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Why Does my Skin Itch in the Sun?

By: Dr. Wang Skincare Education Team

Aug 06, 2019

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Summer sun tanning is one of America’s favorite pastimes. Whether you are sitting poolside, on the beach, or simply lounging on the back deck, getting some quality sun can be a literal breath of fresh air. 

Unfortunately, sun exposure can also lead to serious health conditions including skin cancers,  melanoma, sun poisoning, and more.

Although these side effects from intense sun exposure are commonly discussed, a less well-known fact is that your skin can become super itchy with or after sun exposure. In fact, many individuals have complained about itchy skin from sun exposure. 

In this post, we discuss why skin might become itchy in the sun, and some easy ways to deal with this uncomfortable feelings. 

Why Does my Skin Itch in the Sun?

There are a handful of situations which may lead to itchy skin as a result of sun exposure:

Sun allergy (Photosensitivity): While most of us do not have sun allergies, it can be a serious nuisance for those who are allergic. These reactions occur when the body interprets UV rays as foreign, leading to an adverse reaction. Common types of skin allergies include photoallergic eruption, solar urticaria, and actinic prurigo.

Sun poisoning: Unlike sun allergies which are literal allergic reactions to the sun, sun poisoning does not actually have anything to do with becoming poisoned. Instead, sun poisoning can be thought of as a severe sunburn which causes greater complications including rash, blistering, itchy skin, swelling, and flu-like symptoms.

Sunburn: As we will discuss in greater detail below, sunburn does not typically cause itchy skin immediately. Sunburn is more typically associated with dull pain or a burning sensation, followed by itchy skin several days later, if ever.

Sun Allergy Symptoms and Causes

While sunburn and sun poisoning are more common, itchy rashes as a result of sun exposure are most frequently caused by skin allergies. Here are a few examples of the causes and symptoms of specific sun allergies:

Photoallergic eruption: This type of allergy is actually caused by the sun reacting with a chemical in the patient’s body. This sun allergy is not hereditary, and is instead caused by sun adversely reacting to ingredients from products including sunscreen, cosmetics, NSAIDs, antibiotics, medicine for hypertension and more. If you are on medication and suspect a photoallergic reaction, speak to your doctor right away.

Symptoms include blisters and/or rash which is commonly bright red and itchy. This type of reaction may have a delay of up to two (2) days.

Actinic prurigo (PMLE): Unlike photoallergic eruption, PMLE skin allergies are hereditary by nature. The population affected is primarily those with Native American descendants from all over the Americas.

Symptoms include itchy skin and/or rash which are primarily found on or near the face. Flu-like symptoms such as nausea, fatigue, and headache are also common. Symptoms typically form within two (2) hours of sun exposure.

Sunburn and Itchy Skin

If your skin’s immediate reaction to sunlight is to become itchy, then sunburn is likely not the culprit. Sunburn can absolutely cause the skin to become itchy and irritated, but typically only after some time has passed and the skin has started the healing process.

It is important to understand that the symptoms of sunburn from a previous event can be exacerbated by returning to the sun. For example, a mild sunburn you received on Monday might cause your skin to itch if you go tanning again on Wednesday. 

Sunburn symptoms are more closely associated with redness, irritation, pain, and sometimes secondary symptoms such as headache, feeling faint, and feeling like you have the flu. If your skin is itchy from sun exposure, do not simply assume it is a sunburn!

Prevent Itchy Skin this Summer with Holistic Skincare Methods

So far we have discussed specific examples of when sun exposure has led to itchy, irritated skin. While each individual situation may have its own plan of action, here are some high level tips to keep your skin healthy and safe this summer:

  • Wear protective sunscreen. The CDC recommends a minimum of SPF 15, broad spectrum sunscreen before going outside even in moderately sunny conditions. Given most people don’t apply enough sunscreen, we  recommend a minimum of SPF 30 or higher products. 
  • Avoid prolonged exposure to direct sunlight. When possible, simply avoiding overexposure to UVA and UVB rays is the best option.
  • Stay healthy with proper diet, nutrition, and exercise. Holistic health will not cure acute skin disorders, but it will help your body care for itself naturally.
  • Consider a natural skincare routine. Many modern cosmetics and skincare products contain harsh chemical irritants. Instead, consider a simple, two step Facial Oil & Youth Serum Combo Pack to deliver nutrients your skin needs without any unnecessary or harmful ingredients!

Remember, if you or a loved one is experiencing serious symptoms as a result of sun exposure, including signs of heat poisoning or sun damage on a large portion of the body, it is recommended to seek medical advice right away.

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Steven Wang, MD and Gui Wang, LAc have been working together for over 20 years to provide potent, herbal remedies for spas and individuals around the world. The father-son duo mixes Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) with cutting edge scientific advances with the aim of bringing relief, comfort and happiness to our customers.

Our products are the result of decades of dedicated research. We never test our products on animals.

We believe that utilizing both modern Western medicine and time honored Eastern medicine allows us to provide unique skincare solutions. To learn more, read what experts from The New York Times, Allure, Reader’s Digest, and more have to say about our revolutionary products.

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