When spending time in the sun isn’t so fun


Help patients understand that sun can cause medication reactions

In brief:

  • Many drugs can increase patients’ risks from the sun
  • Products that can cause reactions include prescription drugs and OTC products
  • Educate patients about dangers, protections and when to seek treatment

Summertime is (supposed to be) fun time

For many Americans, summer is their favorite season. Typically, summertime allows families to take time to do outdoor activities like going to the beach, hiking or barbecues. Summer is a time for fun.

Reactions to the sun

For many people taking medications, though, the sun can be less than fun. That’s because some medications can increase sensitivity to sunlight and cause reactions.1

Medicines that can cause sun sensitivity2
  • Alpha hydroxy acids in cosmetics
  • Antibiotics
  • Antifungals
  • Antihistamines
  • Cholesterol-lowering drugs
  • Diuretics
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Oral contraceptives and estrogens
  • Phenothiazines
  • Psoralens
  • Retinoids
  • Sulfonamides
  • Sulfonylureas for type 2 diabetes

Source: U.S. FDA
Note: Not everyone will have a reaction. Also, just because a person has a reaction once doesn’t mean they will do so again. Conversely, just because a person has not had a reaction doesn’t mean they won’t have one upon further use.

Types of reactions
Two types of reactions can happen when chemicals in medications react with UV rays:
Phototoxic reactions
Can occur within minutes and look like a bad sunburn.
Photoallergic reactions
Can appear days later, look like a rash and appear in areas not exposed to the sun.
Other reactions are possible.3 For example, patients may develop dark patches on their skin if they are in the sun while taking hydrochlorothiazide (a diuretic). Some medications can also reduce a person’s ability to sweat or can increase the risk of dehydration. This can lead to problems ranging from cramps to heat stroke.

The role of community pharmacists

Summer is an important time for pharmacists to remind patients that many medications can increase their sensitivity to sunlight. These can be both prescription drugs and over-the-counter products. By explaining to your patients the types of reactions they may see and how to protect themselves, you help prevent your patients from experiencing unwelcome surprises while on vacation.

If you see patients buying products that may cause sun sensitivity, remind them to limit their exposure to the sun, cover up and hydrate.

What to doHow to do it
Limit light exposureStay inside between peak sun hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Avoid lights such as tanning beds that can trigger a reaction.
Cover upUse a strong sunscreen, as well as hats, sunglasses, pants and long-sleeved shirts.
HydrateDrink plenty of water.

Shine a light on the topic

Summer is a natural time to coach patients about sun sensitivity. But patients can be affected and have reactions year-round. In the winter, sunlight reflected off of snow can also trigger a reaction.

Because this is a year-round issue, pharmacists should make reactions to the sun a regular part of conversations with patients.4


1 “The Sun and Your Medicine,” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, LINK
2 “The Sun and Your Medicine,” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, June 30, 2017. LINK
3 “Can Your Meds Make You More Sensitive to Sun and Heat?” Ginger Skinner, Consumer Reports, June 26, 2017. LINK
4 “Yellow Book: Chapter 2, Sun Exposure,” Vernon E. Ansdell, Rodd Takiguchi, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 31, 2017. LINK

Note: The information provided here is for reference use only and does not constitute the rendering of legal or other professional advice by McKesson. Readers should consult appropriate professionals for advice and assistance prior to making important decisions regarding their business. McKesson is not advocating any particular program or approach herein. McKesson is not responsible for, nor will it bear any liability for, the content provided herein.