Photosensitivity is real and it's more than just a sunburn. Read on...
If you've lived in a country like India, where there's basically no hiding from the sun, you need to know about this thing called photosensitivity. It's much more than a tan or sunburn you got that day you stayed out in the sun. If gone unchecked, photosensitivity can trigger photophobia, cataracts and phytophotodermatitis. As such, it requires special care and attention. So today, let's shed some light on all that there is to know about this condition.
What is Photosensitivity?
Simply put, photosensitivity is extreme sensitivity to the sun's ultraviolet rays. Photosensitivity mostly occurs when the body overreacts to long exposure to strong light; this could be sun or flourescent light. This results in rashes, itchiness, hives and in extreme cases, even blisters. Photosensitivity is also triggered by several chemicals present in perfumes and lotions, as well as medication like antibiotics and diuretics.
How does it happen?
Long exposure to strong light leads to changes in parts of the tissue. The body identifies this altered tissue as a foreign entrant and, consequently, launches an immune system attack on these areas, which in turn produces the allergic reaction.
Is it the same as a sunburn?
Sunburns may be a result of photosensitivity, but the two are not the same thing. Photosensitivity is an immune system reaction as explained above, whereas a sunburn is the result of the pigment melanin's inability to protect the skin from prolonged exposure to sun.
What are the types of photosensitivity?
Depending on what triggers it, there are four common types of photosensitivity:
1.Polymorphous Light Eruption: Also called PMLE, this is the most common type of photosensitivity. People suffering from PMLE develop an itchy rash when they're exposed to sunlight for longer than two-three hours. However, PMLE can be suppressed to almost zero by building tolerance to UV light with gradual exposure.
2.Actinic Prurigo: Actinic Prurigo is a hereditary condition. The skin develops red bumps, which later turn into scaly patches. Actinic Prurigo can occur at any time in the year – even winter.
3.Photoallergic Eruption: Here, photosensitivity occurs due to the reaction between a chemical applied to the skin and the sun.
4. Solar Urticaria: Commonly known as hives, this is a rare form of photosensitivity, typically seen among young women.
So, how do I treat photosensitivity?
Prevention is the best cure when it comes to this condition.
Sunscreen: Don't even think about stepping out of your house without applying sunscreen, even in the monsoons or winter when the sun is milder. Apply sunscreen of at least SPF 30, thirty minutes before leaving your home. Use a sunblock on your lips too – an SPF 20 lip balm is easily available these days.
Stay in when the sun's out: Time your outings such that you're not under the sun at its harshest hours i.e between 11 a.m and 3 p.m.
Cover your face: Do not hesitate to cover your face with a scarf or a wide-brimmed hat and huge sunglasses. Wear full-sleeved shirts and trousers whenever you're outside.
Eyes on the ingredients: As explained earlier, photosensitivity is also the result of a chemical reaction between certain ingredients and the sun. Keep your eyes open for the following ingredients and chemicals:
1.Benzoyl Peroxide – present in many anti-acne, anti-bacterial products
2.Hydroquinone – present in skin whitening products, as well as products used to treat hyper pigmentation
3.AHAs & BHAs – excellent exfoliants, but also leave the skin vulnerable to photosensitivity
4.Retinol – present in anti-aging products
5.Natural astringents – natural ingredients such as lemon, citrus, bergamot, peppermint and similar extracts
6.Artificial colours – present in most makeup products
7.Over the counter drugs & topical ointments
While the same chemicals may not have the same impact on everyone, if you have a history of photosensitivity, due diligence and prudence will go a long way in helping you keep your skin safe and healthy. Don't ever hesitate to pay your dermatologist a visit, if problems persist.
Stay sunsafe, stay happy!