Sun-Sensitive Drugs (Photosensitivity to Drugs)

  • Medical Author:
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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Photoallergic drugs

Some of the common topical photoallergic drugs are the following:

Sunscreens

  • para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) - PABA has been phased out of sunscreen preparations because of the high rate of allergic reactions to this chemical.
  • oxybenzone
  • cyclohexanol
  • benzophenones
  • salicylates
  • cinnamate

Anti-microbials

Painkillers

Cancer chemotherapy drugs

  • 5-fluorouracil (5-FU, Efudex, Carac, Fluoroplex)

Fragrances

  • Musk
  • 6-methylcoumarine

These are only some of the common sun-sensitizing drugs.

Are there any medical conditions that may cause photosensitivity?

Some medical conditions are known to cause sensitivity to sun exposure.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) often causes a rash on the face which can be very sensitive to sunlight. This rash is typically seen on the nose and cheeks, called a malar rash, and is considered one of the hallmarks of lupus.

Porphyria is another medical condition that may cause photosensitivity reactions. This is a hereditary condition with skin manifestation (cutaneous porphyria) causing rashes and blisters in reaction to exposure to sunlight.

Vitiligo is a relatively common disorder that causes patches of white de-pigmented skin. These patches lack melanin and are extremely sensitive to UV rays.

Xeroderma pigmentosum is a disorder that appears to result from an inherited hypersensitivity to the cancer-causing (carcinogenic) effects of ultraviolet light. Sunlight causes DNA damage that is normally repaired. Individuals with xeroderma pigmentosum have defective inability to repair the DNA after UV damage. Affected individuals are hundreds of times more vulnerable to developing skin cancer than other people. Their extreme skin photosensitivity predisposes them to pronounced skin damage and scarring and also to the early onset of skin cancer (basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas and malignant melanoma).

Individuals with classic oculocutaneous albinism lack melanin in their skin and eyes -- hence, the term "oculocutaneous" ("oculo" for eyes, and "cutaneous" for skin). Without the protection of this pigment, their white skin and pink eyes are both highly sensitive to UV and susceptible to the rays' damage.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/2/2015

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