Definition of Photosensitivity

Photosensitivity is a heightened reaction to sunlight or other ultraviolet light that results in a rash or sunburn at much lower or shorter exposure than would ordinarily cause sunburn.

Photosensitivity may develop as a reaction to a medication, such as the antibiotic medication tetracycline or the herbal antidepressant remedy St. john’s wort (hypericum), or as a symptom of an underlying health condition such as systemic lupus erythematosus (sle) or albinism. Photosensitivity may manifest as a red, splotchy rash on areas of skin exposed to the sun or as a full-fledged sunburn. Rarely, an individual may have an allergic reaction to ultraviolet light that causes the fairly immediate eruption of urticaria (hives) with sun exposure.


The dermatologist can diagnose photosensitivity based on its presentation and a history of recent sun exposure.Treatment may include topical or oral antihistamine medications if the rash itches (although topical antihistamines can themselves increase sun sensitivity). Topical corticosteroid medications often help reduce inflammation from widespread sunburn. However, the most effective treatment for photosensitivity is prevention. Dermatologists recommend people who are photosensitive:

  • Wear clothing that covers the arms, legs, head, face, and neck when going outdoors, even when the day is cloudy
  • Liberally apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going outdoors (many dermatologists recommend applying sunscreen after getting out of the shower in the morning so the skin can absorb it) and frequently while outdoors
  • Avoid exposure during the sun’s most intense periods, typically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. in most regions of the United States


How did you like this article?

Page last reviewed:

About Us