When it comes to protecting your skin this summer, most of us will lather on sunscreen, put on a hat, and call it a day. Although these steps are important, we need to also pay attention to the number of other factors that can increase how sensitive we are to the sun, and some of them may surprise you. Most of us don't realize that everyday items or activities can make us more susceptible to the sun's rays, which can up our chances of getting a sun burn, cause premature aging, or even our increase our risk of skin cancer.
"There are two types of photosensitivity reactions that can occur: phototoxic and photoallergic," says dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse MD, FAAD over email. "Phototoxicity results in a sunburn-like rash. Photoallergic reactions occur when you apply a product or ingest a medication that gets chemically-altered when exposed to UV light, causing an itchy rash that can last for a while."
To avoid either of these reactions, it's best to know what triggers to look out for that can make your skin more sensitive. If you want to protect your skin from the sun this summer (which you should), pay attention to these nine surprising things that can increase your sun sensitivity.
1. Acne Medication
Certain antibiotics such as Doxycycline, the most common medication for acne, can increase you risk of sunburn, and other acne medications such as Accutane are a strong photosensitizer. "Skipping a day of medication so that you can go to the beach won’t prevent you from burning, since the drug stays in your system for up to a month," says Shainhouse.
2. Period Cramp Medication
"Naproxen, the strong anti-inflammatory pill that many women rely on during their period to relieve painful cramps can ironically cause a painful sunburn-like reaction when you head out to relax in the sun," says Shainhouse.
Perfumes that include bergamot, sandalwood, and lavender should be avoided before a day at the beach. "Many fragrances — even the 'natural ones' contain a plethora of chemicals, which when exposed to the sun, can cause irritation and even inflammatory hyper-pigmentation to occur on the skin," Pearl Dworkin, a Licensed Esthetician with Advanced Training in Oncology, over email. "Sensitivity can happen when you apply fragrance or perfumed body lotions before sun exposure."
Celery is a healthy summer snack, but you may not want to indulge too much if you're going to be spending the day by the pool. The vegetable contains compounds called furanocoumarins that cause the skin to be more photosensitive and can lead to more sunburns, according to Livestrong.
5. Citrus Fruits
If you're a orange-juice drinker or you're enjoying some lime with your Corona or margarita, you'll want to be extra careful. Citrus fruits contain compounds that make your skin more light sensitive, according to research from Brown University. Eating many citrus fruits can also increase your risk of melanoma, so be extra careful if you're eating a daily grapefruit or sipping on lots of lemonade.
6. Certain Sunscreens
"While sunscreen does protect your skin from UV skin damage and sunburn, Oxybenzone (benzophenone-3) can actually trigger a rash in some people," says Shainhouse. "If you are someone who insists that you are allergic tosunscreen, avoid this ingredient."
"The top layer of skin cells can make our skin look dull, but they also are a protective barrier to the more vulnerable skin underneath," says Dworkin. "Any type of exfoliation can make your skin more sensitive to the sun: scrubs, chemical exfoliants, enzymes, even using a mechanical brush such as the Clarisonic." Dworkin recommends performing exfoliation at night before going to bed and using a sunscreen with physical SPF to reflect the sun's rays.
8. Laser Hair Removal Treatments
"If you’re not planning on being in the sun much during the spring and summer months it’s fine to do laser treatments, but if you’re planning on being at the pool or beach all summer, any tan area that has been treated has a greater risk of burning," says Tiffany Amorosino, CEO and Co-Founder of Bella Santé Spa, over email. "If you’ve been getting laser treatments and are sitting out in the sun, you’re more likely to have complications and even blister."
9. Anti-Aging Products
"Regular use of retinol products will absolutely increase sensitivity to sun exposure," says Certified Personal Image Consultant Marian Rothschild, AICI FLC over email. "Same with bleaching creams for age spots. If you are using these products, even periodically, double up on protection from sun exposure. That means wear a large-brimmed hat along with broad spectrum 50+ sun block."
When in doubt, always wear sunscreen, limit your time in the sun, and wear protective clothing.
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