10 Medications That Cause Photosensitivity [Protect Your Skin If You’re On These]

Did you know that some medications can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight? You may be surprised at the prescriptions mentioned in this article because they’re quite common. Chemicals within certain drugs undergo changes when exposed to the sun. Be aware of these 10 medications that cause photosensitivity.

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What Is Photosensitivity?


Photosensitivity, also called sun allergy, is the result of an immune system reaction that occurs in the skin following sun exposure.  Although, the exact mechanism is undetermined regarding these reactions, it’s supposed that the immune system recognizes certain components of the skin as foreign or non-self.

When this happens, the body activates an immune response as a defense mechanism. This defense is what produces the symptoms, such as inflammation, redness, and swelling. Other symptoms include, red rashes, small blisters, hives in severe cases, or itchy eruptions following exposure to sunlight.

These reactions, although annoying and uncomfortable, are usually self-resolving and don’t require treatment. The areas of the body most commonly affected by photosensitivity are the neck and upper chest, the arms and lower legs, the forehead, nose, lips, and the backs of the hands.

Reactions can be triggered by brief moments in the sun, and commonly present within 24 hours of exposure, but may take several days of continuous sun exposure to manifest.

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UVA And UVB Radiation


Certain people are more prone to photosensitivity than others. Wavelengths that fall within the 320-400 nm range (UVA radiation) are more apt to initiate drug-induced photosensitivity reactions. To a lesser degree, UVB radiation, in the 290-320 nm range, can also cause skin reactions. Sunlight in this range is responsible for sunburn, and non-melanoma skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma.

UVA radiation penetrates deeply into the dermis of the skin, causing photo-aging, cellular DNA damage, and immune-suppression. It’s important to protect yourself from both types of UV radiation, if the skin can’t repair the damage caused by sunlight, cells within the skin can start to divide and multiply uncontrollably. This is how tumors develops.


Medications That Cause Photosensitivity - Thrive Market 25% off bannerPhoto-toxicity


There are two types of photosensitivity: photo-toxicity and photo-allergy.  Photo-toxicity is a chemically-induced irritation of the skin following sun exposure that doesn’t involve the immune system.

The reaction it induces resembles an exaggerated sunburn, which is caused by a chemical absorbing into the skin topically, or reaching the skin systemically via an oral medication.

Chemicals in medications absorb sunlight, changing their molecular structure. Theses changes are what stimulate reactions. Fluoroquinolones and tetracyclines are two such drugs that produce photo-toxic effects. Surface contact with these chemicals can also cause photo-dermatitis or photo-allergy, also referred to as sun poisoning.

In cases of photo-toxicity, reactions are primarily contained within areas of the skin that have been exposed to sunlight, and usually clear once the drug is discontinued. Photo-toxicity is mainly associated with UVA radiation, but UVB radiation may also contribute.

Photo-allergy


Photo-allergy (sun allergy) manifests as a red, itchy rash on skin that has been exposed to sunlight. Polymorphic light eruption is the most common type of sun allergy. The condition can have a genetic component or be caused by medications, particularly drugs that are used topically.

Negative reactions occur from exposure to UV radiation, which alters the structure of the chemicals in particular medications. The immune system sees these altered chemicals as antigens. This causes an allergic reaction within the skin that produces the symptoms, which unlike photo-toxicity, can spread to areas that haven’t been exposed to sunlight.

Mild cases of photo-allergy often resolve without treatment, with more severe cases being treated with steroid pills or creams. Photo-allergic reactions resemble eczema and may become chronic. The symptoms of photo-toxicity generally resolve after the medication has been discontinued, whereas, photo-allergy can persist even after the drug is no longer being used.

Symptoms


  • Small bumps and rashes
  • Raised patches
  • Swelling and inflammation
  • Itching and redness
  • Blisters
  • Hives
  • Darkening of the skin
  • Stinging and burning sensations

Medications That Cause Photosensitivity


Following the medications listed under each category, I will include whether the drugs are photo-toxic, photo-allergic, or both.

1. Antibiotics


Tetracyclines, including tetracycline and doxycycline / Photo-toxic

Fluoroquinolones, including Cipro and Bactrim / Photo-toxic

2. Hypoglycemics (Diabetic Drugs)


Sulfonylureas, including glipizide and glyburide / Photo-allergic

3. Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS)


Ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin) / Photo-toxic

Naproxen (Aleve) / Photo-toxic

Ketoprofen / Photo-toxic and photo-allergic

Celecoxib / Photo-allergic

4. Diuretics


Hydro-chlorothiazide / Photo-toxic

Furosemide (Lasix) / Photo-toxic

5. HMG-CoA Reductase Inhibitors

Statins, including fluvastatin, pravastatin, simvastatin, lovastatin, and atorvastatin / Photo-toxic

6. Antifungals


Itraconazole / Photo-toxic and photo-allergic

Voriconazole / Photo-toxic

7. Neuroleptic Drugs (Antipsychotics)


Phenothiazines, including chlorpromazine, fluphenazine, perazine, perphenazine, thioridazine / Photo-toxic and photo-allergic

8. Retinoids


Isotretinoin (Accutane) / Photo-toxic

Acitretin (Used for psoriasis) / Photo-toxic

9. Chemotherapy Drugs


Methotrexate, oncovir, adriamycin, gemzar, and 5-FU / Photo-toxic

10. Cardiac Medications


Diltiazem, amiodarone, quinidine, and procardia / Photo-toxic


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Key Points


Drug-induced sun sensitivity occurs when chemicals in medications are exposed to sunlight, producing negative skin reactions. Reactions can result from both oral ingestion of a drug or from compounds that are using topically.

If you’re on medications that increase photosensitivity, be diligent in protecting yourself when outside. Cover up and always wear sunscreen. I keep a wide-brimmed hat in my car, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used it!

Are you on any medications that cause photosensitivity? Have you noticed that your skin is more sensitive to the sun? Let me know in the comments:)

 

References:

(1) Merck Manual: Photosensitivity Reactions

(2) Drugs.com: Sun Allergy (Photosensitivity)

(3) Medscape: Drug-Induced Photosensitivity

(4) Cancer Council: How ultraviolet (UV) radiation causes skin cancer

(5) PubMed: Phototoxicity and photoallergy

(6) Mayo Clinic: Sun allergy

(7) MedicineNet: Sun-Sensitive Drugs (Photosensitivity to Drugs)

(8) verywellhealth: Sun Sensitivity During Chemotherapy

 

16 thoughts on “10 Medications That Cause Photosensitivity [Protect Your Skin If You’re On These]”

  1. What? Antibiotics and diuretics also contain photosensitive-induced chemical in them? This is really shocking to me because I use these medications. Who would have imagined such a thing?! 

    No wonder I get burned when I go to the beach during a round of antibiotics. I though it was normal, but then again, how would I have guessed it was caused by the medication? Thanks for this information!

    Reply
    • Hi Matthias,

      You’re not alone, photosensitivity wouldn’t be on most peoples’ radar when taking medications. Next time you’re on antibiotics, find out if the particular one you’re taking is phototoxic, and take measures to protect yourself. Thanks for taking the time to comment:)

      Reply
  2. I have a female friend who gets skin reactions when she’s in the sun. She doesn’t have photosensitivity and doesn’t notice the problem from the first instance. Just today, she started seeing rashes and blisters on her body when she was in the sun. 

    I have learned a lot about UV radiation and its effects. I also found out some medications that can cause photosensitivity. I guess I’ll have to show her this so she’ll know which of her meds are causing it. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

    Reply
    • Hi Henderson,

      It make take several incidences of sun exposure for a reaction to occur. If your friend is getting rashes and blisters when she’s in the sun, her medication may be the culprit. If she’s on one of the medications that cause photosensitivity, she should be extra caution with sun exposure. Thanks for reading:)

      Reply
  3. Thanks for sharing this educational post, I’m must admit I’m impressed. So many people take drugs without having a clue of their side effects. Photo sensitivity doesn’t sound like it’s a good thing to have to go through. I had no idea that prescription meds could cause sun sensitivity. 

    Next time I take a drug, I will research the side effects. I’ll inform others so they can benefit from this post. Thank you!

    Reply
  4. I have not personally experienced photosensitivity but I am wondering if my wife has. There have been several times in the mountains in the past several years that we have gone out hiking and my wife will get rashes or bumps. She says its from touching the plants and leaves but your article has made me wonder if it could be photosensitivity.

    Are there ways to test this or is it something you need a medical opinion or tests done on?

    Reply
    • Hi Rick,

      If your wife is taking any medications I referred to in my article, she could be experiencing photosensitivity, although plants and leaves can cause reactions as well. 

      Drugs.com is an informative site where you can learn about medication side effects. You can download the smartphone app for easy reference. Thanks for reading!

      Reply
  5. Very useful and informative article. It’s a good thing I do not take many pills, except for some aspirin from time to time when I have a headache. I do not like taking pills and I avoid them, but there have been a few occasions where I had to visit the doctor and get some antibiotics, but again, if I can avoid them, I will. I didn’t know that even antibiotics can cause photosensitivity, that all the pills you mentioned basically can cause this. If I was already against pills, now I’m even more against their use. 

    I learned something new today. Thank you for this great article!

    Reply
    • Hi Christine,

      You sound like me. I don’t take prescription meds, and only occasionally do I take aspirin. Most people don’t know that photosensitivity can be a side effect of commonly prescribed drugs like antibiotics. I think we should all be more diligent in learning about medication side effects. 

      Thanks so much for your comment!

      Reply
  6. Many people who suffer photosensitivity obviously don’t know that medications can be the cause. Some months ago, I stumbled on a similar article, but it wasn’t as detailed yours. Please, I have a question, is photosensitivity complexion based? Thanks for sharing such a lovely and educative article, I’ve really learned a lot from it. I love it.

    Reply
    • Yes, you’re right, many people have no clue that their prescription meds could cause skin reactions after they’ve been out in the sun. I would think that people with light complexions would experience more intense reactions. That’s a generalization, however.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

      Reply
  7. Hi there!

    I’ve recently had some issues when taking antibiotics and being in sun. I didn’t have any skin problems, but after 30 minutes in the sun, I started to feel really tired and light-headed, so I had to go lay down and fell asleep immediately. 

    My doctor didn’t even tell me to stay inside the whole week while taking the antibiotics, so when I started feeling better, I went out and I knew I should’t, but he could have at least mentioned something. 

    Anyway, I hope you don’t mind that I shared my little story with you. I will keep track of your content, since it seems like you know what you’re talking about. You can’t trust the doctors these days!

    Have a great day,

    Richard

    Reply
    • Hi Richard,

      Thanks so much for sharing your story. Many people don’t realize that certain medications can cause photosensitivity. I’m not sure many doctors are aware either. In my opinion, everyone as a matter of course, should read about the potential side effects of any medications they’re on. 

      I’m glad you took the time to share your story. Thanks so much for reading my post!

      Reply
  8. I had no idea these drugs could cause such side effects, such as sun sensitivity. I am currently on an antibiotic drug, and I have been on it for quite some time now. Thankfully, I have not experienced sun allergy.

     I think I’ll consult my doctor so I can get his opinion if I should stop the medication or not. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Hi Dane,

      Most people don’t know about prescription-drug use and sun allergy. It sounds like the medication you’re on doesn’t cause photosensitivity. A quick Google search will help you determine the side effects. Thanks for reading my post:)

      Reply

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