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How Do I Treat Photodermatitis?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Treatment for photodermatitis involves addressing skin irritation and limiting exposure to light to prevent further outbreaks of this skin condition. Patients with photodermatitis have unusually sensitive skin that overreacts to ultraviolet radiation found in sunlight, causing rashes, blisters, and weeping sores. Soothing skin creams can address a breakout, medications may suppress the severity of the reaction, and sun protection can prevent future episodes. It is advisable to consult a dermatologist for advice and assistance with treatment.

Some patients may have a genetic predisposition to this condition or could be more at risk because of an underlying disease, particularly in the case of autoimmune diseases. Medications and certain foods can also cause the condition. In susceptible individuals, the immune system reacts strongly to sunlight because of the presence of an allergen or irritant, and patches of blistering, shiny, scaly skin may appear. This is not a sunburn, but an allergic reaction.

For open sores, cool, moist dressings can be helpful. Some patients find scent-free moisturizers beneficial for easing pain and itching, and others may bathe in cool water with baking soda to feel more comfortable. Steroid medications and other drugs are available to suppress the immune system and make the skin reaction more moderate. A doctor will prescribe these medications if they are appropriate. Some may have side effects that will lead a doctor to recommend them for the short term only, to avoid creating more problems than they solve.

Patients with a known susceptibility to sunlight can wear sunscreen and protective clothes to limit sun exposure. It is important to wear protection at all times, not just in the bright summer sun, as winter sunlight also contains ultraviolet radiation. When doctors prescribe medications known to cause photosensitivity, they may also advise their patients to consider wearing sunhats, long sleeves, and other protective gear while they are outside. This can reduce the risks of developing photodermatitis, and will keep the patient more comfortable.

This condition is not contagious, although it can look unpleasant. Patients with weeping sores need to be careful to keep them clean to reduce the risk of developing infections. Cool to warm water and mild, unscented soaps are best for cleaning. Patting dry with a towel rather than rubbing is advisable, to prevent further breakage of the skin. Scented products should be avoided with photodermatitis, as the scents can exacerbate the reaction and may make the patient's skin even worse.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments
By anon341255 — On Jul 09, 2013

I'm not yet diagnosed with dermatitis, but I do believe I have it. I first noticed it last year when I took a trip to France and I got a horrid looking rash on my back and chest. I thought it was just my eczema acting up, but the person in the pharmacy said it didn't look like eczema, that it was a reaction to something -- but to what?

I am currently on vacation in Ocean City, where it is very sunny and I have gotten the same rash again. This time it is much more painful and is spreading down my arms and legs and stomach. I also have dark patches on my back. Does anyone know what could soothe the itching and pain and what I should do? And whether or not you think its photodermatitis? --troubled teen

By anon341192 — On Jul 09, 2013

My partner has been diagnosed with photodermatosis, but instead of the reaction being on the skin he has the reaction inside, but does have the pain, occasional swelling nausea/lightheadedness. He loves the outside but finds it difficult to do anything affecting his work now.

He's on meds and is being seen by another doctor, who told him he was stupid. He is now not sure what to do next as it seems to be getting worse. Any advice? --Desperate Wife

By alex94 — On Aug 23, 2011

@wesley91- My husband was one of those people that you are talking about. He is a very active person and loves to be outside. He started breaking out in what looked like a rash when he spent a lot of time outside. When we went to Florida for vacation one year, he came back and had to immediately go to the doctor.

He had blisters all over his body. The doctor told him that he must be allergic to the sun. My husband started wearing a big hat and white, long-sleeved shirts when he worked outside. As it turned out, he went to a dermatologist who told him he was not allergic to the sun, but had photodermatitis. We were glad that we at least knew what was wrong and that it wasn't just a sun allergy.

By wesley91 — On Aug 23, 2011

If you think you could possibly have photodermatitis, you should definitely have it checked. Many times, patients are misdiagnosed as having a sun allergy because they present with sun poisoning symptoms.

I work for a dermatologist and we have treated a few people with photodermatitis. I would say that at least half of them were misdiagnosed by another doctor. It's always good to get a second opinion.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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