Photodermatitis (Sun Poisoning): Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

By , Category : General Health

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Sun poisoningThe sun. Giver of life, heat, and energy. It was there before we were born, and it will be there after we’ve all passed on. And, on a good day, it allows us to head out to the beach or a patio with friends, a few drinks, and fun. But if you suffer from photodermatitis, otherwise known as sun poisoning, the sun can be a bit of a nuisance. Photodermatitis is essentially an interesting form of contact allergic dermatitis, where the allergen is the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun. Avoiding the sun is no easy task. So, is there anything that can be done? Think of this as your beginner’s guide to photodermatitis. From sun poisoning causes, to sun poisoning symptoms, to sun poisoning treatment, we will cover all the basics so that you’ll know if you have it and what can be done about it.

Photodermatitis Categories

One of the first things you should know about photodermatitis is that the condition comes in four different categories: exogenous chemical or drug reactions, metabolic or genetic photodermatoses, idiopathic photodermatoses, and systemic and cutaneous diseases.

1. Exogenous Chemical or Drug Reactions

This is a photosensitivity to the sun that is due to a drug reaction or ingestion/contact with certain plants. Essentially, a medication or drug you’re taking is making your skin sensitive to UV rays, or you’ve run into a plant that carries that effect with your skin.

2. Metabolic or Genetic Photodermatoses

In basic terminology, your allergy to UV rays is inherited. The more complicated explanation is a reaction due to pellagra (niacin malabsorption and deficiency), xeroderma pigmentosum (rare genetic-based sensitivity to sunlight), or variegate porphyria (disorder of the liver enzymes).

3. Idiopathic Photodermatoses

This is the most common category to affect children and young adults, and out of those affected, twice as many will be female. It usually manifests as chronic actini dermatitis, polymorphic light eruptions, actinic prurigo, and solar urticaria.

4. Systemic and Cutaneous Diseases

In this category, preexisting acne, herpes, or eczema is made worse by UV rays.

What Are the Causes of Photodermatitis?

There are actual photodermatitis causes beyond the categories explained above. These can be summed up by four classifications:

1. Phototoxic

Phototoxic means the skin is sensitive to UV rays, mainly as a result of medication use. The effects on the skin are not immediately noticeable, and can take a few minutes to a few hours to kick in.

2. Polymorphous Light Eruptions (PLE)

This classification is characterized by skin eruption due to UV rays and exposure to sunlight. It usually takes the form of a bad rash or hives.

3. Immunologic Diseases

This type is made up of diseases that will either cause photodermatitis or worsen it. These diseases can include solar urticarial, systemic lupus erythematosus, and pellagra.

4. Photoallergic

This is an allergic reaction that takes place as you are ingesting and/or applying a substance while in sunlight. For example, you may be spraying on perfume or taking a medication while out in the sun and have a reaction.

What Are the Symptoms of Sun Poisoning?

We’ve touched on some symptoms in the above sections, but there are several photodermatitis symptoms to be aware of when diagnosing sun poisoning. Most of the symptoms are skin-based, and can be painful and irritating. These symptoms can include:

  • Burning sensation on your skin
  • Itchy rashes.
  • Hives
  • Swelling
  • Dry, scaly skin patches.
  • Lesions that look similar to eczema.
  • Development of dark skin patches on your skin, called hyperpigmentation.

As you can see, none of it sounds particularly comfortable or appealing. But, is there anything that can be done to treat sun poisoning?

Treating Photodermatitis

Is there a photodermatitis treatment? As it turns out, there are a few treatments, both natural and medical in nature. For medical treatment, doctors may prescribe one of a few drugs to help your condition depending on the cause.

  • Glucocorticoids: these medications target skin eruptions.
  • Azathioprine: a drug meant to help those particularly sensitive to UV rays.
  • Nicotinamide or thalidomide: medications designed to help those who cannot use phototherapy as a treatment

Beyond the prescribed medications, there a few over-the-counter medicines and topical agents that may help. Antihistamines like Benadryl, for example, may help tone down the allergic reaction you are experiencing. Calamine lotion may be able to take the sting or itch of the rashes and hives. Additionally, there are sun poisoning home remedies that may also be able to help you.

Photodermatitis Home Remedies

You may be worried about a medication’s potential reaction with your photodermatitis. There are a few home remedies that may help you deal with the symptoms you are experiencing.

1. Prevention

The simplest, yet most difficult way to deal with photodermatitis: Don’t get it in the first place. If you know that you are prone to reactions with sunlight, make sure to cover up. If it’s a case of medication reacting with sunlight, try asking your doctor for a milder alternative.

2. Green Tea

Green tea has long been used as a home remedy for many skin issues, but it may also help those who suffer from the rashes and blisters of sun poisoning. Simply make a cup of green tea, pull the tea bag out, and allow it to cool. Once cooled, apply the green tea bag to the rashes and blisters. You may find that the itching and skin issues disappear after several treatments (once a day for a week).

3. Baking Soda

A paste made from baking soda and water can be applied to the affected areas to help with rashes and accompanying pain issues.

4. Mustard Oil

Mustard oil—as well as dry mustard mixed with water—massaged into the damaged skin may be able to relieve your symptoms.

5. Lavender Oil

Place a few drops of lavender oil into warm bath water to help soothe the rashes and blisters. If you can, do this twice a day for the best results.

6. Aloe Vera

Used for many skin rashes and ailments, it could also help repair the damage to your skin from sun poisoning. Take one aloe vera leaf and place it in the fridge. Let it cool for a few hours; then, take it out. Cut open the leaf and apply the gel to the affected skin area.

7. Buttermilk

Not just for making pancakes or fried chicken, buttermilk applied to the affected skin could also help soothe the itch and pain. You can also try mixing buttermilk with turmeric for added relief, and help to repair the damaged skin.

How Long Does Photodermatitis Last?

The above remedies and medications can help you take care of the symptoms of photodermatitis, but you may wonder how long the problem will actually last. How do you get rid of sun poisoning, if you can get rid of it? Unfortunately, it all depends on how severe your sun poisoning is, what caused it, and your body’s chemistry. Rashes usually clear up within three or four days. Mild versions of photodermatitis can clear themselves within a week or two, while more severe forms of sun poisoning may take 10 days or longer to exit your system.

Photodermatitis Is Inconvenient, but You Will Survive

We won’t sugar coat it. If you get sun poisoning, it won’t be fun. You will be itchy, and you will likely experience a bit of pain. If you’re lucky, you may be rid of the major issues within a day. Or, you might have to deal with it for a week or longer. The good news is that, for most of us, it doesn’t last long; and there are a number of things you can do to ease the itch and suffering.

Sources :
“Photodermatitis,” Medical Fox;, last accessed May 2, 2017.
“Photodermatitis,” Healthool;, last accessed May 2, 2017.
Ehrlich, S., “Photodermatitis,” University of Maryland Medical Center, March 24, 2015;, last accessed May 2, 2017.
“11 Home Remedies for Photodermatitis,” Search Home Remedy;, last accessed May 2, 2017.
“How Long Does Sun Poisoning Last?” New Health Advisor;, last accessed May 2, 2017.

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Up until the end of 2016, Brent Chittenden had been a freelance researcher and writer, writing about everything from entertainment—including pro wrestling and stand-up comedy—to health and nutrition, to culture and lifestyle. In 2017, he joined the Doctors Health Press full time and couldn’t be happier about it. With a graduate certificate in Radio and Broadcasting, Brent brings extensive experience as a communicator and researcher, adding to the many talented health authorities and professionals on whose expertise Doctors Health Press... Read Full Bio »