Dr. M.J. Bazos, MD. Patient Handout

About Your Diagnosis
Photodermatitis is an itchy, scaly, blistery, reddening of the skin, caused by an increase of the skin’s normal sensitivity to the effects of sunlight or ultraviolet rays A or B (UVA or UVB). This can be genetic (run in families), but most often the cause can be traced to chemicals found in medicines, cosmetics, and foods. The tendency to photosensitization can be used therapeutically as well, as in the psoralen therapy used to treat psoriasis.
More than 10% of Americans have had some form of photodermatitis.

Living With Your Diagnosis
Signs of photodermatitis include redness, dryness, blistering, and bumpy rash. These may feel painful or itchy, and sometimes are hard to differentiate from the usual case of mild sunburn. There is always a pattern of exposure to the sun or ultraviolet radiation (e.g., from a tanning bed) preceding the onset of the skin problem, but often the time of exposure is minimal. Long-term effects of photodermatitis include chronic skin thickening and scarring, and increased risk of skin cancer in patients with a genetic source of their dermatitis.

Prevention is the best treatment for this disease, when possible. Be sure to ask your doctor and pharmacist whether you should avoid sun exposure while taking medication. Check with your doctor before beginning any tanning ritual! Once photodermatitis has occurred, the basis of therapy is to minimize the inflammation in the damaged skin while treating painful symptoms as well. Steroid creams or tablets may be prescribed. Antibacterial creams such as silvadene may be prescribed for burnlike reactions. Avoidance of the sun and elimination of the offending substance, if possible, is essential. Your doctor will review your medicines and inquire about new or different foods you may have eaten before the outbreak, and together you will agree on a plan to adjust your diet or medical regimen as necessary. Always use a sunblock for both UVA and UVB with an SPF of 15 or greater each morning.

The DOs
• Always take medications only as prescribed, and avoid ultraviolet light exposure as much as possible while using known photosensitizers .
• Do use PABA-free sunblocks, sunscreens, hats, and long sleeves to minimize the effects of unavoidable exposure.
• Do limit the amount of limes, celery, carrots, and figs in your diet, because these contain natural psoralens (sun sensitizers).
• Do avoid PABA- and musk-containing skin products.
• Do avoid “natural” fruit-based skin lotions and cosmetics, because they may contain sensitizers as well.
• Do check with your doctor before using any tanning device, no matter how “safe” the manufacturer says it is.

The DON’Ts
• Don’t take sun exposure for granted. Once you have had photodermatitis, your skin will be sensitive to the combination of sun and the chemical you are sensitized to indefinitely.
• Don’t rely on sun lotions and lightweight clothing to provide sun protection for prolonged periods.
• Don’t rely on clouds for sunblock; they do not block ultraviolet rays.

When to Call Your Doctor
• If you have fever, chills, nausea or vomiting.
• If infection or pus is noted at the area of dermatitis.
• If dermatitis worsens despite treatment.
• If a stomachache or severe nausea occur while taking steroid medicines by mouth.
• If sudden bone pain develops while taking steroid medicines by mouth.