The People's Perspective on Medicine

You Could Be Risking Bad Sunburns If You Are Taking One of These Common Medications

Most people are not warned that some medications can sensitize the skin to the sun's rays. Ultraviolet radiation plus drugs can lead to a bad sunburn.

Forty years ago baby boomers enjoyed soaking up the sun’s rays and admiring their golden tans. Today, they are spending more time with dermatologists and plastic surgeons trying to undo the damage. Age spots, wrinkles and skin cancers are the price we pay for exposure to ultraviolet radiation.

Before Sunscreens What Did People Do?

Back before sunscreens people had to exercise some judgment when they went outside or they would inevitably experience bad sunburns. People took beach umbrellas with them to the seashore, and lifeguards smeared their noses and lips with white zinc oxide cream. Farmers and other folks who worked out of doors wore hats, not as a fashion statement, but to protect their heads and faces from the sun.

Why Sunscreens Can Cause Problems

Sunscreens have been a mixed blessing. Because people who use them usually don’t burn, or even turn pink, they develop a false sense of security. People stay out longer and ignore the rules of common sense. As a result they may be damaging DNA in the deeper layers of the skin and suppressing their immune systems.

Even the best sunscreen cannot protect your eyes. Research shows that ultraviolet (UV) radiation damages the lens and the retina and may contribute to the development of cataracts.

Drugs and Sun Can Cause Bad Sunburns

Both skin and eyes are more susceptible to harm from the sun when people are taking certain medications or even herbs. Research by Joan Roberts, Ph.D., and her colleagues demonstrates that hypericin, an ingredient in St. John’s wort, reacts with sunlight to cause changes in the lens of the eye. This may increase the risk of cataracts.

Sunglasses may not protect the eye adequately if a person is taking St. John’s wort, and might even make the situation worse. Because hypericin is activated by visible light as well as ultraviolet, the best approach is to avoid bright sunlight.

Other medicines that may make eyes more vulnerable to light include the heart drugs amiodarone and propranolol, the blood pressure medicine hydrochlorothiazide, and medications used to treat schizophrenia (chlorpromazine and thioridazine).

Many commonly prescribed medications also make the skin more susceptible to UV radiation. One man taking cotrimoxazole (Bactrim, Septra) for a urinary tract infection developed a painful sunburn after just one round of golf. He was fortunate: he recovered.

A Lethal Sunburn

We heard of a woman who died from complications of sunbathing while on vacation in Florida. She was taking enalapril (Vasotec), diltiazem (Cardizem) and lovastatin (Mevacor), all of which may cause photosensitivity reactions in some people.

If you would like to know more about medicines that can increase the risk of skin damage, bad sunburns and ways to avoid trouble, you may want to consult our Guide to Skin Care & Treatment.

Since parasols are not likely to make a reappearance on the fashion scene, we will have to take other measures to protect skin and eyes. A high SPF (30+) sunscreen is a good start. In addition, a hat that shades the ears and neck as well as the face is essential. Don’t forget sunglasses with 100 percent UV protection.

Even more important, stay out of the midday sun. As tempting as it may be to lounge around the pool in a skimpy suit, it is smarter to remain under cover between 10 and 2. Common sense and sunscreen can make summer sunshine delightful rather than dangerous.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
Skin Care and Treatment

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I’m a fairly high-strung person, more prone to anxiety than many people, though it’s really not bad enough to warrant use of an Rx med. I recently discovered that St. John’s Wort works just right for me. I’m much more calm and cheerful now! I also do MANY outside activities; I’m in the sun all summer. So you can imagine how concerning it is to find out St. John’s Wort + bright sunlight can cause cataracts! Even with sunglasses?!

Oh, PP, say it isn’t so. I’ll be investigating ways to get around this problem, for sure.

I live in Mexico and it is common to see women walking about under an umbrella. I do wear a hat almost all the time when outside.

Umbrellas can be very inexpensive and useful during the rainy season anyway.

In 1981, I was treated by a dermatologist for acne with Tetracycline. I wasn’t warned about sun exposure while taking this drug. It was May, I went outside, skin mostly covered, for two hours, not in direct sunlight. My exposed skin burned and turned an odd color of red, not like a sunburn usually looks. Along with the burn, I developed joint pain throughout my body, which lasted three days and put me in bed. The burn and color persisted about four weeks, gradually faded, then was replaced by a small red blotch, which persisted for ten years before disappearing. Going back to when this started, I researched and learned that Tetracycline can cause an “exaggerated sunburn”. I reported this to my dermatologist, who told me he had never heard of this.

Sunscreen on arms, face, ears, neck is part of our normal daily routine here in Florida, the Sunshine state. Recently the thought occurred that it’s hard to keep the sunscreen on one’s hands when one is washing and doing other household tasks. How to keep hands protected? Our grandmothers always wore white gloves. It was what nice women did!! But beyond the social implications it must have started because people wanted to protect their hands from the sun. Duh! Shortly after coming to that conclusion 2 pairs of white cotton gloves appeared at a garage sale which were bought for a quarter a pair. One pair is in the car for driving and the other at the front door for when we go outside. When driving with light cotton gloves on it’s amazing how cool they feel with the sun beating down on them.. I may be considered an eccentric old lady, but I’d like to start a trend, but also protect my hands from aging :-)

Don’t forget about accutane. That can cause extremely serious sunburn in a very short amount of time.

I was very sick and my sense of smell, hearing, sight and touch were immensely increased, to the point of pain. I understand autistic people and how they feel. Thank goodness, this has backed off but not entirely. I can smell perfumes of any kind and find them offensive. This from a person who used to wear perfume and drive a tractor! I use MOM as a deodorant and would love to buy some in a roll on but not the scented. If you would make unscented, I would buy it.

Jean B.

People’s Pharmacy has an unscented version of MOM deodorant, and using the discount code MOM4DAD, at least through today, can get a 20% discount on it.

Is 10am-2pm still the worst time when Daylight Savings Time is in effect, or is it 11am-3pm?

(I’ve used my umbrella as a parasol this week when having to be outside for short periods of time–the sun and heat combination has been oppressive.)

Yes, you should adjust it to 11am-3pm when Daylight Savings Time is in effect (which is two-thirds of the year!) to be more accurate, but ’10am-2pm’ is still covering the worst of it either way.

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