Can Some Medicines Cause Sun Sensitivity?

Continuing Series: Questions From Consumers


TIP: Use an umbrella on sunny days to shield yourself from the sun

Yes, certain drugs may cause high sensitivity to sunlight (also called photosensitivity). It is also important to note that not every person who uses sun-sensitive drugs has a reaction. 

There are two main types of negative effects:

  1. Photoallergy occurs when UV sunlight causes a structural change in the medicine put on your skin. The reaction usually includes an eczema-like rash, which often happens a few days after exposure. The rash may also spread to other body parts that were not exposed to the sun.
  1. Phototoxicity is the most common type of  reaction. It can occur when your skin is exposed to the sun after certain medications are injected, taken by mouth, or applied to the skin. When the drug absorbs UV light and releases it into the skin, cell death occurs–which looks like a really bad sunburn. Within a few days, symptoms appear on the exposed areas of the body. Among the most common phototoxic drugs are the tetracycline family, NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen), and amiodarone (Cordarone, a heart medication); see full list below.
If either of these conditions occur, see your doctor immediately. 

Ibuprofen bottle and tablets.  Label is not real.Sun-sensitizing drugs can also aggravate existing skin conditions, including eczema and herpes, and may inflame scar tissue. Sun exposure can also worsen autoimmune disorders, such as lupus.

Can Sunscreen Help?AdobeStock_78697670

Yes, it can help lessen the impact of sun exposure. HOWEVER, some ingredients in sunscreens are potentially photosensitizing, so in rare circumstances, it could worsen symptoms. 

Most Common Sun-Sensitizing Drugs (Prescription & Over-The-Counter)

  • Antibiotics: doxycycline, tetracycline, ciprofloxacin, ofloxacin, levofloxacin, trimethoprim
  • Antidepressants: doxepin (Sinequan); and other tricyclics; St. John’s wort
  • Antifungals: griseofulvin
  • Antihistamine: promethazine, diphenhydramine
  • Antihypertensives (blood pressure drugs): hydrochlorothiazide (also found in some blood pressure medicines: Aldactazide, Capozide),diltiazem (Cardizem)
  • Benzocaine
  • Benzoyl peroxide
  • Cholesterol-lowering drugs: simvastatin, atorvastatin, lovastatin, pravastatin
  • Chemotherapy drugs: methotrexate, flutamide, 5-FU, gemcitabine,doxorubicin
  • Diuretics: furosemide, bumetanide, hydrolorothiazide
  • Hypoglycemics: glipizide, glyburide
  • Neuroleptic drugs: Chlorpromazine, fluphenazine, perphenazine, thioridazine, thiothixene
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories: ibuprofen, ketoprofen, naproxen,celecoxib, piroxicam
  • PDT Pro photosensitizers: 5-aminolevulinic acid, methyl-5-aminolevulinic acid
  • Retinoids: isotretinoin, acitretin
  • Sulfonamides: sulfadiazine, sulfamethoxazole, sulfasalazine, sulfisoxazole

By WHBlogger

Updated: 4/23/20

Instructions and Disclaimer: The content on this website is designed for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses. Always consult your health care provider with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your health. 

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