The People's Perspective on Medicine

Evening Primrose Oil Overcame Persistent Allergic Reaction to Sun Exposure

Q. At 39 I developed solar urticaria. This is a skin allergy to sunlight, with pain and severe itching for days after sun exposure.

One of my friends recently mentioned that taking borage oil helped her depression. I also have depression so I looked it up and found it has gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) in it. I discovered that evening primrose oil also contains GLA. It is often recommended for skin problems such as eczema, autoimmune problems like rheumatoid arthritis and women’s hormonal problems such as menopausal hot flashes.

I decided to try evening primrose oil, and I was shocked. Just four days of taking the pills has made my solar urticaria go away.

I’m a biologist and I know all about placebos, but I can’t imagine that this uncomfortable condition could be cleared up by blind faith in an herbal remedy. If this information can help just one other person with solar urticaria, I would be thrilled.

A. Solar urticaria is a rare condition in which exposure to sun can produce dramatic hives. Doctors often recommend antihistamines or, in severe cases, immune suppressing drugs.

Although preliminary data support the use of evening primrose oil or GLA for diabetic neuropathy, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis and hypertension, there is not much solid research. One large analysis suggests caution: this supplement might suppress the immune system and could interact dangerously with the anticoagulant warfarin (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, April 30, 2013).

Your experience with evening primrose oil is fascinating and might lead to a new way to manage this uncomfortable skin condition. 

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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I take 2 pills of 1300 mg each. I get them online, but I”m sure health food stores also have them. I sometimes switch down to one a day, but then can feel the painful tingling as soon as I get in the sun, and know I need to up it to 2/day again. I’m definitely sensitive to shorter wavelengths, because during the winter (late November-early February) at northern latitudes (I’m in Portland, OR), I have no problems, and then as the days get longer and the earth gets closer to the sun, I get the pain and itching again. I really hope the primrose oil helps you!

My solar urticaria is definitely related to hormones. When I was pregnant, the symptoms went away. After having the baby, symptoms are back. I was tempted to try to go on hormones to get rid of the urticaria (if I could convince a doctor to give them!) but that also has all sorts of side effects that might not be good. I’m hoping the primrose oil has fewer side effects.

Evening Primrose Oil also helps psoriasis.

My mother had “sun rash” every summer starting in her late 40’s, until she realized she couldn’t use milk products or fats–butter, bacon, etc. in the summer.
Since I’ve developed post-menopausal lactose intolerance, I’ve thought her rash was just a manifestation of that same problem.
Does anyone else have any experience of food intolerances being part of solar urticaria? As a post-menopausal problem?

I also suffer from the above mentioned condition, I’ve noticed for years that after being out in the sun for extended periods of time, I would develop extreme itching and needle like sensations, on my arms in particular, how do you take this Primrose supplement, is it a capsule or oil? I also suffer from osteoporosis and hypertension, so that would be a bonus for me. Additional information on the Primrose supplement would be appreciated.
People’s Pharmacy response: Evening primrose oil is available in capsules. You may want to check ConsumerLab.com to make sure the supplement you select is high quality. The report costs money, but might save you some in the long run.

Many years ago we took a trip to Puerto Vallarta. I wore long sleeves the whole time because of my sensitivity to sun. I still got hives all over my body and if I hadn’t scheduled a massage I would have wound up in the hospital. The Dr. recognized the problem immediately and treated me. Yes, a medical Dr. gives massages to earn extra money-praise the Lord!
When I got home I did a lot of research and came up with the following formula, which worked. I have no problems with the sun now.
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Start taking this 2X a day several days before your first “sun bathing”.
Make sure your first sunning is a very short one of about one minute each side with as much skin exposed as possible. Work your way up very slowly. Even if you do get the following in your daily multiple make sure you add extra!
folic acid (1,000 mcg daily unless at the beach/pool then add more)
vitamin A (40,000 iu natural vitamin daily),
vitamin B12 (500 mcg.daily),
zinc-picolinate or citrate (25-30 mg), balance w/ 2mg copper if not in your multiple
vitamin C (1,000 mg 2X daily or more at the beach)
Vitamin E (400 iu natural, mixed tocopherols)
and vitamin D…probably get some of the A, Omega 3s, and D in some Carlson’s cod liver oil liquid, the preferred method, or cod liver oil capsules (what I take). If you haven’t had your vitamin D tested, 25(OH)D, then start with only 2,000 mg of D3 daily.

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