On Your Health

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Protect Your Skin by Avoiding These Unexpected Sunburn Triggers

Did you know the hot Oklahoma sun can do serious damage to your skin in as little as 10 minutes? As you head out into the great outdoors this summer, it’s important to care for your skin and take steps to properly protect it from the sun’s unrelenting ultraviolet rays.

Almost everyone can say they’ve experienced sunburn at least once. The redness and painful swelling that accompany sunburn are your skin’s reaction to overexposure to the sun and UV radiation. Sunburns can vary from mild to severe, with severe overexposure causing painful blisters and even permanent skin damage.

Even with proper sunscreen application and clothing coverage, there are a few unexpected things that can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun. We took a look at these sunburn triggers and how you can protect yourself this season.


There are many different types of medications that can increase your sensitivity to sunlight and heat. Medications that are known to cause skin sensitivity usually warn against spending excessive amounts of time in the sun, but there are also some common over-the-counter medications that many don’t realize can increase the chance of getting a sunburn. If you’re taking medications and plan to spend time outside, make sure to read any warning labels to see if sun or heat sensitivity are listed as side effects. If you’re unsure, it’s always best to consult your doctor or pharmacist.

Even if you are taking medications that could increase your chance of getting a sunburn, you don’t have to totally avoid the great outdoors — you’ll just need to take extra precautions. Plan your outdoor activities earlier in the morning or later in the day when the sun isn’t as intense, wear a hat, and apply a lot of sunscreen with a high SPF and broad-spectrum protection that blocks all types of ultraviolet rays.

Medications that can increase sun sensitivity include the following.

·         Acne medications – Accutane (isotretinoin), Retin-A (tretinoin) and other similar acne medications

·         Antibiotics – Fluoroquinolones (ciprofloxacin and levofloxacin) and tetracyclines, including Sumycin, Tetracyn and Vibramycin (doxycycline)

·         Antidepressants – Tricyclic antidepressants such as Norpramin and Tofranil and the antipsychotic medication chlorpromazine(Thorazine)

·         Antifungals – Griseofulvin, including GrifulvinV, FulvicinP/G and Gris-PEG

·         Antihistamines – Antihistamines or allergy medications that include diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or promethazine (Phenergan)

·         Chemotherapy drugs -- Medications used in chemotherapy like Imatinib and dasatinib

·         Diuretics –Lasix (furosemide), high blood pressure medications like  hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ) and drugs combined with HCTZ such as DyazideHyzaar, Maxide and Zestoretic

·         Heart medications – Amiodarone (Cordarone), nifedipine (Procardia), quinidine (Quinaglute and Quinidex) and diltiazem (Cardize, Dilacor and Tiazac)

·         Pain relievers – Prescription and over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including Celebrex, naproxen (Aleve) and ibuprofen (Motrin and Advil)

·         Sulfa drugs – Sulfonamides (commonly called sulfa drugs) including Bactrim and Septra

Citrus and other foods

Be careful next time you’re enjoying a margarita on the beach! Juice and peels from citrus fruits, like limes, lemons, oranges and grapefruit, as well as celery, are known to increase sun sensitivity when they come in contact with your skin. Photosensitizing chemicals found in citrus and celery, called furocoumarins, make your skin more sensitive to ultraviolet rays and can lead to a painful rash, blisters and even second-degree burns that appear a few days after sun exposure. This sensitivity is called phytophotodermatitis and only occurs when these chemicals on the skin are exposed to sunlight.

If handling citrus fruits or celery in a garden, wear gloves to avoid the juices getting on your skin and causing a reaction. Other foods that can increase your sun sensitivity when consumed include dill, fennel, parsley, parsnips, wild carrots, figs and artificial sweeteners.

lavender essential oil

Perfume and essential oils

Perfume and essentials oils with certain ingredients can also cause your skin to burn. Bergamot oil, sandalwood, rose bengal, musk, cedar, lavender, bitter orange, lemon verbena and rosemary are all scents of popular perfumes and oils that can increase your skin’s sensitivity to sunlight. Pay attention to the ingredients found in your favorite sensory concoctions since applying them before going outside can quickly leave you with irritation, blistering and inflammatory hyperpigmentation (patches of darker skin). 

Acne creams

Acne creams containing benzoyl peroxide (an antibacterial agent) or acids like salicylic acid, alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) and beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) can increase your skin’s sensitivity and lead to sunburn if proper protection is not used. These chemicals work by drying out your skin to eliminate oils and bacteria while also removing your skin’s outer layer. This dryness, however, leaves your skin more vulnerable. Most popular topical acne treatments contain benzoyl peroxide or some form of acid. If you plan to be in the sun, seek out an acne treatment that doesn’t include these chemicals or make sure to apply sunscreen before and during your time outside.

Skincare treatments

Skin exfoliation treatments, such as facial scrubs, chemical exfoliants, enzymes and mechanical facial cleansing brushes, remove the top layer of your skin to leave you feeling and looking smooth. However, this top layer of skin is important in protecting the layers underneath from the sun’s rays. Perform any exfoliation treatments at night to allow your skin to begin to heal overnight before going out into the sun. If you are going into the sun after exfoliating, make sure to wear a sunscreen with high SPF.

Laser hair removal treatments can leave your skin in a state that is more likely to burn. If you’re planning to do laser hair removal, try to schedule it during months where you won’t be in the sun as often. Anti-aging skin treatments, such as retinol products or bleaching creams for age spots, will also make your skin hypersensitive to the sun. Pair use of any anti-aging ointment with sunscreen if you’re planning on going outdoors for extended periods of time.


Being dehydrated can inhibit your skin’s ability to heal. Your skin is a living organ and needs water to survive and do its job. When it becomes irritated and burned by the sun, your skin loses water. Severe burns can cause your entire body to become dehydrated, throwing off the balance of electrolytes in your system and making it difficult for your skin to heal. This can make your skin even more vulnerable to ultraviolet rays. Avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of water before, during and after being outdoors in the sun.

woman in hat on the beach

Proper sun protection

Properly protecting your skin when out in the sun is essential to decreasing your risk of not only sunburn but skin cancer as well. Thankfully, there are several things you can do protect yourself and your children.


Sunscreen is your skin’s best friend. All sunscreens with an SPF (sun protection factor) higher than 15 will protect your skin from UVB rays while broad-spectrum sunscreens protect against UVB an UVA rays. Anyone over six months of age should use sunscreen daily, even if you’re only out in the sun for a short period of time. Children under six months should not be exposed to the sun since their skin is highly sensitive to the chemical ingredients found in sunscreen as well as the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Shade and protective clothing are the best way to protects infants.

When going outside, choose a sunscreen with at least an SPF of 30 that is water resistant and provides broad-spectrum protection. Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before sun exposure to fully allow the ingredients to bind to the skin.

In order to get the full SPF of a sunscreen, apply one ounce (about the amount needed to fill a standard shot glass) and cover all exposed areas of your skin. If you’re going to be outside for a long period of time, one person should use at least a quarter of an 8 oz. bottle of sunscreen.

Reapply the same amount of sunscreen every two hours while outdoors. Also reapply immediately after swimming, sweating or drying yourself off with a towel. Reapplication is just as important as putting on in the first place, as sunscreen’s effectiveness wears off.

Protective clothing

When going outside, clothing is your first defense against the sun’s rays — the more of your skin that’s covered, the better. All clothing has an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) that indicates which fraction of the sun’s ultraviolet rays can penetrate the fabric. Special sun protective clothing is made with fabrics with a higher UPF rating.

If possible, opt for a long-sleeve shirt and long pants as well as a hat to keep the sun off you. Hats that cover the top of your scalp and your ears are best as these are the places most people forget to apply sunscreen.


Avoiding the sunlight by hanging out in the shade can reduce your exposure to UV rays. However, the shade won’t completely protect you. UVB rays can still indirectly reach you in the shade. For this reason, don’t rely on the shade as your only line of defense against the sun.

Eye protection

Over time, exposing your eyes to sunlight can damage them and the surrounding skin, leading to vision loss or conditions like cataracts, macular degeneration and eye or eyelid cancer. Luckily, protecting your eyes from the sun rays is pretty simple. If you notice issues with your vision, consult an optometrist or ophthalmologist as soon as possible.

Wear sunglasses year-round when you’re outside, not just during the spring or summer months. Look for sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB rays.

Hats don’t just protect your head, they can also protect your eyes by blocking direct sunlight. A three-inch hat brim can block as much as half of all UVB rays from reaching your eyes.

Treating sunburn

Even when we take steps to protect our skin, sunburn can still sometimes happen. It’s important to treat sunburn as soon as you notice it to help your skin begin to heal. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends taking the following steps to treat any sunburn and painful, stingy skin.

1.       Take frequent cool baths or showers to help relieve the pain. Pat your skin dry, but leave a little water still on your skin. Then, use moisturizer to help trap the moisture in your skin to ease dryness.

2.       Use a moisturizer or ointment that contains aloe vera or soy to soothe your skin. For areas that are extra uncomfortable, over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams may provide relief.

3.       Use ibuprofen or aspirin to help reduce swelling, pain, redness and any discomfort.

4.       Drink plenty of water to help prevent dehydration.

5.       For severe sunburn that causes blisters, let the blisters heal on their own (don’t pop them). Blistering sunburn is a sign of second-degree burns and popping blisters can lead to infection.

6.       Take extra care to allow your skin to heal until the sunburn is gone. Wear clothing that covers the sunburn. Don’t expose your skin to more UV rays until it has time to heal.

If you experience severe sunburn, it’s best to consult your physician to make sure you’re taking proper steps for treatment and avoiding infection.