If I take a vitamin or supplement, should I stay out of the sun?

handful of vitamins
Could one of these vitamins make you sensitive to the sun's effects? Maybe. Thankfully, physician-approved databases are available outlining substances and their positive and negative effects.
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Overdone, sunshine and vitamins can get a bad rap. Yet, vitamins, by their very definition, contain the essential items to sustain life. And sunlight provides your body with vitamin D, which allows your skeletal system to become strong, giving your immune system a boost [source: ODS]. The sun even plays a role in making you happier [source: Maloof].

There are instances, however, in which vitamins or supplements make you more prone to danger from those primarily healthy rays. A large group of drugs -- which are occasionally confused with supplements, and vice versa -- can cause sun sensitivity.


Think of supplements in the context of food. Their purpose is to fill in gaps, or supplement, your diet. Drugs or medications are defined by the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act as chemicals, other than food, meant to treat or prevent disease [source: FDA]. Occasionally the line between a drug and a vitamin can be blurred.

Retin-A is one drug, often categorized as a vitamin that has been shown to cause sun sensitivity. It's a chemically altered form of vitamin A that's available only by prescription [source: Estridge]. Used to treat acne and other imperfections in the skin, Retin-A is acidic.

Because of its exfoliating properties, it can leave the skin extremely dry, red and more susceptible to sunburn [source: Yerman]. The degree of susceptibility varies from user to user. Retinol is a gentler, over-the-counter skin treatment that's also derived from vitamin A. Some dermatologists argue that it, too, can make the skin sensitive to sunlight [source: Yerman].

Increased sensitivity to the sun doesn't end with Retin-A and retinol. Click ahead for supplements linked to the problem.


Supplements and Sun Sensitivity

Sunlight has been scientifically proven to have a positive effect on your mood and to produce vitamin D, which has its own benefits to your system. Meanwhile, vitamins are crucial to a healthy existence and should not be avoided. Sun sensitivity caused by vitamins is typically only seen when vitamin A undergoes chemical alterations to create anti-aging and cosmetic-improvement medications such as retinol and Retin-A. But a variety of supplements have been associated with negative reactions to the sun.

A long list of herbal medications has been linked to intolerance of sunlight. Alfalfa and St. John's Wort are among supplements that can, in some cases, lead to sun sensitivity. Alfalfa seeds, as well as other parts of the herb itself are used in treatments for everything from asthma to unhealthy levels of cholesterol. It's also used by those seeking to increase their intake of vitamins A, C, E and K4. But in high doses it's been linked to sun sensitivity [source: Medline Plus].


Likewise, St. John's Wort has the potential to increase susceptibility to harmful effects of the sun. St. John's Wort is an herb taken from a yellow-leafed plant and is often used to treat depression [source: Medline Plus].

Putting a precise number on the list of supplements and drugs and medications derived from vitamins that can cause sun sensitivity is extremely difficult. Physician-approved databases are available, however, to allow patients to search for substances and their positive and negative effects. Examples include drugdigest.org, medlineplus.gov and medicinenet.com [source: Sunaware].


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Doheny, Kathleen. "Sunlight: Good or Bad for Cancer Risk?" WebMD. Jan. 7, 2008. (April 28, 2012) http://www.webmd.com/cancer/news/20080107/sunlight-good-bad-cancer-risk
  • Estridge, Bonnie. "Is Retinol the miracle ingredient?" (April 23, 2012) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-24933/Is-Retinol-miracle-ingredient.html
  • Maloof, Rich. "Does Weather Really Affect Our Mood?" MSN Health and Fitness. Feb. 27, 2011. (April 28, 2012) http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/vitamind-quickfacts/
  • Medline Plus. "Alfalfa." (April 28, 2012) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/19.html
  • Medline Plus. "St. John's Wort." May 2, 2012 http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/329.html
  • Nabili, Siamik T., MD. MPH. "Sun-sensitive Drugs." Medicine Net.com. (April 28, 2012) http://www.medicinenet.com/sun-sensitive_drugs_photosensitivity_to_drugs/page3.htm
  • Office of Dietary Supplements. "Vitamin D." (April 28, 2012) http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/vitamind-quickfacts/
  • Oral and Maxiofacial Supplements. "Pre-operative Information." (April 28, 2012) http://www.omss.net/preopinstructions.html
  • Rubman, Andrew L. ND. "Natural Remedies to Soothe Stress and Relieve Anxiety." (April 28, 2012) http://www.spineuniverse.com/treatments/mental-therapy/natural-remedies-soothe-stress-ease-anxiety
  • SunAware. "Sun Sensitivity." Feb 5, 2011. (May 2, 2012) http://www.sunaware.org/2010/02/05/sun-sensitivity-know-your-meds-their-side-effects/
  • Yerman, Marcia G. "Retin A: What can it do for your skin?" June 10, 2010. (May 2, 2012) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marcia-g-yerman/retin-a_b_601867.html
  • University of Maryland Medical Center. "Photodermatitis." (April 28, 2012) http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/photodermatitis-000155.htm
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "How does the law define a drug?" (May 1, 2012) http://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/guidancecomplianceregulatoryinformation/ucm074201.htm
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "Overview of Dietary Supplements." (April 28, 2012) http://www.fda.gov/food/dietarysupplements/consumerinformation/ucm110417.htm