Ever since I’ve moved to France, I have developed an allergy to the sun. It means that my body reacts adversely to the sun with itchy rashes erupting on my arms, neck and even sometimes on my face. The real name of this condition is “polymorphous light eruption”, but it is easier to get the point across when I say “sun allergy”.
Every year, my skin begins to react to the sun in early spring, when the sun is getting closer to the Northern Hemisphere. It’s always the same story: after many days of rain comes good weather for which I’m not prepared. Even though I avoid the sun at all costs—by walking in the shade, staying inside, keeping on my long sleeves— I always end up having a big reaction akin to hives. It happens even if I have been exposed to sunlight for only a few minutes. Over the course of the summer, my body will build up a tolerance therefore toning down my allergic reaction.
For those who are not familiar with this problem, I want to say that benign polymorphous light eruption is not related to having sunburns. Strangely, my skin is very resistant to them, the problem being the allergic reaction to the sun.
There are medical solutions to alleviate this problem: cortisone creams, phototherapy or taking antimalarial drugs. Personally, I prefer to avoid these treatments and adopted simpler solutions.
Avoid Exposure to the Sun
This piece of advice falls in the easier said than done category. Yet, that’s what I’m usually told by doctors when I discuss my sun allergy. The problem is that it is impossible to avoid the sun unless you are a hermit living in a cave!
I do not purposely expose myself when the sun is at its peak, but with an active lifestyle and likewise holidays, it’s inevitable that my skin will absorb some sunlight. To reduce the symptoms of polymorphous light eruption, I have adopted new habits.
Sunscreens to Fight Sun Allergy
If you are sensitive to the sun, forget buying sunscreens that have SPF rating below 50. You must choose a sun protection factor of at least 50, 50+ offer an even higher protection (in Europe this is the highest SPF rating allowed). You should also look for a sunscreen that protects you from UVB and UVA rays. This should not be too hard to find.
What’s complicated is to find a sunscreen suitable for sensitive skin and to be worn daily at work. This means that I avoid strong coconut perfume or a product leaving greasy or white stains. After all, I try to maintain a normal appearance at work! I only buy higher-end sun block as these products are often made for intolerant skin.
I am usually very mindful of the ingredients contained in beauty products, but I do not pay attention to those of sun cream, because they are rarely natural and organic! After many trials and errors, I found a few skincare pharmacy products that are suitable to protect my sensitive skin against the sun:
This dry oil spray is easy to apply and leaves a slightly glossy film on skin (akin to a freshly applied moisturizer). Its smell and appearance are discreet. I keep a bottle at the office and apply it before going out for lunch.
A tiny bottle for big protection. This sun cream texture is so light that it is completely invisible. It is perfect for the face, and the bottle can be taken anywhere. When I travel, I always have it with me, it’s great for quickly reapplying lotion through the day.
This light mist is a favourite among French beauty bloggers. I use it when I’m wearing makeup to put a sunscreen layer without ruining my face. Unfortunately, this eau de soin is not available in SPF 50.
It is a creamy compact foundation that does not contain any chemical sunscreen filters. The product has been formulated especially for sensitive skin, therefore it is fragrance-free and contains only broad spectrum mineral sunscreen filters. Perfect to maintain a professional appearance, it is now part of my daily makeup routine.
It is not enough to put on sun protection in the morning, you must reapply every two hours and after swimming. On vacation, it means that you need to always have a bottle of sun screen with you. As for everyday life, I prefer to keep a bottle of sun lotion at the office to reapply it before going for lunch and in the evening.
If I know that I will be exposing my-self to the sun a lot, I apply my sunscreen on my whole body before getting dressed. I do this because clothes move around and also because the sun rays can pass through clothing and trigger my sun allergy.
Physical Protection: Clothing to Shield You from the Sun
When it’s 40 degrees Celsius outside, the last thing you want is to be dressed from head to toe. Yet, it is one of the best ways to protect yourself from the sun. There are clothes specifically designed to protect you from the sun, they are often made by outdoor clothing brands and at Uniqlo.
As for regular fabric, the looser the weave and the less it will offer protection. When vacationing, I always take in my suitcase some cotton or linen shirts as well as pants or long skirts made of soft fabric. This is useful for protection, but also to stop the progression of the sun allergy when rashes begin to appear.
To protect my face from sunlight, I often add to my outfit a large brimmed hat and big sunglasses that protect the delicate skin around the eye.
When I stay in the water for a long time, I wear over my swimsuit a cotton t-shirt or a rash-guard. Also, I often go swimming with my sunnies and a hat, I choose cheap accessories that I do not mind losing to the sea.
What to Do When You Get a Sun Allergy Skin Rash
You have taken your precautions and despite your best efforts, your skin is covered with red rashes that itch like a thousand mosquito bites? First, you must immediately get out of the sun. Then, to defuse the allergic reaction, I take antihistamines before I go to bed (these usually cause drowsiness). I will not give you any brand suggestion, the best is to ask your pharmacist or doctor for the best drug for you to use.