What is Sun Sensitivity (or Phototoxicity)?


We know skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the United States and we know we should use sun protection year round. But did you know that some of your household items could cause phototoxicity or sun sensitivity?

What is Phototoxicity?

The National Cancer Institute define phototoxicity as:

A condition in which the skin or eyes become very sensitive to sunlight or other forms of light. It can be caused by taking certain drugs, or rubbing certain essential oils (scented liquid taken from plants) or other topical agents into the skin. Phototoxicity causes sunburn, blisters, and other skin problems.

Some products we apply to our skin can cause us to be sensitive to sunlight for hours or even days after they applied.

Common Products that cause Sun Sensitivity:

1. Acne and Skin Care - Some ingredients that can cause sun sensitivity are alpha-hydroxy acids (found in 7 Day Glow BOOST), accutane or retinol. Use (and especially over-use) of exfoliating products can strip the top layer of your skin, which can make your skin more sensitive to sun exposure. Be sure to wear a high SPF sunscreen, a hat, or stay out of strong sunlight for a few days after application.

2. Perfume and Body Scrub - Some perfumes can contain ingredients that can cause you to be sun sensitive. Do not use perfume for 2 or more days before spending the day in the sun. Body Scrub can cause sensitivity for the same reason as your facial exfoliators - they strip away build-up, exposing fresh skin beneath. This fresh skin is going to be more sensitive to the sun. Hold off on body scrub until after your day in the sun.

3. Antibiotics - Especially those containing doxycycline, tetracycline, ciprofloxacin, levofloxacin, ofloxacin, and trimethoprim can cause a sunburn-like rash and irritation after sun exposure.

4. Some Fruits - Citrus fruits such as lemon and grapefruit and some other foods including dill, celery, fennel, figs, and parsley can cause sun sensitivity. 

5. Some Essential Oils - Some essential oils, especially citrus oils including lemon, lime, orange, and bergamot can cause photosensitivity that includes severe burns and rashes. Be especially careful to apply essential oils that are greatly cut by other oils - do not apply essential oils directly to skin. Wait at least 12 hours after applying before spending time in the sun.

If you experience signs of photosensitivity return indoors immediately. Wash the affected area thoroughly with warm soapy water to remove any topical application that may be causing the problem.

If the problem persists, visit a dermatologist to find the root of the cause.

While phototoxicity (or sun sensitivity) is rare, it is something we all should be aware of and take steps to avoid.

To reduce risk, be sure to always wear a high SPF sunscreen on all exposed body parts at all times - all year round.

Christine Untiedt
CEO, 7 Day Glow

Notice: These statements and blog content have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The information in our articles are not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and are not intended as medical advice. The content of these blogs and associated products is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition, consult your physician before using products or following blog advice.

(Updated 5/28/24)

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