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What Are Sun Allergies and How Do I Know If I Have Them?

sun allergies

How do you know if you have a sun allergy or sun poisoning? Here’s what you should know about sun allergies. We break down what to look for and how to prevent getting a sun rash below.

We know you’ve got enough to worry about with gluten and peanuts and cat hair, but there’s another allergy that’s surprisingly common that we should probably discuss. And, unlike saying “no thanks” to that carb-heavy bread, this particular allergy is not as easy to avoid as the others. We’re talking about sun allergies — yep, sun allergies — and below we’ve outlined what they are, their common symptoms and the best way to keep from triggering them.

The different types of sun allergies and their symptoms:

“Sun allergies are reactions that occur when our immune system reacts to sunlight,” says Hadley King, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. “[Essentially], the immune system recognizes sun-altered skin as foreign cells, and this causes the reaction.”

She says that there are a few different types of sun allergies and that the most common is called “polymorphous light eruption,” or PMLE for short. You may also know it by its more common name: sun poisoning. This form of sun allergy affects approximately 10% to 15% of the United States population — a whopping 3.2 to 4.9 million people.

“PMLE is an immunologically-mediated reaction to the sun that presents as itchy or burning red bumps or blisters or patches on sun-exposed areas of the skin,” says King. “This can happen throughout the year but is usually seen in the spring and early summer when skin has not recently been exposed to sun and all of a sudden is. It typically dissipates later in the season.”

Photoallergic reactions are another form of sun allergy. These occur when certain chemicals applied to the skin — including those in cosmetics, skincare, and perfumes — cause irritation, pain, or redness once they’ve been exposed to sunlight. There are some oral medications and even foods (such as lime juice) that can cause photoallergic reactions, as well.

“Actinic prurigo is another type of sun allergy. It’s an inherited version and is characterized by very itchy, crusted bumps,” says King. “Also, solar urticaria is a rarer version, and is characterized by the development of hives after sun exposure. This can be mild or severe to the point of life-threatening anaphylactic shock.” It’s important to note that having solar urticaria get to the point of presenting life-threatening issues is extremely rare.

While any person can experience any of the above sun allergies, they do tend to affect lighter-skinned people who have very sensitive skin more often. In mild cases, the uncomfortable symptoms often clear up over time on their own. In more extreme cases, though, your doctor will prescribe creams or medications to help expedite the healing process and bring you relief. However mild or not, though, anyone who experiences sun allergies should take the appropriate protective measures to save themselves discomfort, pain and damaged skin.

How can I protect myself and how do I treat sun allergy?

“When seeking sunscreen to protect against sun allergies, make sure that it is SPF 30 or higher and broad spectrum, because both UVA and UVB rays can contribute to these kinds of reactions,” says King.

The best ways to prevent sun allergies may seem obvious, but we’ll go ahead and spell them out anyway… First, you should really avoid excessive sun exposure — particularly during the peak hours of 10am  and 4pm –– and second, you need to be diligent about sunscreen application.

Every single product that we sell at Supergoop! — including our lip balms and body butter and CC cream — is both broad spectrum and SPF 30 to 50. For example, our best-selling Smooth and Poreless 100% Mineral Matte Screen is a tinted, lightweight formulation for every day that boasts an SPF 40. It easily doubles as a primer, too, by creating a smooth and velvety finish that sits beautifully under makeup.

For the rest of your body, try our 100% Mineral Mist Spray. It’s a non-aerosol, water-resistant sunscreen that has SPF 30. Because it’s a spray, it’s super easy to apply on even those hard-to-reach spots. For even harder-to-reach spots, like your ears and toes, give our 100% Mineral Sunscreen Stick a try.

If you are having a sun allergy reaction, the best thing is to consult your doctor as soon as possible for the best remedies, depending on the severity of your allergy. Some general tips are to apply a cold compress to affected areas and to use a cream that has cortisone.

The bottom line is that sun allergies are more common than you think, and they’re nothing to mess around with. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to protect yourself even though the sun isn’t something you can exactly hide from (and we would never want you to not live your life in the sunshine!). Cover yourself — literally — with a sunscreen that keeps your skin happy and makes you feel good every time you apply it and you can go enjoy the sun without any repercussions!

+What are your best tips for preventing sun allergies? Share them below!