Medications that May Increase Your Sensitivity to Sunlight: An Update

With summer around the corner, time spent outside enjoying the warmth is to be expected.  Therefore, it is time to revisit an important topic that we posted last year: drug-induced sun sensitivity reactions.

At least 387 different medications can cause sun sensitivity reactions. It is important to take precautions when seeing an auxiliary label on your prescription warning of sun exposure. These colourful warning labels put on your prescription are important. The sun warning label is usually bright yellow with an image of a sun.  Anti-inflammatory medications fall in this group with naproxen likely to have the greatest impact. Other medications used by many of our blog followers that are part of this sun-sensitivity category include pirfenidone, sulfasalazine, and hydroxychloroquine. Interestingly, methotrexate can cause a reaction known as radiation recall, causing irritation in areas where you have had a past sunburn.

Protecting yourself from the sun calls to mind the famous phrase: SLIP, SLAP, and SLOP.  Slip on a long sleeve shirt and pants that protect you from the sun, slap on a wide-brimmed hat, and slop on sunscreen with an SPF 30 or greater. Broad-spectrum sunscreens that protect the skin from both UVA and UVB are preferred, although most drug-related sun sensitivity reactions are caused by UVA. This is because UVA radiation penetrates much deeper into the skin compared to UVB. Sunscreen should be applied at least 15-30 minutes before going out in the sun and needs to be reapplied throughout the day, especially after swimming or excessive sweating.  We advise looking for sunscreens that have been endorsed by the Canadian Dermatology Association, which will be evident on the label. Of course, seeking out shade is key, especially during the peak sun hours of 11AM – 4PM. Lastly, tanning beds should be used cautiously or avoided all-together, as their UV radiation can significantly increase the risk of skin cancer. (read more here.)

If you experience a sun sensitivity reaction, please seek medical attention as prescription medications may be needed to manage the reaction.

Kunal Bhatt, RPh, PharmD, HBSc is a staff pharmacist for Charlton Health. As a 2020 PharmD graduate from the University of Toronto, Kunal possesses a diverse range of experiences from working in hospital and community pharmacy settings. Kunal was heavily invested in contributing to the efforts against COVID-19 by administering upwards of 5000 COVID-19 vaccines at William Osler Health System’s vaccination clinics. 

Carolyn Whiskin is the Pharmacy Manager for Charlton Health. Carolyn specializes in the treatment of autoimmune diseases, pharmaceutical compounding, women’s health, pain, and smoking cessation. Carolyn has won provincial and national awards for her commitment to patient care and public service.

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