Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Here comes the sun, and it's not all right

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Q: I like to jog outside all summer long. I have heard you can get a rash from sun exposure. Is this different than sunburn?

A: It's the time of year for outdoor activity, events and festivals. Everyone knows the sun can burn our skin and we need to protect it. You may think that all sunburn is just from too much sun and not enough sunscreen. Well, there is actually such a thing as skin reactions that are not just regular sunburn. Here are some other problems that can happen when the sun shines on your skin:


Sun rash

Some individuals are actually prone to having rashes when exposed to sunlight. This is not the same thing as a sunburn. Up to 20 per cent of the population will get a rash within a few minutes of sunlight exposure. The medical term for this is polymorphous light eruption (PLE). The thing you really need to remember is that if you see bumps or a scaly rash with some redness after sun exposure, you may have PLE. It is treated by sun avoidance, adequate sunscreen, steroid creams or light therapy. See your physician if you are not sure if you have a PLE sun rash or require further treatment.


Drug rash

Some skin reactions are triggered by medication with sunlight exposure. Often, individuals who are taking an antibiotic or other medication do not realize it can make them more susceptible to sunburn. This is usually not an immediate reaction and takes a few hours to appear. Common medications that can cause this reaction include the antibiotics tetracycline, sulfa and ciprofloxacin, the anti-inflammatories naproxen and piroxicam and diuretics ("water-pills") such as thiazides. Speak with your pharmacist if you are not sure if a medication you are taking could make you susceptible to sunburn.


Allergy to sunscreen

Here is a frustrating skin problem: sunscreen allergy. You make the effort to protect your skin from the sun and you end up being allergic to the sunscreen. This tends to happen more in those who have sensitive skin and eczema (patches of dry, scaly skin). If you are wearing perfume or aftershave, you may also get a scaly, red skin rash if you have sensitive skin. It is easy to avoid wearing perfume or aftershave, but what do you do if sunscreen is the culprit? It depends on what ingredient in the sunscreen that you are sensitive to. A sunscreen substance called benzophenones may be responsible. Talk to your pharmacist and be prepared to try out more than one type of sunscreen.


The active sunseeker

If you like to exercise outside, especially between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., you need to consider a sport sunscreen if you are going to sweat a lot. Reapply your sunscreen about every 2 to 2.5 hours if you are outside constantly. Sunscreen also needs to be reapplied after swimming. Sunscreens labelled as waterproof do not always work after being in the water. Don't forget about protecting your lips. You need a lip balm with SPF 20 or higher. Dermatologists also recommend applying a sunscreen lip balm above the eyebrows to prevent sunscreen from getting in the eyes.


Remember, we all need some daily sunlight exposure for vitamin D production. So, put on the sunscreen, the lip balm, grab a hat and sunglasses and enjoy the fresh air of summertime.


Dr. Maureen Kennedy MD, CCFP, FCFP, Dip. Sport Med., is a Sport and Exercise Medicine Physician at the Sport MB-Sport Medicine Centre and the Reh-Fit Centre in Winnipeg.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 7, 2012 C3

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