Photosensitivity (Holistic)Skip to the navigation
About This Condition
Increase your tolerance to sunlight by supplementing with beta-carotene
Shield your skin from the sun
Steer clear of excessive sun exposure by wearing protective clothing or smoothing on sunscreen
Get a checkup
Visit a qualified healthcare provider to find out if your photosensitivity is caused by a treatable medical condition or a side effect of medication
About This Condition
People with photosensitivity have an immunological response to light, usually sunlight. They typically break out in a rash when exposed to sunlight; how much exposure it takes to cause a reaction varies from person to person. Several conditions, such as erythropoietic protoporphyria and polymorphous light eruption, share the common symptom of hypersensitivity to light—also typically sunlight.
People taking certain prescription drugs (sulfonamides, tetracycline, and thiazide diuretics) or herbs (St. John’s wort, for example) and those with systemic lupus erythematosus have increased susceptibility to adverse effects from sun exposure.
Symptoms may include a pink or red skin rash with blotchy blisters, scaly patches, or raised spots on areas directly exposed to the sun. The affected area may itch or burn, and the rash may last for several days. In some people, the reaction to sunlight gradually becomes less with subsequent exposures.
Healthy Lifestyle Tips
People with photosensitivity need to protect themselves from the sun by using sunscreen, wearing protective clothing (such as long-sleeved shirts), and avoiding excess exposure to the sun.
The right diet is the key to managing many diseases and to improving general quality of life. For this condition, scientific research has found benefit in the following healthy eating tips.
One of the conditions that may trigger photosensitivity—porphyria cutanea tarda—has been linked to alcohol consumption. People with this form of porphyria should avoid alcohol.
One of the conditions that may trigger photosensitivity—porphyria cutanea tarda—has been linked to alcohol consumption.1 People with this form of porphyria should avoid alcohol. Some people have been reported to develop a photosensitivity reaction to the artificial sweetener, saccharin.2
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For over a decade, our team has combed through thousands of research articles published in reputable journals. To help you make educated decisions, and to better understand controversial or confusing supplements, our medical experts have digested the science into these three easy-to-follow ratings. We hope this provides you with a helpful resource to make informed decisions towards your health and well-being.
3 Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
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1 Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.
100,000 to 300,000 IU daily under medical supervision
Beta-carotene is able to protect against free-radical damage caused by ultraviolet light and may help increase tolerance to sunlight.
Caution: Synthetic beta-carotene has been linked to increased risk of lung cancer in smokers. Until more is known, smokers should avoid all beta-carotene supplements.
Years ago, researchers theorized that beta-carotene in skin might help protect against sensitivity to ultraviolet light from the sun. Large amounts of beta-carotene (up to 300,000 IU per day for at least several months) have allowed people with photosensitivity to stay out in the sun several times longer than they otherwise could tolerate.3 , 4 , 5 The protective effect appears to result from beta-carotene’s ability to protect against free-radical damage caused by sunlight.6
Refer to label instructions
According to one report, about half of the people with porphyria cutanea tarda who took adenosine monophosphate saw complete alleviation of their photosensitivity.
Adenosine monophosphate (AMP) is a substance made in the body that is also distributed as a supplement, although it is not widely available. According to one report, 90% of people with porphyria cutanea tarda responded well to 160 to 200 mg of AMP per day taken for at least one month.7 Complete alleviation of photosensitivity occurred in about half of the people who took AMP.
In one trial, supplementing with fish oil reduced photosensitivity in 90% of people suffering from polymorphous light eruptions.
In a small preliminary trial, supplementation with fish oil (10 grams per day for three months) reduced photosensitivity in 90% of people suffering from polymorphous light eruptions.8
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
Refer to label instructions
Niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3, can reduce the formation of a kynurenic acid—a substance that has been linked to photosensitivity.
Niacinamide , a form of vitamin B3, can reduce the formation of a kynurenic acid—a substance that has been linked to photosensitivity. One trial studied the effects of niacinamide in people who had polymorphous light eruption.9 While taking one gram three times per day, most people remained free of problems, despite exposure to the sun. Because of the potential for adverse effects, people taking this much niacinamide should do so only under medical supervision.
Refer to label instructions
Vitamin B6 has been used to successfully reduce reactions to sunlight.
Cases have been reported of people with photosensitivity who responded to vitamin B6 supplementation.10 , 11 Amounts of vitamin B6 used to successfully reduce reactions to sunlight have varied considerably. Some doctors suggest a trial of 100 to 200 mg per day for three months. People wishing to take more than 200 mg of vitamin B6 per day should do so only under medical supervision.
1. Cripps DJ. Diet and alcohol effects on the manifestation of hepatic porphyrias. Fed Proc 1987;46:1894-900.
2. Gordon HH. Photosensitivity to saccharin. J Am Acad Dermatol 1983;8:565 [letter].
3. Mathews-Roth MM, Pathak MA, Fitzpatrick TB, et al. Beta-carotene as an oral photoprotective agent in erythropoietic protoporphyria. JAMA 1974;228:1004-8.
4. Nordlund JJ, Klaus SN, Mathews-Roth MM, Pathak MA. New therapy for polymorphous light eruption. Arch Dermatol 1973;108:710-2.
5. Mathews-Roth MM, Pathak MA, Fitzpatrick TB, et al. Beta-carotene as a photoprotective agent in erythropoietic protoporphyria. N Engl J Med 1970;282:1231-4.
6. Mathews-Roth MM. Photoprotection by carotenoids. Fed Proc 1987;46:1890-3 [review].
7. Gajdos A. AMP in porphyria cutanea tarda. Lancet 1974;I:163 [letter].
8. Rhodes LE, Durham BH, Fraser WD, Friedmann PS. Dietary fish oil reduces basal and ultraviolet B-generated PGE2 levels in skin and increases the threshold to provocation of polymorphic light eruption. J Invest Dermatol 1995;105:532-5.
9. Neumann R, Rappold E, Pohl-Markl H. Treatment of polymorphous light eruption with nicotinamide: a pilot study. Br J Dermatol 1986;115:77-80.
10. Kaufman G. Pyridoxine against amiodarone-induced photosensitivity. Lancet 1984;i:51-2 [letter].
11. Ross JB, Moss MA. Relief of the photosensitivity of erythropoietic protoporphyria by pyridoxine. J Am Acad Dermatol 1990;22:340-2.
Last Review: 06-05-2015
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