woman in the sun

What is a sun allergy?

Read our guide to sun allergies to find out what one is and how to treat it.

Guide to sun allergies

If you’ve reacted badly to sun exposure, you might have come across the term “sun allergy” and wondered what it is. Here, we tell you what it is, the symptoms and what sun allergy treatment is available.

What is a sun allergy?


A sun allergy is a term used to group various reactions on the skin to sun exposure. You may have also heard it referred to as a “sun rash” or “photosensitivity”. 

They can be hereditary, or they can come out of nowhere for someone who has never had one before.


One way to protect yourself from a sun  allergy if you are prone is to use a suncream with built-in SPF, such as the NIVEA Protect & Moisture Trigger Spray SPF50. 

woman applying sun cream

Types of sun allergy

NIVEA Sun Protect & Moisturise SPF 30

As it is a group term, it’s important to understand that not every person will experience the same type. There are a number of conditions that fall under the bracket of sun allergies, which are: 

  • Polymorphic light eruption - also known as “sun poisoning”, which is the most common form. It often appears as small bumps or red patches (that sometimes blister) after a few hours in the sun.

  • Photoallergic reaction - a photoallergic reaction is where a chemical applied to the skin reacts with the sunlight and irritates the skin. For example, this could be caused by sunscreen or perfumes. 

  • Solar uticaria - this is a type of photodermatosis that is sometimes known as “sun allergy hives”. It can occur after just a few minutes of exposure to the sun, and can range from mild to severe symptoms. 

  • Actinic prurigo - this variation of skin rash most often affects people with darker skin tones. It leads to raised patches on the skin, which can also occur in areas on the body that haven’t been exposed to the sun at all. 

What does a sun allergy rash look like?

A sun rash can be quite easy to spot, as it’s quite an aggressive skin reaction that you’re unlikely to miss. The rash may look like: 


-  A raised welt or hives
-  Groups of small bumps or blisters
-  Reddish spots
Itchy skin

Contrary to popular opinion, the rash is likely to show in an area that hasn’t been exposed to the sun. The most common areas to see a sun rash appear are: 

- The “V” at the front of the neck
- Back of hands
- Outside surface of arms and lower legs

Symptoms of sun allergies

Alongside the changes in your skin condition, there are other symptoms to be aware of. Similar to any other type of allergic reaction (for example, hay fever), you might experience the following:

- Low blood pressure
- Headaches
- Nausea (feeling sick)
- Breathing difficulties

The above can have quite serious implications for your health, so if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms and you’re unsure of the cause, it’s best to speak to a doctor just to be sure.

Sun allergy treatment

The rashes might be quite alarming to look at, but thankfully they’re generally not too serious. In fact, they often clear up on their own within just a few hours. If the rash isn’t going away, there’s a chance that it could be a heat rash instead, which can take a few days to clear up on its own. 

For sun allergy treatment, it’s best to stay out of the sun until the rash has gone away. It may also help to take some over-the-counter antihistamines to help lessen any discomfort you might be in. 

Medication for sun allergy rash

If the sun rash doesn’t clear up quickly, it might be worth going to see a doctor. In mild cases, they might prescribe some slightly stronger antihistamines to help with your symptoms. In severe cases, you might need to take a short case of medication to help clear the sun allergy up - particularly if you’re experiencing serious symptoms such as difficulty breathing. This could consist of: 

- corticosteroids
- montelukast, which is usually used to treat asthma

Some of these, such as corticosteroids may be available at your local pharmacists, so you can check there if your allergy is quite mild.

Home treatments for sun allergies

If you know that it’s likely to disappear quickly, then you might prefer to wait for it to clear up on its own. In the meantime, you might like to try a couple of things to ease your discomfort whilst you wait for it to go away: 

- Keep the skin moisturised - provided you don’t have particularly sensitive skin, moisturisers can help with cracked or dry skin that can occur following a reaction to the sun

- Use soothing creams - if your skin feels particularly sore, a solution like calamine lotion or aloe vera can help to soothe the skin whilst the allergy clears up.

How do I prevent sun allergy rash?

As some types are hereditary, it’s not always possible to protect yourself from sun allergies without excessive precaution. If you’re unsure which type you have, or how best to lessen your chances of having a reaction, it’s best to speak to your doctor so they can run some tests. Some of the things you can do to help protect your skin from exposure to sunlight include: 

- Always be sure to apply a sunscreen at least SPF factor 30 or above before going outside - bonus points if it includes broad spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays too, such as the NIVEA Sun Sensitive Allergy Protect SPF50+ Spray

- Keep the skin covered with clothing wherever possible. This can be difficult in the summer, but try lighter weight materials such as cotton and linen to ensure you’re still comfortable when the temperature gets hot. 

- Limit your time spent outside when the sun at at its strongest - this will vary from country to country, so it’s best to research your local area.

- Be aware of any medications you may be taking that can trigger a photoallergic reaction. 
Sensitive Allergy Protect Spray Spf 50+

Sun allergies on the face

While it’s likely that a sun rash will appear somewhere else on your body, it’s important not to forget to protect your face too. If you do have a reaction on your face, this can be particularly uncomfortable if the skin becomes dry or cracked. 

To protect your face from sun rashes, be sure to apply a special face cream that features SPF protection.


The NIVEA Luminous Face Sun Cream SPF50 has been specially formulated for the delicate skin on the face and around the eyes, and is suitable for everyday use. 

woman laughing