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Photosensitivity Day!

Posted Jun 20 2009 12:00am
Its hot as blazes out side! So I thought that since not many people really understand what photosensitivity is I would give you a crash course!

Its been called a sun allergy, but Photosensitivity is an immune system reaction that is triggered by sunlight. Photosensitivity reactions include solar urticaria, chemical photosensitization, and polymorphous light eruption and are usually characterized by an itchy eruption on patches of sun-exposed skin. People may inherit a tendency to these reactions. Certain diseases, such as systemic lupus and some porphyrias, also may cause the skin to break out in response to sunlight.

Solar Urticaria creates hives (large, itchy red bumps). They develop after only a few minutes of exposure to sunlight and appear within 10 minutes of sun exposure, lasting for only a few hours. A person can be prone to developing solar urticaria for a very long time, sometimes indefinitely. People with large affected areas will have headaches and feel dizzy, weak, and nauseated.

Chemical Photosensitivity is when you develop redness, inflammation, and sometimes brown or blue discoloration in areas of skin that have been exposed to sunlight for a brief period. This reaction differs from sunburn in that it occurs only after the person has taken certain drugs (such as tetracycline ) or chemicals, or has applied them to the skin (such as perfume). These substances make some people's skin more sensitive to the effects of ultraviolet (UV) light. Some people develop hives with itching, which indicates a type of drug allergy that is triggered by sunlight. Of course the obvious cure for this is to remove the foreign substance from the body and please check with your doctor before discontinuing any medications!

Polymorphous Light Eruption happens when an eruption is a reaction to sunlight, the cause of which is not understood. It is one of the most common sun-related skin problems and is most common among women and among people from northern climates who are not regularly exposed to the sun. The eruption appears as multiple red bumps and irregular red patches on sun-exposed skin. These patches, which are itchy, generally appear between 30 minutes and several hours after sun exposure; however, new patches may develop many hours or several days later. The bumps and patches usually go away within several days to a week. Typically, people with this condition who continue to go out in the sun gradually become less sensitive to the effects of sunlight.

A person with sensitivity to sunlight from any cause should wear protective clothes (long sleeves/pants that are tightly woven and clothes with SPF labels which we will discuss more in a minute....), avoid sunlight as much as possible, and use sunscreens with SPF 30 or higher (my dermatologist recommends 70 or higher! More on that later....).

OK, so lets talk about what I do, shall we?

First you must know that I live in sunny South Florida...born and raised! Luckily for me I was never a sun worshiper as I took after my mother with her white Irish skin! However, in a Lupus flare (I have skin and systemic lupus) the sun is not my friend. In the winter months (October through March) I'm OK with the sun and weather, however when April rolls around the sun becomes more bright (sorry, I don't know any technical term for it) and produces a glare, even with sunglasses on, and gives me a splitting headache (which makes me cranky and not pleasant to be around). The temperature is already in the mid 90's (the heat index is on average 12 degrees hotter than that!) So I avoid the hottest part of the day and stay in doors between 10am and 2pm (closer to 4pm if I can) and if I must go outside (yes, sometimes the puppy needs to pee!) I put on my SPF clothes (long sleeves/pants), sunscreen, wide brimmed hat, and wrap around sunglasses! I'm sure I'm a site, but at least I'm protected! So lets talk about sunscreen, shall we?

SPF means sun protection factor and that means the amount of time you can stay out in the sun without burning. So if you burn when you are out in the sun for 30 minutes, what ever number you get (say SPF 30) you can stay out in the sun 30 times longer (30 x 30 minutes = 900 minutes, or 15 hours) without burning, but remember to reapply if you sweat (!) or get wet because it will no longer be effective!

However, for anyone with Skin Lupus you cannot stay out in the sun at all without sunscreen, that is because it only takes a minute for the sun to react to the cells under the skin to form the rashes (which also causes other lupus symptoms like fatigue, joint pain, memory loss, etc) so your SPF means you can stay out that many minutes! Meaning that since I use SPF 100 I can stay out 100 minutes before heading in side. Also, you are effected by the UVA and UVB rays so your sunscreen needs to provide you with that. Whatever brand you use is your business. I think everyone should have the right to choose and there are many out there, but for me I stick with Neutrogena Ultra Sheer (UVB/UVA with Helioplex) as it is available everywhere you might shop (CVS, walgreens, walmart, target, and even the grocery store!).

If I can't get SPF 100 I get SPF 85, if I can't get SPF 85 I get SPF 70 (I personally never go below 70). Sometimes they only have the SPF 100 in the "for the face" bottle so I buy that and use on my body. Another thing, if you don't use SPF clothing make sure you use sunscreen all over even if you are covering up with clothes. Many clothes that have long sleeves/pants in the summer are lightweight and have no protection from the sun (if your lucky you might get an SPF 5 from it), so protect yourself! Also, more is better! Most people don't use enough of the product to give adequate protection. That is why I love my SPF clothes so much...I only have to put sunscreen on the exposed areas (face, neck, hands, feet if I wear sandals, legs if I wear long shorts or capri's).

So about the SPF clothing....I'm sure some of you are saying, "What are you talking about?!" There are a few brands of clothing that make thier fabric with SPF in it. Many brands are available on the Internet including Solumbra (my favorite), Coolibar , Solartex , and Sungrubbies . You can also get it in the Omni-Shade line of Columbia Sportwear , available at all Sports Authority stores and Beall's stores here in Florida (but check the website because I think they have other stores in other states by a different name). I prefer to shop in the store just because I like to see it on me before I buy it and they do go on sale (and even on clearance!), however I must say that anything I have ever purchased from Solumbra has been perfect, never needing to be returned!

One last thing about clothes. You can get a product that you put int he wash with your regular clothes to make them SPF. HOWEVER, I have tried this and while it is great it is not cheap and it only lasts so many washings (not nearly as much as what they say on the package) and I use a very mild soap. So in a pinch this might be OK but down the road I must say an investment in a few shirts and a few pants is the way to go. I only have a handful of items and I just use them repeatedly for summer and when I they start to fray (by early fall) I donate them to a charity. My new regime is that at the end of summer I pick up a few items on clearance for the following year. That way I'm saving money and when the end of spring hits I'm already prepared and I don't need to go pay the high prices of the "new" items. Styles rarely change, only colors do (where SPF clothes are concerned)!

So cover up and protect yourself! Mr Sun isn't going away!!!

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