Many prescription and over-the-counter medications can increase the risk for sun-related skin damage.

Summer is here. For many of us that means vacation and day trips to the beach, more yard work, and other activities in the sun. The sun helps improve our overall feeling of well-being and aids in the production of needed vitamin D, but time in the sun also exposes us to ultraviolet radiation, or UV rays.

Essentially, there are two types of rays your body needs protection against. UVA rays do not burn but penetrate deep into skin. Long term, repeated exposure to these rays can cause premature aging and increase the risk for skin cancers. UVB rays do not penetrate deeply but are the cause of warming and tanning, increase risk of skin cancer, and cause the vacation killer, sunburn.

No one is exempt from the risk for sun damage due to UV rays. However, the risk is increased for fair-skinned individuals and for those on medications that cause photosensitivity (sun sensitivity). Many medications cause photosensitivity because the drug molecule itself absorbs UV light due to its shape.

Here are a few examples:

  • Antidepressants including citalopram, bupropion
and fluoxetine.
  • Oral medications used to lower blood sugar such as glimepiride, glyburide and glipizide.
  • Anti-infective medications such as azithromycin, doxycycline and sulfonamides, and antifungals such as ketoconazole and griseofulvin.
  • Medications used for
sleep, seizures and mental health including alprazolam, quetiapine, zolpidem, valproic acid and gabapentin.
  • Blood pressure lowering medications such lisinopril, labetolol, hydralazine
and most diuretics.
  • Medication to treat cardiac arrhytmias, amiodarone.
  • Many more groups including estrogens, cholesterol-lowering medications, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as celecoxib and ibuprofen, and dietary supplements such as St. John’s wart and vitamin A.

Reduce your risk and enjoy this summer by wearing protective clothing such as a large brimmed hat (4 inches or larger), long pants and long sleeved tops. Avoid the sun when it is at its peak between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and choose an appropriate sunscreen. Sunscreens work by either scattering or blocking ultraviolet rays on the skin.

You will want to select a broad spectrum product to protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Look for products with combinations that include one or more ingredients such as avobenzone, oxybenzone, ecamsule, octinoxate, zinc oxide, or titanium dioxide.

SPF, sun protection factor, is the rating for a product’s effectiveness against sunburn. If you normally burn in 30 minutes then with an SPF 15 it would take 450 minutes to burn. An SPF 15 product blocks 93 percent of UVB rays and is sufficient for most.

If you have a medical condition aggravated by the sun such as lupus or rosacea, a family history of skin cancer, are fair-skinned, or taking medications that cause photosensitivity, you should consider the use of an SPF 30 or higher product.

Ultimately, the best sunscreen for you is the one you’ll actually use and use correctly. Find the one that meets your personal preferences for activity, scent, skin sensitivity, and/or age and follow the labeled directions for application and reapplication. Apply all sunscreens 15-30 minutes before sun exposure as it takes time to bind to skin and be effective. Most non water-resistant products should be reapplied every 15-30 minutes. If water sports or vigorous outdoor activities are on your itinerary, then consider a water-resistant product. They should be reapplied every 40-80 minutes (depending on the product) after water activities or sweating, immediately after towel drying, and every two hours otherwise. Don’t neglect the lips, ears, and nose.

Speak to your pharmacist or physician about your medications and photosensitivity, and enjoy a sunburn free summer.