Tips to avoid a photosensitivity reaction

Article written by Nick Demenagas

When you pick up your prescription from the Pharmacy, you might hear a Pharmacist say: “This drug might cause increased sensitivity to the sun.” But what does this mean? Certain medications (seen below) can cause your skin to be more sensitive to the sun’s UV rays. This means that even a little exposure could end up becoming a severe burn. The following drugs can lead to photosensitivity:

    • Amiodarone
    • Fluoroquinolones (ciprofloxacin, levofloxacin)
    • Furosemide
    • Retinoids (Accutane)
    • Antimalarial (quinine)
    • Some chemotherapy
    • Sulfonamides
    • Sulfonylureas (glyburide, glipizide, glimpiride)
    • Tetracyclines (doxycycline, minocycline)
    • Thiazides (Hydrochlorothiazide- a water pill, and other thiazide-like diuretics)

A photosensitivity reaction to a medication can lead to an itchy, red rash on the skin, hives or blisters. The symptoms can start within 2-3 hours of being exposed to the sun and go away within 24 hours. You can use NSAIDs for pain, steroid creams for inflammation and antihistamines for itching from the burn.

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The best way to prevent photosensitivity is to avoid the sun. This can be done by staying in the shade from 10 am to 3 pm, by wearing protective clothing and sunscreen. Some important tips about sunscreen. First, you want to choose a sunscreen that is broad spectrum. This means it protects against UVA and UVB light. Having this dual protection means that the sunscreen is helping to prevent sunburn, skin cancer and early aging. When choosing the SPF of your sunscreen, it is important to know that the SPF, or sun protection factor, indicates how long you can stay in the sun without being burned, compared to no sunscreen. For example, SPF 6 allows you to stay in the sun 6 times longer without being burned than not having sunscreen. The higher the SPF, the more protection. SPF 15 will block 93% of UVB rays and SPF 30 will block 97%. The maximum SPF is 50, because anything higher has no added benefit.

In addition, if a sunscreen says it is water-resistant, that means it is effective for 40 minutes in water and for 80 minutes while sweating. So even water-resistant sunscreens need to be re-applied after some time. In conclusion, to avoid being sunburned you should use a liberal amount of SPF 30 or more for times where you are going to be exposed to the sun.

As always, if you have any questions feel free to reach out to your neighborhood Pharmacist at Four Corners Pharmacy and check out our sunscreen stock in the pharmacy!


Photosensitivity. Micromedex. In: Care Notes [database on the Internet]. Greenwood Village (CO): Truven Health Analytics; 2018 [cited 2018 Jun 15]. Available from: Subscription required to view.

Hester SA. Shedding Light on New Rules for Sunscreens. Pharmacist’s Letter. 2016 July. Available from Subscription required to view.

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