Even chemicals found in a variety of vegetables and fruits can cause sun-sensitive reactions. Gardeners and farmers who spend time in the sun and handle foods such as carrots, celery, parsnips, figs, and limes are especially susceptible. Sun poisoning has also been reported as a result of using herbal shampoos prior to sun exposure.

The symptoms of sun allergy consist of severe itching and a rash. They typically occur a few days after the combination of the chemical substance and the light. This sensitivity can be so pronounced that a minute amount of the offending substance left on the skin, followed by exposure to even fluorescent light, may trigger a reaction.

The treatment for sun poisoning is essentially the same as for any allergic dermatitis, such as poison ivy dermatitis. If your case is mild, use wet compresses or soothing baths followed by calamine lotion to relieve your symptoms. If your itching is more persistent, take an antihistamine. For any severe reaction accompanied by intense itching and blisters that weep and ooze, see your dermatologist. You may need treatment for dehydration and possible infection.

Preventing Sun Poisoning

Preventing sun-sensitive reactions may take a lot of trial and error to determine which drug, chemical, or plant is the culprit. Once you have discovered the causative agent, eliminate it from your routine. If the offender is a drug that is essential for your health (high blood pressure pills or antidiabetic medications for example), you will need to stay out of the sun at all times.

If you are fair-skinned, the best way to avoid a sun-sensitive reaction is to avoid the sun. If this is not possible, then tan slowly and cautiously. To prevent overexposure to the sun, use a good sunscreen. Sunscreens usually contain chemicals that selectively block out or absorb all the harmful “short” ultraviolet rays, permitting some of the longer, tanning rays to get through to the skin. A good, but cosmetically inelegant, sun-blocking preparation is zinc oxide paste. To protect the delicate areas of the lips, use a “lipstick” that contains a sun-blocking agent.

20 Comments so far

  1. trudy March 13th, 2007 12:35 am

    my 17yr old gets sun poisoning. she uses sun screen and after a breakout we use benedryl its mostly annoying and embarrasing. we are going to fla. is there anything she can take ahead of time that will help minimize or prevent a breakout.

  2. Lindsey June 2nd, 2007 4:38 pm

    Tell her to go to the tanning bed before she goes on vacation. A few sessions of 5-10 minutes (increasing gradually) will get her skin used to the sun exposure and help prevent sun poisoning. i had the same problem and now that i go to the tanning bed before vacation (and use sunscreen on vacation) i no longer get it.

  3. Dianne July 29th, 2007 8:13 pm

    I am 46 and have suffered from sun poisoning for years. Little bumps appear 3 days after sun exposure on my arms, legs, torso and feet, but never on my face. I have tried various sunscreens (even Ombrelle for sensitive skin) and nothing helps prevent it. I’ve tried going to a tanning bed before vacations and it did not work for me. The itching was once so severe that my skin turned purple from itching and I ended up on a steroid which cleared it up for the rest of my vacation. So far this was the only thing that worked.

  4. krysten September 24th, 2007 5:11 am

    Stay out of the sun!! if u stay away from it u wont have that problem.. If u ned too be in the sun cover upo wear a little extra clothes

  5. Cynthia March 2nd, 2008 11:10 pm

    I got it so bad on my last vacation that my ankles swelled. I read that an oral cortisone and steriod before and during exposures help as well as mentioned above by gradually exposing yourself to the sun helps. I’m trying all of the above next time.

  6. Debbie May 26th, 2008 3:59 pm

    I get it all the time. The best thing for me was to get in the sun a little at a time. Also I use copertone spf 50 so far no problems this year!

  7. Ayla June 5th, 2008 3:57 am

    I think I might have gotten sun poisoning but im not sure. I lay in my backyard and tan alot but after a few days I noticed a huge pimple on my lip. Now it could be just that, but my lip began swelling up, it’s not huge and is beginning to bother my teeth and gums. I know, it sounds crazy. It’s burning and feels like sun burn or really bad chapped lips. When I stretch my lip apart it begins to look glassy and kinda see through lookin. I thought my *pimple* had became infected because i popped it, alot, like 5 times in one day, but now I’m really unsure. Anyone wanna help me out?

  8. Ayla June 7th, 2008 5:21 pm

    I got some antibiotic ointment from the stire and some spf 15 chap stick and it has since gone away :]

  9. chase mcnabb July 9th, 2008 1:59 am

    I’m 15 years old and I have sun poisoning at the moment. And I find the only way to stop the itching is to keep your mind off it. I have took 5 advils, benadryl, pure aloe vera gel as well as cortozone cream. Sun poisoning for me didn’t occur until 3 days after the initial exposure. It has happened numerous times before. I found that Ibuprofen helped at the beginning, along with pure aloe vera gel (fragrance free). I feel for anyone who has the misfortune of getting this highly uncomfortable sickness. I find that air conditioning somewhat irritates it. For me it has always occurred during the first exposure to sun after many months of no exposure at all. From now on I think I will go to a tanning bed before I go and expose myself. Another thing that also irritates it is applying numerous creams all In the same day. The symptoms for me include severe itching, miniature bumps, random chills, welt like blisters. Hope this helped somewhat.

  10. Rebecca July 28th, 2008 7:37 pm

    I went on a canoeing trip this weekend and got a sunburn and now my knees are so swollen I can hardly walk. How do I reduce the swelling so I can work?

  11. jen July 31st, 2008 2:14 pm

    My daughter went to an outside concert on monday and she is very fair skinned, she has had sun poisioning in the past but this im not sure of the whole one side of the forehead and eye are swollen, strange to me, she looks like the elephant girl. Im concerned. I am sending her to doctor today. oh my daughter is 20, not neglect. I will let you know what happens if anyone ever heard of this please let me know

  12. ginny August 2nd, 2008 6:05 am

    I have sun poisoning right now on my chest, shoulders, back, and thighs and I find the spray on benedryl and a oatmeal bath helps. It takes the sting away and the itchness. I hope this helps goodluck

  13. sharon September 2nd, 2008 3:12 pm

    i am 65 good shape and love the ocean i was in the sun for 3 days last week. it looks like i have thin veins connnected to each other of my upper legs and fore arms very dry looking but it isnt it looks like a road map.i have a head ache up set up stomach anything i should know or do? thanks

  14. Betty Radcliffe March 12th, 2009 10:08 am

    I believe I got sun poisoning a couple years ago believing it was another type of poison. Since that time I have had a under the skin rash of which you can the bumps and at times, pretty often, it itches tremedously from the top of my hands to half way up my forearm. Can you help me with this and is it possible, doesnt seem to go away. Thanks

  15. Jeanne March 25th, 2009 1:01 am

    I’ve noticed that in the last few years I’m very sensetive to the sun. I don’t really have to be exposed long; I become red and begin itching within hours. I fell like I’m a prisoner in my home because of the sun poisoning problem. I’m going to try some of your suggestions that I’ve read on here. I love the outdoors and family cookouts.When should I become concerned about the problem. Should I be concerned with skin cancer? thanks!

  16. jeanne March 30th, 2009 4:52 am

    was at the beach, in fl, last wed and thurs, then fri and sat i am all broke out with blisters on my chest, inside elbows and now spreading to my face. using aloe lotion but not working real well. help!

  17. Rachelle April 15th, 2009 11:03 am

    I have sun poisoning right now on my face, my forhead is swollen & I have a terrible itchy rash all over my face. this was caused from the sunbeds!!!

    So if you suffer from sun poisoning do not use the sunbeds ive never suffered from this before untill now!

  18. bonnie tipton May 16th, 2009 1:03 am

    the lady who had a daughter who was in the sun at a concert. said her daughters face swelled and eye swelled shut. my son had that one time and it was from being out in the sun to long. it will go away> but looks bad ..dont worry!!

  19. michael fern May 28th, 2009 12:43 am

    In the past few years i’ve been bothered by the tiny bumps on the arms that itch really bad they are on the top of my arm from wrist to elbow. I cant seem to find the cause though it happens that evening after being exposed to the sun. No where else is effected other than sun burn ..im fair skinned and shaved head and my head gets these same symtoms when i dont wear a hatwhile in the sun

  20. Jilly June 7th, 2009 8:29 am

    I am black and I have been getting this since I was 25 years old. When I was on my honeymoon now 10 years ago I had to lay in bed for a day because walking hurt, let alone clothes! Now my six year old is getting it too and We live in Las Vegas! Lots of hats and Long sleeve white shirts. That is what helps me. Not graduated exposure, not SPF 50 (or 75). Covering up always works!

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