Is Your Autoimmune Disorder Causing Photosensitivity?

Yesterday, you and your energetic puppy enjoyed a beautiful noon walk through the neighborhood. You wore a black T-shirt, baseball cap, and SPF 30 sunscreen on your neck and arms.

Today an itchy red rash appeared on your nose, neck, and upper extremities. You thought you protected your skin, which is important since you have an autoimmune condition. So why is there an angry red rash on your skin now?

What is Photosensitivity

Photosensitivity is an exaggerated skin response to ultraviolet radiation from the sun, but tanning beds and some indoor lighting can cause this, too. Depending upon your specific disorder and the medications you take, you may experience an abnormal photosensitive reaction to sunlight.

Photosensitivity can cause an itchy or painful red rash on areas of the skin that were directly exposed to the sun. Blistering of the skin may also occur in more severe skin reactions. The most common sunexposed areas are the face, upper back, neck and lower arms.

Many people living with autoimmune disorders are much more vulnerable to the affects of UV exposure. Some types of autoimmune disorders can have a higher risk of photosensitivity. Common examples of these chronic inflammatory conditions include lupus, scleroderma, dermatomyositis, and Sjogren’s disease.

In addition to a painful or itchy skin rash, the sun can also trigger a systemic flare of disease symptoms. Fatigue, joint pain, and fever can occur. In other words, someone with an autoimmune condition can have both skin (cutaneous) and systemic reactions to UV exposure. This is why serious sun protection is especially critical for those with autoimmune photosensitivity.

Effects of Medications on Sun Sensitivity

Some medications prescribed to treat autoimmune disorders may also contribute to a heightened response to sun exposure. They can contain ingredients that cause your skin to be more vulnerable to sunlight.

Sulfasalazine, hydroxychloroquine, mycophenolate, methotrexate, and ibuprofen are just a few of many drugs that can increase your sun sensitivity.

Be sure to check the labels and documentation that is included with your drugs. Specifically look for any alerts or warnings about photosensitivity.

How to Manage Photosensitivity

Clearly, the best way to minimize photosensitive reactions is to prevent direct sun exposure. Since this isn’t realistic, limit activities like walking and gardening to early mornings and late afternoons when the sun is less intense.

In addition, the following steps are important to reduce your risk of painful skin rashes, disease flares, and skin cancer.

  • Limit your sun exposure by covering as much skin as possible when you are outdoors.
  • Consider purchasing long sleeves and long pants made with a UPF 50+ sun protection rating, which is a great investment. UV Skinz offers great choices for the entire family. Their sun protective apparel is designed to be lightweight and breathable, so you are more likely to wear these items regularly.
  • Choose a tightly-woven, wide brim hat to protect your face, neck, and ears. These hats are also available in wide brim UPF 50+ styles. A great choice is UV Skinz Women’s UPF 50+ Sunny Swim Hat, which sports a 4.5” brim, packing flexibility, and an internal drawstring for a custom fit. How great is that?
  • Select a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF 50+ or higher rating. Be sure to apply liberally and frequently if you remain outdoors. Don’t forget lip balm that contains SPF as well.
  • Supplement your sun protection with sun shielding accessories. Sunglasses with a 100% UVA/UVB rating are a must to protect your eyes. Larger styles or wraparound varieties offer the most eye area coverage. UV Skinz offers many fashionable accessories and products that help to provide additional sun coverage. A UPF 50+ personal mini umbrella can also keep you cooler while adding another layer of UV protection.
  • Have your skin checked by a dermatologist regularly, since photosensitivity has an increased risk of skin cancer.
  • Consider telling family and friends about your sun exposure risks. Those who care about you may be able to accommodate your needs when planning events or outings. Perhaps they will schedule their BBQ later in the day, or find a location that offers lots of shade. Either way, it’s always best to arrive prepared with your own dependable sun protection.

Put simply, the best way to minimize autoimmune photosensitivity is to maximize sun protection consistently.