6 Sun Poisoning Natural Remedies (Plus, How It’s Different from Sunburn)
June 5, 2019
Unfortunately, most people have experienced a sunburn at some point in their lives, but not everyone has had a case of sun poisoning. Have you?
For those of us who haven’t, you’re probably wondering, “What does sun poisoning look like?” One of the tell-tale signs is bumps that appear in clusters where the skin was exposed to sun. And it only takes a matter of minutes for sun poisoning to be visible on the body. But you can also be in the sun for hours, end up with a bad sunburn, but not have sun poisoning.
Sun poisoning is often the term used for a severe case of sunburn, but a severe sunburn and true poisoning are two totally different things.
According to Shari Lipner, MD, PhD, assistant professor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medicine, “Sunburn is redness and inflammation of the skin after too much sun exposure, and it can happen to anyone. However, sun poisoning is a type of rash that only some people get, due to an abnormal immune reaction to the sun.”
Why do some people experience “poisoning” from the sun while others never do? Sun poisoning is actually a type of sun allergy, and Dr. Lipner says that about 10 to 20 percent of the population may have a sun allergy and can therefore experience sun poisoning.
How can you differentiate between a really bad sunburn and actual sun poisoning? In this article, you’ll learn the answer to this question and much more — including the best natural treatment options for sun poisoning.
What Is Sun Poisoning?
Sun Poisoning vs. Sunburn: What Is the Difference?
You can have a sunburn and sun poisoning at the same time, but it’s also possible to have sun poisoning without sunburn. A sunburn is red, painful skin that feels warm when you touch it. It’s the result of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays, most often from the sun, but it can also be from artificial sources like sunlamps.
Sun poisoning also occurs after exposure to UV rays, but unlike a sunburn, it’s actually your skin having an allergic reaction to the rays. People who experience an allergy to the sun have their immune systems go into overdrive as a result of their skin being exposed to and changed by the sun.
Causes and Risk Factors
Mayo Clinic says, “Certain medications, chemicals and medical conditions can make the skin more sensitive to the sun. It isn’t clear why some people have a sun allergy and others don’t. Inherited traits may play a role.”
Causes and risk factors can include:
Heredity (a sun allergy can be inherited)
Certain medications, such as antibiotics
A chemical coming in contact with the skin
Having light skin — since people with light skin are generally considered the most sun-sensitive, which makes them more likely to experience a phototoxic reaction like sun poisoning
Signs and symptoms of sun poisoning usually show up within minutes to hours following exposure to the sun.
Sun Poisoning Symptoms
What does a sun poisoning rash look like? A sun poisoning rash often includes small bumps where the body was exposed to the sun. These bumps can be in dense clusters. What does sun poison feel like? It’s often itchy and can also be painful.
Signs of sun poisoning caused by an allergy include:
Itching or pain
Tiny bumps that may merge into raised patches
Scaling, crusting or bleeding
Sun poisoning blisters or hives
Visible sun poisoning symptoms often appear on the “V” of the neck, the backs of the hands as well as the the outside surfaces of the arms and the lower legs. Sun poisoning on lips as well as sun poisoning on feet are possible but less common. Most of the time, skin symptoms are located on areas of the body exposed to sunlight, but rarely the bumps or hives may even appear on skin covered by clothing.
“Sun poisoning” is sometimes used to describe a severe sunburn with symptoms like:
Skin redness and blistering
Pain and tingling
Fever and chills
Types of Sun Allergies and Symptom Duration
How long does it take for sun poisoning to go away? The duration of the reaction depends upon the type of sun allergy. Types of sun allergies include:
Polymorphous light eruption (PMLE) — Polymorphous light eruption or polymorphic light eruption is a rash caused by sun exposure in individuals who have developed a sensitivity to sunlight. A PMLE rash usually goes away in two to three days without additional sun exposure.
Actinic prurigo (hereditary PMLE) — This is an inherited form of PMLE seen in people with Native American ancestry, including the Native American populations of North, South and Central America. Actinic prurigo or hereditary PMLE symptoms are more intense than those of classic PMLE. Symptoms also typically start sooner during childhood or adolescence. Like PMLE, actinic prurigo can be worse in warmer/sunnier months in temperate climates. In tropical climates, symptoms can be experienced year round.
Photoallergic eruption — This allergic skin reaction is triggered by the effect of sunlight on a chemical that has been applied to the skin. The “chemical” is often an ingredient in sunscreen, fragrances, cosmetics or antibiotic ointments. Or, it can be from an ingested drug, such as a prescription medication. The duration of a photoallergic eruption is unpredictable, but typically symptoms will go away after the problem chemical is identified and no longer used externally or internally.
Solar urticaria — This sun allergy results in hives on sun-exposed skin. Solar urticaria is considered a rare skin condition that most often affects young women. Individual hives usually go away within 30 minutes to two hours, but they often return when skin is exposed to sunlight again.