Solar Dermatitis

solar dermatitis
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Solar dermatitis is the popular name for photodermatitis, a health condition in which a number of symptoms, not unlike those in other types of eczema, appear after the skin has been exposed to the sun. 

This reaction is from a limited part of the spectrum of light that is emitted by the sun - the ultra violet part of the spectrum, or UV rays. People with fair skin, lighter hair color, and lighter eye color, are more likely to develop the condition. It can be easily managed by avoiding contact of the skin with sunlight, or by removing the cause of the condition when possible.


There are a number of things that can cause photodermatitis:

  • Certain diseases -  Those that make the skin more photosensitive, such as eczema or lupus.
  • Genetic factors
  • Metabolic factors
  • Medications
  • Chemicals

Eczema, lupus, as well as some genetic and metabolic factors all may lead to the unusual reaction on the skin when in contact with UV light. Photosensitivity (and possibly photodermatitis) are also possible side effects of a lot of medications, from NSAIDs, antibiotics, antifungals, antidepressants, and chemotherapy agents. Some of the chemicals that cause photosensitivity are:

  • PABA - A chemical found in sunscreen
  • Salicylanilide - A chemical found in industrial cleaners
  • Hexachlorophene - A disinfectant found in some antibacterial soaps are among the chemicals that can cause photosensitivity.


Symptoms of photodermatitis usually include:

  • Reddening of the skin
  • Rash, blisters, bumps and lesions
  • Itching or pain
  • Nausea, fever, chills

It's not uncommon for photodermatitis symptoms to look like regular eczema. The area affected is usually exposed to the sun, so symptoms can present themselves after the slightest exposure to the sun. They can also show up after a session in a tanning bed. Depending on the severity of the conditions, the skin turns red, starts to itch, and develops a rash with blisters, bumps, and possible lesions. Nausea, followed by fever and chills, can happen in more severe cases.

These symptoms can appear all of a sudden and go away after a short time, or they can last for quite a while, as photodermatitis can be both acute and chronic. People with a genetic cause of photodermatitis have an increased risk of skin cancer.


Treatment and management options for photodermatitis include:

  • Avoiding the sunlight - Especially in the peak periods, and covering up the skin when in sunlight.
  • Using sunscreens - Chose those that don't contain PABA.
  • Phototherapy - This can be used to gradually desensitize the skin.
  • Removing the cause - Particularly if it's chemical or medical.
  • Immunosuppressant drugs - These can be prescribed to control eruptions.
  • Steroid creams - These can be used on the affected area.

The most important thing is to control the exposure of the skin to the sunlight. As it would be nearly impossible for people with solar dermatitis to avoid the sun completely, it should be avoided at the times with peak UV index. At other times, sunscreen may provide the necessary protection, and if not, light clothing with long sleeves can be used to protect the skin, even in a really hot summer.

Needless to say, deliberate exposure to UV rays, unless controlled by a medical professional, is not a good thing to do, so tanning beds should be avoided.

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