What Is a Sun Allergy? Experts Explain the Rare Skin Condition

Allergies are never fun. They can be inconvenient or painful, and oftentimes, they can prohibit you from enjoying some of the most simple pleasures in life — think petting dogs or eating chocolate chip cookies. Luckily, we have progressed (somewhat) as a society to find some workarounds for many of them. If you’re allergic to a food item, for instance, while it may be annoying to miss out on some delicious dishes, you eventually learn to deal or find a substitute for it. But what happens when you’re allergic to something unavoidable, like the sun?

Yes, you can, in fact, be allergic to the sun: it’s called solar urticaria. But before you panic about the possibility of never going for hikes or hitting the pool, know that the allergy is fairly uncommon. According to the Cleveland Clinic, only about 10 to 15 percent of the US population is affected by this type of allergy.

As always, it’s best to understand what a sun allergy actually is in order to be prepared. Read on more info on the rare allergy, how to know if you have it, and how to treat it.


Meet the Experts:


How can you be allergic to the sun?

Purvi Parikh, MD, an allergist with the Allergy & Asthma Network tells Allure that a sun allergy is a group of itchy rashes that can occur in response to the sun by your immune system. Dendy Engelman, MD, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist and Mohs surgeon at the Shafer Clinic in New York City, adds that this happens as a result of the immune system treating the sun-altered skin as foreign cells, which then leads to bodily reactions .

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There are many different types of sun allergies, according to Dr. Parikh. She lists photoallergic rashes, solar urticaria, and actinic prurigo. Marisa Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology in New York City, adds that a sun allergy can also refer to a skin reaction that develops when it is exposed to the sun. It is a condition formally known as polymorphous light eruption (PMLE), which is the most common type of sun allergy that affects 10 to 15 percent of the US population, which Dr. Garshick says can result in a rash or hives.

A sun allergy can happen to anyone. Dr. Engelman says that the condition can be hereditary, or a reaction can be triggered by medication, pre-existing medical conditions, or other skin conditions. She adds that sun allergies do tend to occur more prominently in women than men and start to develop in their teens and twenties. While those with lighter skin tones are usually more sensitive to sun exposure and more likely prone to get sun allergies, Dr. Garshick says it can still affect those with a darker skin tone as well.

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