Are You Experiencing Sun Allergy Symptoms?

Sunlight is vital for our overall health and well-being. The sun keeps us healthy, and sunlight helps balance the vitamins and nutrients we need for our bodies to function as they should. However, enjoying these benefits and getting out in the sun is not as easy for some people.

For a small percentage of the population, spending time out in the sun isn’t as easy as just putting on sunscreen. Those with sun allergies experience uncomfortable and even painful symptoms from sun exposure.

But that doesn’t mean the condition is inescapable. If you think you might have a sun allergy, read on to learn more and what you can do to deal with the condition and protect yourself when you are exposed to the sun.

What Is a Sun Allergy?

A sun allergy is a term used by the medical community to describe conditions where people experience negative reactions after spending time in the sun.

There are several types of sun allergies, and reactions can range from mild to severe. A sun allergy can result in an annoying but manageable rash or something as severe as painful blisters and illness.

So, what do you do? Usually, the most effective way to avoid these uncomfortable side effects is to minimize your exposure to the sun and to take steps to prepare ahead of time when you plan on spending time outside.

Woman with sun allergy symptoms looking at red sunburn on her arm.

Types of Sun Allergies

There are different types of sun allergies, but it’s important to remember that even within each of these major classifications of allergic reactions, severity can vary.

These are the four main classifications commonly seen and treated by medical professionals today:

  • Actinic prurigo: This allergic reaction is characterized by raised pus pockets or nodules on your skin. It can start on sun-exposed skin and spread to other areas in extreme cases. Actinic prurigo is being studied for a possible genetic link and hereditary spread.
  • Photoallergic reaction: This allergy to the sun occurs when a chemical applied to your skin undergoes a chemical reaction when exposed to the sun. Things like skin lotions and perfumes are common triggers. Reactions can take hours or possibly even days to flare.
  • Polymorphous light eruption: Known as PMLE, this sun allergy is more common in women or individuals assigned female at birth. Fair skin and young or older skin also seem more susceptible. It often manifests as small bumps, patches, or blisters shortly after exposure. Approximately 20% of the U.S. population has PMLE to some extent.
  • Solar urticaria: Of the common sun allergies, this is usually the most severe and debilitating. For some, it can be life-threatening. In these cases, people develop hives and swelling after just a few minutes of sun exposure.

Any of these allergy types can be severe enough to cause major problems for those suffering from them. This is why people with sun allergies, as well as their family and friends, need to be mindful of symptoms and watch exposure times and levels to help control sunburns and allergy symptoms.

How many people have polymorphous light eruption (PMLE)

Typically, those with sun allergies have to worry about their sensitivity every day—but that doesn’t mean it has to stop you from enjoying your life.

Sun Allergy vs. Sun Poisoning

Someone who is sensitive to the sun and has sun allergies is more at risk for a severe reaction to prolonged sun exposure. This is often known as sun poisoning. And while the two are related, they are not the same thing, and it is important to note the distinction.

Sun poisoning occurs when someone suffers from a severe case of sunburn after prolonged, typically unprotected or under-protected, exposure. Symptoms of sun poisoning go beyond skin reactions and things like rashes, itchy, peeling skin, or hives. With sun poisoning, you can actually become very ill physically, with fever and chills, in addition to blisters and even cracking and bleeding of the skin.

When someone is dealing with sun poisoning, severe damage to the skin cells occurs. This, spread over large areas of the body as commonly seen with sun poisoning, stresses the immune system. Severe damage sends the body into a state of shock as it is unable to heal damaged cells fast enough. If you have sun poisoning, you can become dehydrated, nauseous, dizzy, weak, and tired.

Rest, hydration, and soothing irritated skin is the best way to deal with sun poisoning. Severe cases may need treatment by a doctor to prevent infection and to ensure the symptoms don’t result in further harm.

What Are the Common Sun Allergy Symptoms?

The best care for sun allergies is to quickly note the symptoms, reduce exposure, and treat the side effects. This means knowing what to look for. Common symptoms of allergic reactions due to sun exposure include:

  • Itchiness of the skin where the exposure occurred
  • Stinging and cracking of the skin
  • Tiny bumps isolated or in raised patches
  • Flushing and redness of the exposed skin
  • Blisters or hives in exposed and non-exposed areas
  • Scaling or crusting of skin
  • Blisters and pus pockets forming

However, symptoms don’t always look the same on everyone. Skin tone, skin age, and skin health can all impact how symptoms present themselves.

For example, someone with fair skin may have different reactions than someone with a darker complexion. People with damaged skin can have more severe reactions. And young children and senior adults are also at risk of having greater sensitivity to sun allergy symptoms.

Sun allergy symptoms to watch for in case of a sun allergy reaction.

Are Sun Allergies Contagious?

Sun allergies are no different than normal allergies such as pollen, dander, or food allergies. So, no, they aren’t contagious. You don’t have to worry about spreading it to your children or anyone else you’ve been enjoying some fun in the sun with.

What Causes Sun Allergies?

Why do people get sun allergies? There are a few factors that come into play and can lead to an allergic reaction or make you more susceptible to having them.

Some of the most common causes of sun allergies include:

Immune System Reactions

Some people are simply more prone to sun exposure issues simply because they are born that way. For many people, sun exposure triggers an immune system reaction, which then results in the symptoms described above.

Certain Medications

Taking medications can also lead to an increased likelihood of having sun reactions. Common medications such as antibiotics, diabetes medications, and even some painkillers can cause people to react more severely to sun exposure and skin damage.

Check the labels on your prescriptions or ask your doctor if it might cause sun allergies.

Chemical Ingredients

Some common chemical exposures can also amp up skin damage from sun exposure. Lotions, sunscreens, perfumes, body sprays, and similar applications can cause the skin to react differently to extreme sun exposure. These chemicals break down in the sun and can burn, irritate, and damage the skin, resulting in the sun allergy symptoms commonly seen.


Some people are just unfortunately predisposed to having sun allergies. Genetics play a role in many conditions and illnesses. In many cases, if parents suffer from sun allergies, their children are more likely to have sun sensitivities of their own. Common indications of life-long sun allergies include sun spots, excessive wrinkles, and scarred skin.

If you think you might be unusually sensitive to the sun, you may want to ask your parents if they have similar experiences. However, if you’re having severe symptoms, usually it’s wise to consult a doctor.

Even something as simple as forgetting to reapply your sunscreen can make you more prone to sun sensitivity or impact the severity of your allergic reaction.

What Do I Do If I’m Allergic to the Sun?

Living life with sun allergies doesn’t have to be the farewell to having fun and being outdoors.

Instead, you can take proactive steps to help your body cope with sun exposure. Some steps you can take when dealing with sun allergies.

Before going out in the sun, try:

  • Using at least a 30 SPF sunscreen when outside
  • Buying makeup with SPF built in when possible
  • Acclimating your skin during less severe seasons
  • Wearing protective clothing and cover the skin
  • Undergoing phototherapy treatments to build up resilience

After sun exposure, try:

  • Applying cooling compresses to irritated skin or sun allergy rash for sunburn relief
  • Using an antihistamine to reduce itch and swelling

One of the most important things to do when living with sun allergies is to always use sunscreen. However, not all sunscreen is created equal. You want to use broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. Additionally, it should be free of chemicals. For a sunscreen that meets all of these needs, consider our mineral sunscreen options that are available in easy-to-apply formulas like our brush-on and stick sunscreens.

Sun allergies vs Sun poisoning symptoms

Any allergic reactions that affect breathing, consciousness, or heart rate should be treated as a medical emergency.

How to Prevent Future Allergic Reactions

Thankfully, there are a number of fairly simple things you can do to prevent future flares and reduce symptoms when they do occur, including:

  • Avoid the sun during peak hours, 10 AM to 4 PM, and stay indoors whenever possible
  • Avoid long periods of exposure to the sun, including time spent near windows
  • Wear sunglasses, a hat, and long sleeves when working outdoors or driving long distances
  • Bring a sun umbrella or other shade source when at the beach or walking around
  • Always use an SPF sunscreen such as creams, sticks, and easy-to-apply composition
  • Avoid known chemical triggers to reduce sensitivity to the sun during exposure
  • Apply a UV Protection film to your car and house windows to block UV rays
  • Follow personalized plans given to you by a healthcare professional during treatments
  • Join a support group and look for products designed for those allergic to sunlight

And last but absolutely not least, don’t forget your sunscreen—even on cloudy days.

Prevent the Discomfort of Sun Allergies with Colorescience

Each type of sun allergy can have mild, moderate, or severe levels depending on the length of exposure, individual sensitivity, and other factors that can vary widely from one person to the next. The key to protecting yourself and leading the best quality of life is being proactive.

Taking steps before exposure can help reduce symptoms and avoid a severe reaction that could put your well-being at risk. With Colorescience, you can ensure you have safe, natural sunscreen that has environmental-stressor and broad-spectrum protection.

Our mineral sunscreens can help you minimize how your sun allergies impact you and help you lead a fuller life. Find the right sun protection for you so you can enjoy your time when you do decide to go outdoors.