The dangers of mixing sunshine with medication (2023)

Your medication could raise your risk of sunburn, heat sensitivity or allergic reaction to UV light. Here’s how to protect yourself. 

When the temperature rises and the fresh air beckons, you’ll probably want to head outdoors to soak up some rays. But if you take certain medications, the sun can present dangers you might not suspect. 

Sunlight delivers a heavy dose of ultraviolet (UV) rays, which in some cases could interact with medication in your body and increase the risk of sunburn,rash or heatstroke. “Certain medications contain ingredients that may lead to a chemically induced change within the skin,” says Alyssa Wozniak, PharmD. She’s aclinicalinstructor at D’Youville School of Pharmacy in Buffalo, New York. 

We spoke with Wozniak and Mohamed A. Jalloh, PharmD, an assistant professor at Touro University California College of Pharmacy, about the risks of mixing sunlight and medication.  

And don't forget: You can save up to 80% on the medications you take every day with the Optum Perks discount card.  Get yours now.

Q: Forpeople taking prescription medication, what’s the risk of spending time in the sun?

Wozniak: The risk is photosensitivity, which is an increased sensitivity to sunlight. There are 2 main types of photosensitivity reactions: phototoxicity and photoallergy. 

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Phototoxicity involves skin irritation that appears within a few hours of sun exposure. It results from tissue damage that occurs when the sun’s ultraviolet rays are absorbed by certain medications. It typically presents as an exaggerated sunburn. 

 A photoallergy is a delayed allergic reaction that can sometimes happen days after sun exposure. After absorbing UV rays, a change in the structure of the medication occurs. Then the body creates antibodies. The next time the person takes the same medication, their body reacts with an itchy inflammatory response. It often looks like an eczema-type rash.  

Q: Besides sunburn and rash, are there any other symptoms? 

Wozniak: Certain medications may also limit the body’s ability to respond to heat. They do this in a few ways. One is that they might reduce your ability to produce sweat, the key to temperature regulation. They could also elevate the body’s base temperature or make you dehydrated. Any of these could add to your risk of heat-related illnesses. In some cases, this can be very dangerous. 

You should always drink plenty of fluids when you’re outside in the sunlight. This will help you avoid overheating. 

(Urine is one of the best indicators of dehydration. Learn more with this 2-second health check you can do every day.) 

Q: Which medicationscause a reaction to the sun?  

Wozniak: There are 6 main types of medication you should be aware of (click each drug name to access coupons instantly):

  •  Retinoid acne medications such as  tretinoin (Retin-A®): These can raise your sensitivity to UV light. People who use these tend to burn easily, often on their face. 
  • Thiazide diuretics such as hydrochlorothiazide (Microzide®):These can also make you sunburn more easily. In addition, they can cause water loss, which can lead to lower blood pressure. Patients on diuretics should stay well-hydrated when they’re in the sunlight. 
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) medications such as  piroxicam (Feldene®): It is not well understood how NSAIDs react with the sun. But you could get a bad sunburn (phototoxicity) or an itchy rash reaction (photoallergy). 
  • Antiarrhythmic medications such as amiodarone (Pacerone®): Again, these can make you sunburn more easily. With long-term use and prolonged sun exposure, especially in patients with fair complexions, your skin may discolor to a blue-gray hue. 
  • Certain antibiotics:These especially include tetracyclines such as doxycycline, fluoroquinolones such as ciprofloxacin (Cipro®) and sulfonamides such as sulfamethoxazole-trimethoprim. Reactions range from mild phototoxicity to eczema-like itchy rashes. Ciprofloxacin, for instance, responds to UV light by making compounds that attach to proteins in the body’s cells. These start immune reactions that range from exaggerated sunburn to sun rashes. 
  • Sulfonylurea diabetes medications such as  glipizide (Glucotrol®): People on this type of diabetes medication can have varied reactions to sunlight. But for those who are sensitive, it can be an allergic rash-type reaction.

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Q: How can you protect yourself frommedication reactions in the sun?

 Jalloh: There’s a lot you can do. If you take a medication that reacts with sunlight, you should limit your time outdoors between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., which is when UV rays are strongest. 

When you do go outdoors, wear long sleeves, a hatand sunglasses. And cover your exposed skin with a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF of at least 30. You should put this on 15 to 30 minutes before entering the sun and reapply it every 2 hours while you’re outside. (Learn how sunscreen works with Optum Perks’ guide to SPF.)

It’s worth noting that UV light is strongest at the equator, so take extra precautions if you plan to visit someplace tropical. And of course, always avoid tanning beds. 

Finally, be sure to ask about sun sensitivity when you pick up your medication. Your pharmacist will be able to offer advice on the best time to take it. For example, certain medications may beactive for only 6 to 8 hours. A pharmacist might suggest that you take medication before bedtime so you won’t have to worry as much about side effects during the day. 

While you’re at the pharmacy, be sure to present your Optum Perks savings coupons. You can find them all in the Optum Perks app.  


Why do you have to avoid sunlight with some medications? ›

Some medicines contain ingredients that may cause photosensitivity -- a chemically induced change in the skin. Photosensitivity makes a person sensitive to sunlight and can cause sunburn-like symptoms, a rash or other unwanted side effects.

Which medications should be avoided sunlight? ›

There are dozens of medications and over-the-counter drugs that can cause sun sensitivity. Some of the most common include: Antibiotics: doxycycline, tetracycline, ciprofloxacin, levofloxacin, ofloxacin, trimethoprim. Antidepressants: doxepin (Sinequan); and other tricyclics; St.

Why can't you sit in the sun when taking antibiotics? ›

Unfortunately yes, there is a connection between antibiotic treatment and sun sensitivity. Some antibiotics (and other medicines) can make you more sensitive to sun exposure. This can cause sun burn and rashes more easily than you normally expect.

Does the sun react with certain medications like antidepressants? ›

Acne treatments, antibiotics, and antidepressants can all make you more susceptible to UV damage and overheating.

How does sunlight affect drug stability? ›

The most obvious result of exposure to light is reduced potency of the drug because of photodecomposition. Adverse effects due to the formation of photodegradation products during storage and use have also been reported.

Should medicines be kept away from direct sunlight? ›

Medicines that do not need refrigeration should be stored in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight or sources of heat such as radiators or fires.

What medications increase risk of heat stroke? ›

Among heat-interacting medications are antidepressants, antihistamines, antipsychotics, and diuretics (detailed below). Unfortunately, many who prescribe these drugs, as well as those who dispense and those who use them, may be unaware of the risk presented by their use under conditions of extreme heat.

What blood pressure meds make you sun sensitive? ›

Blood-pressure medications that are often referred to as "water pills", such as hydrochlorothiazide and furosemide (also known by the brand name of Lasix), can make your skin more likely to experience sun sensitivity.

What are the symptoms of phototoxicity? ›

In phototoxicity, people have pain and develop redness, inflammation, and sometimes brown or blue-gray discoloration in areas of skin that have been exposed to sunlight for a brief period.

Do statins make you sensitive to the sun? ›

Ultraviolet rays are made up of UVA and UVB rays, but the UVA rays are the bigger culprit in triggering sun-induced skin disorders.
Medications to Watch.
NSAIDsibuprofen, naproxen, ketoprofen, celecoxib, piroxicam
Statinsatorvastatin, fluvastatin, lovastatin, pravastatin, simvastatin
5 more rows
Aug 10, 2011

Does sun affect antidepressants? ›

Hundreds of medications affect photosensitivity, expert says

“They include some diuretics, antibiotics, antihistamines, anti-arrhythmics, antiseizure medicines, acne medications, and antidepressants. Most of the photo reactions are caused by the ultraviolet (UV) A and UVB rays and usually present as an allergy.

Does vitamin D interact with antidepressants? ›

It is reported that many of the published studies assessing vitamin D supplementation included patients who were already receiving antidepressant medication. Vitamin D is, in fact, recommended for use with antidepressant medications in effectively treating depression [61].

What drugs are affected by sunlight? ›

Primary Classes of Medications Responsible for Photosensitizing Reactions
  • Antihistamines.
  • Coal Tar and Derivatives.
  • Contraceptives, Oral and Estrogens.
  • Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs.
  • Phenothiazines.
  • Psoralens.
  • Sulfonamides.
  • Sulfonylureas.
Dec 21, 2015

What effect does light have on medicines? ›

In general, it is known that the photolytic degradation of medicines is wavelength-dependent; when the absorbed light energy is larger than binding energy of the substance, photolytic degradation occurs. If the decomposition product is colored, the color change can be visually observed.

What are 3 factors that affect drug absorption? ›

Several factors can affect the absorption of a drug into the body.
These include:
  • physicochemical properties (e.g. solubility)
  • drug formulation (e.g. tablets, capsules, solutions)
  • the route of administration (e.g. oral, buccal, sublingual, rectal, parenteral, topical, or inhaled)
  • the rate of gastric emptying.

What happens if you spend too much time in the sun on antibiotics? ›

Lipman, M.D. For example, taking the antibiotic doxycycline and going out in the sun could increase your risk of developing painful or itchy rashes that lead to blistering. Other antibiotics can cause you to sunburn much more quickly.

Can medicine be left in the heat? ›

A: "Any medication, unless it specifies that it needs to be refrigerated, really needs to be kept at room temperature in a dry place away from heat, humidity and light. So the best place to keep medicines is in a medicine cabinet that's outside of the bathroom and not on top of a refrigerator where there's heat."

What happens to medication in heat? ›

Capsules, powders and pills will also degrade under high heat. “The breakdown of meds may result in potentially harmful effects,” says Ms. Vandercruys. “What's worse, you can't necessarily tell if the medication has been altered.”

What is the number one cause of heat stroke? ›

Overview. Heatstroke is a condition caused by your body overheating, usually as a result of prolonged exposure to or physical exertion in high temperatures. This most serious form of heat injury, heatstroke, can occur if your body temperature rises to 104 F (40 C) or higher.

Can taking certain medication cause heat stroke? ›

However, common medicines, including some over-the-counter drugs, can increase your risk of heat exhaustion, heatstroke or serious sunburn. HealthPartners pharmacist Larry King, PharmD, says that some ways that medicines can affect you on hot days including the following: Decrease sweating.

What medications are temperature sensitive? ›

Five Most Common Cold Chain Drugs
  • Vaccines. Vaccines must be cooled all the time. ...
  • Glaucoma eye drops. Glaucoma is treated with eye drops which are temperature sensitive. ...
  • Aerosol spray against asthma. Aerosol spray, commonly known as asthma inhaler. ...
  • Insulin for diabetes treatment. ...
  • Biologicals.
Apr 9, 2019

Does sunlight affect blood pressure medicine? ›

Secondly, blood pressure medication and sun exposure dilate blood vessels, which can cause a dip in blood pressure. In turn, this may make the prescription feel stronger.

Should you stay out of the sun if you have high blood pressure? ›

Exposing skin to sunlight may help to reduce blood pressure and thus cut the risk of heart attack and stroke, a study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology suggests.

Why can't you be in sun with lisinopril? ›

“Thiazide diuretics, triamterene, some ACE inhibitors and lisinopril are photosensitizing drugs. Photosensitizing drugs are believed to absorb energy from ultraviolet and/or visible light causing release of electrons.

How do you reverse phototoxicity? ›

Topical corticosteroids and cool compresses may alleviate drug-induced photosensitivity. The use of systemic corticosteroids should be reserved for the most severe cases. If sunscreens are not the cause of the photosensitivity, they should be used liberally.

Which drug may cause a phototoxic reaction? ›

Drugs that have been implicated in causing photosensitive eruptions are reviewed. Tetracycline, doxycycline, nalidixic acid, voriconazole, amiodarone, hydrochlorothiazide, naproxen, piroxicam, chlorpromazine and thioridazine are among the most commonly implicated medications.

How long does phototoxicity last? ›

It usually lasts 2-4 days after UVL exposure is stopped, but in some instances, it may persist for months.

What drugs are heat sensitive? ›

Drugs that can increase your sensitivity to heat include (though aren't limited to): Antidepressants: tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline (Elavil), doxepin (Sinequan), and nortriptyline (Pamelor). Antihistamines: diphenhydramine (Benadryl Allergy).

What class of drugs should carry the warning label avoid sun exposure? ›

Drugs that make you sun sensitive include NSAIDs, sulfa containing drugs and antimalarials. Naproxen appears to have the most photosensitizing potential of all the NSAIDs and is a common cause of sunburn reaction.

How does heat affect medication? ›

Storing medicine under high temperatures reduces their potency and shelf-life. Typically, most pharmaceuticals are prepared such that they will remain stable at room temperature, around 68-77 degrees Fahrenheit.

Does heat destroy medication? ›

Both excessive heat and cold can have significant impact on how well medication — both prescription and over-the-counter — do their job. In addition, moisture, like that found in most bathrooms, can cause some medicines to stop working as intended.

Why do you have to avoid sunlight when taking hydrochlorothiazide? ›

Some people who take this medicine may become more sensitive to sunlight than they are normally. Exposure to sunlight, even for brief periods of time, may cause severe sunburn; skin rash, redness, itching, or discoloration; or vision changes.

What are the symptoms of photosensitivity? ›

Symptoms of photosensitivity may include a pink or red skin rash with blotchy blisters, scaly patches, or raised spots on areas directly exposed to the sun. Itching and burning may occur and the rash may last for several days. In some people, the reaction to sunlight gradually becomes less with subsequent exposures.


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