10 Medications That Cause Photosensitivity

10 Medications That Cause Photosensitivity

10 Medications That Cause Photosensitivity


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

woman in sunhat at pool

What Is Photosensitivity?


Also, referred to as sun allergy, photosensitivity is the result of an immune system reaction that takes place in skin that has been exposed to the sun.  Although, the exact mechanism is undetermined regarding these reactions, it is 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 us 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 are the neck and upper chest, the arms and lower legs, the forehead, nose, and 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.

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 reactions on the skin. This is the type of sunlight that is responsible for sunburn, and nonmelanoma skin cancer, such as basal cell carcinoma.

UVA radiation penetrates deeply into the dermis of the skin, causing photoaging, genetic damage to cells, and immune-suppression. It’s important to protect yourself from both types of radiation, because 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 tumor formation develops.


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There are two types of photosensitivity; phototoxicity and photoallergy.  Phototoxicity is a chemically-induced irritation of the skin following exposure to sunlight that does not involve the immune system. It stimulates a reaction that looks like an exaggerated sunburn, which is caused by a chemical, either entering the skin topically, or reaching the skin systemically by taking an oral medication.

Chemicals in medications absorb light from the sun, which changes their molecular structure, making them toxic. Fluoroquinolones and tetracyclines are two such drugs that produce phototoxic effects, which is more common than photoallergy. Surface contact with these chemicals, however, can cause photodermatitis or photoallergy, also referred to as sun poisoning.

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

Photoallergy


Photoallergy, or sun allergy, refers to a variety of conditions that manifest 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.

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

Mild cases of photoallergy often resolve without treatment, with more severe cases being treated with steroid pills or creams. Photoallergic reactions can resemble eczema and may be chronic. The symptoms of phototoxicity generally resolve after the drug has been discontinued, whereas, photoallergy can persist even after the drug is no longer in the system.

Symptoms


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


Following the medications listed under each category, I will include whether the drugs are phototoxic, photoallergic, or both.

1. Antibiotics


Tetracyclines, including tetracycline and doxycycline / Phototoxic

Fluoroquinolones, including Cipro and Bactrim / Phototoxic

2. Hypoglycemics (Diabetic Drugs)


Sulfonylureas, including glipizide and glyburide / Photoallergic


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3. Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS)


Ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin) / Phototoxic

Naproxen (Aleve) / Phototoxic

Ketoprofen / Phototoxic and photoallergic

Celecoxib / Photoallergic

4. Diuretics


Hydro-chlorothiazide / Phototoxic

Furosemide (Lasix) / Phototoxic

5. HMG-CoA Reductase Inhibitors

Statins, including fluvastatin, pravastatin, simvastatin, lovastatin, and atorvastatin / Phototoxic

6. Antifungals


Itraconazole / Phototoxic and photoallergic

Voriconazole / Phototoxic

7. Neuroleptic Drugs (Antipsychotics)


Phenothiazines, including chlorpromazine, fluphenazine, perazine, perphenazine, thioridazine / Phototoxic and photoallergic

8. Retinoids


Isotretinoin (Accutane) / Phototoxic

Acitretin (Used for psoriasis) / Phototoxic

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9. Chemotherapy Drugs


Methotrexate, oncovir, adriamycin, gemzar, and 5-FU / Phototoxic

10. Cardiac Medications


Diltiazem, amiodarone, quinidine, and procardia / Phototoxic

Key Points


Drug-induced sun sensitivity occurs when chemicals within medications are exposed to sunlight, producing unwanted effects on the skin. 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 be diligent in wearing 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”

  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!

    • 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:)

  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.

    • 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:)

  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!

  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?

    • 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!

  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!

    • 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!

  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.

    • 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!

  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

    • 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!

  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!

    • 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:)

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