Certain medications can cause your skin to react when you exposed it to sunlight. These reactions are called drug-induced photosensitivity reactions. They can arise from medications taken by mouth or applied to the skin. These reactions occur when ultraviolet radiation reacts with the drug molecule, inducing mainly 1 of 2 types of photosensitivity reactions: phototoxic and photoallergic reactions.

Phototoxic reactions appear as an exaggerated sunburn-like reaction only on sun exposed skin. The more medicationyou take, the more severe the reaction. By contrast, photoallergic reactions cause redness, swelling, blistering, and plaque-like lesions over the sun-exposed areas of the skin and often spread to other areas of the skin as well. Thankfully, photoallergic reactions are rare. The amount of medication required to cause a photoallergic reaction is considerably smaller than that required for phototoxic reactions. Moreover, photoallergic reactions can occur 24 to 72 hours after exposure to the medication and sunlight, whereas phototoxic responses often occur within minutes or hours of light exposure.

Medications that can cause photosensitivity reactions

Below are examples of drugs that can cause photosensitivity reactions:

Phototoxic reactions

  • tetracyclines (doxycycline, minocycline, tetracycline)
  • fluoroquinolones (ciprofloxacin, ofloxacin, norfloxacin, moxifloxacin)
  • sulfonamides (sulfamethoxazole - trimethoprim)
  • NSAIDs (ibuprofen, ketoprofen, naproxen)
  • furosemide
  • hydrochlorothiazide
  • isotretinoin
  • amiodarone
  • diltiazem
  • chlorpromazine
  • quinidine
  • statins (atorvastatin, simvastatin, etc.)
  • phenothiazines (chlorpromazine, perphenazine, etc.)
  • antifungals (itraconazole, voriconazole)

Photoallergic reactions

  • hydrochlorthiazide
  • sulfonylureas (glyburide, glipezide)
  • phenothiazines (chlorpromazine, perphenazine, etc.)
  • quinidine
  • dapsone
  • statins (atorvastatin, simvastatin, etc.)

If you are taking any of these medications, it is important that you minimize exposure to the sun, especially between 11 am and 4 pm, when the sun's rays are the most harmful. When you are out, it is advisable to use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 and wear long-sleeved shirts, wide-brimmed hats, and sunglasses.

  Written and reviewed by the MediResource Clinical Team