Can medications make skin sensitive to the sun?

Use sun protection for both your skin and eyes when you're on photosensitizing medications.
Use sun protection for both your skin and eyes when you're on photosensitizing medications.
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That little yellow sun sticker on the side of your medication bottle is not there to brighten your day -- it's there to tell you to be extra careful to protect yourself from the sun. Certain medications can make your skin more sensitive than usual to ultraviolet light. This doesn't mean that you're going to burn and blister the second you step foot out the door, but it does mean that when you're taking certain medications, you need to take a few precautions.

Not all medicines increase your skin's sensitivity factor, but those that do run the gamut from antibiotics and antidepressants to acne medications and antihistamines [source: WebMD]. You might be surprised to find ibuprofen and birth control pills on this list as well.


If you're wondering why some medications cause you to burn easier or break out into a rash, it's because some drugs are photosensitizers. This basically means they are very effective at absorbing ultraviolet light -- which the sun provides in abundance -- and then transferring that energy to your skin [source: McCoy]. This increases the rate at which skin cell damage can occur. Think of it like this: Your skin tries to protect you from the sun's damaging rays as best it can. However, when you take sun-sensitive medications, your skin becomes a sponge to soak up the sun's rays, and not in a good way. The bottom line is, you should also buy some sunscreen -- SPF 15 or higher -- when picking up your medications.

And don't forget to keep your sunglasses handy, too. Your eyes will be just as sensitive as your skin while you're on photosensitizers. In addition, wear a hat and clothes that cover your body if you're going to be outside between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. -- the sun's peak hours [source: Federal Trade Commission].

So remember, seeing that sun sticker on a bottle doesn't mean you have to hide indoors until your medication runs out. Just be smart about protecting yourself from the sun. For more information on keeping your skin healthy, follow the links on the next page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • Federal Trade Commission. "Sunscreens and Sun-Protective Clothing." (Accessed 9/24/09)
  • McCoy, Christopher. "Why do certain drugs make the skin more sensitive to sun?" Scientific American. 11/20/01. (Accessed 9/24/09)
  • WebMD. "Sun-Sensitizing Drugs." (Accessed 9/24/09)