Can you be allergic to the sun? It is not an uncommon question. Usually people ask this in the Spring but we also hear it into the beginning of Summer.
A few hours after exposure to the sun, the skin can start to itch. Red raised dots will appear. Hard flat bumps can also appear. This is known as polymorphic light eruption (PMLE). If you have ever heard older people refer to “sun poisoning” this is the medical term.
It is not known why this happens. One theory is that when the skin is first exposed to light each season, the small changes in the skin cause it to be recognized by the immune system as something foreign. It is a case of someone being allergic to themselves!
It usually goes away on its own a few days after the skin is no longer exposed to light. In temperate climates, it can begin in the Spring when people first start going outside more. By the end of Summer, exposure to the sun no longer causes a reaction.
However, the entire cycle may or may not begin again the next Spring. It happens to people of all skin colors and races. When it happens, it can be very annoying. It has happened to me a few times in my life and I find that an oatmeal bath and some Vanicream lotion helps it go away quickly.
The other common form of skin allergy is solar urticaria. This usually happens within minutes of exposure to the sunlight. Painful bumps and blisters form. Even skin that is covered by clothing can be effected.
But, as soon as you come inside or get out of the skin, the symptoms quickly disappear. In anywhere from a few minutes to 2 hours the hives will be completely gone. However, they will reappear immediately upon exposure to the sun again.
And then there is Tommy that sneezes every time he walks outside into our bright South Florida sun. He shared this information when I mentioned that I was writing about sun, sunscreens, and allergies.
We thought he was kidding us. But is is true, he has photic sneeze reflex. I joked with him about it being hereditary, and sure enough he said “Oh, sure it happens to my Mom also”.
There hasn’t been much research on this even though it happens to about 18% of the population.