family preventing itchy skin after sun exposure

Itchy Skin After Sun Exposure

Our guide on itchy skin after sun exposure, what to look for and simple ways to treat it.

Itchy skin after sun exposure

Itchy skin after sun exposure and how to treat it

Burning, itching, redness or a rash after sun exposure can be all signs your skin is extra sensitive to the sun's UV light.

Itchy skin after sun exposure is a pretty common - rather annoying - condition that may - but not always - cause an irritating rash, bumps or spots. There are several reasons why itchy skin after sun occurs. Some people have a hereditary type of sun allergy, while others develop a sensitivity to the sun after taking certain medications. People with fair skin and young women are more susceptible to itchy skin after sun exposure but it can affect anyone at any age and of any skin colour. Sometimes people experience itchy skin after sun with no rash, while in others the skin can flare up in response to the sun’s UV rays. 

We look at itchy skin after sun exposure, what to look for and simple ways on how to treat it in more detail below. 
 

Itchy skin after sun exposure

Why do we get itchy skin after sun exposure?

Itchy skin after sun exposure is often caused by an allergic reaction to the sun’s UV (ultraviolet) rays. Allergic reactions are caused when our immune system goes into overdrive and attempts to tackle a harmless substance believing it to be a threat to the body. An allergic reaction is the fallout of this ‘attack’. In the case of a sun allergy, the immune system treats sun-altered skin as foreign cells and reacts in a way that can cause itchy skin. If you think you might have a sun allergy, it’s best to visit your GP, as they will be able to give you professional advice. But there are other reasons why the skin may itch after sun. While linked to sunny days, heat rash, or prickly heat as it’s often called, is usually caused by excessive sweating rather than the sun’s rays.
 

Itchy skin after sun exposure

Sun allergies and how to treat them

A sun allergy causes an itchy red rash on the skin, making a trip to the beach or a picnic on a summer’s day rather less pleasant and uncomfortable! There are several sun allergies that trigger itchy skin after sun. Let’s take a closer look at them, before looking at ways to treat itchy skin after sun.
 
woman dealing with itchy skin after sun

Sun allergies and how to treat them

Polymorphic light eruption

Polymorphic light eruption, also known as sun poisoning (which may give you some idea of how uncomfortable it is), is the most common form of sun allergy. It is thought to be caused by the immune system reacting to a change in a substance in the skin caused by exposure to UV light. It triggers an itchy or burning rash that can appear within hours of exposure to sunlight, or can flare up as long as two to three days after being out in the sun. It can last anything up to two weeks.

Polymorphic light eruption is thought to affect about 10 to 15% of the UK population and is often mistaken for prickly heat (see below). Most people experience polymorphic light eruptions after several hours outside on a sunny day, but others may find as little as a few minutes outside can trigger an angry rash!

 

What does polymorphic light eruption look like?

A rash usually appears on parts of the skin exposed to sunlight, typically the head, neck, chest and arms. It can manifest itself in different ways:
A crop of red raised spots around 2mm to 5mm pink
- Some people may experience blisters that turn into larger, dry, red patches that look a bit like eczema. 
- Rarely, the rash appears as skin patches that look like targets or bull's eyes.

 

mother and daughter avoiding itchy skin after sun exposure

Sun allergies and how to treat them

Solar urticaria

Solar urticaria is a rare condition that produces hives (large, itchy, red bumps) on sun-exposed skin. 

 

What does solar urticaria look like?

Itchy, reddish spots or welts usually appear on uncovered skin within minutes of sun exposure and can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. The hives usually appear on uncovered skin within minutes of exposure to sunlight.

lady preventing itchy skin after sun

Sun allergies and how to treat them

Photoallergic eruption

In a rather cruel twist of irony, sunlight can sometimes react to an ingredient in something you have put on your skin, such as sunscreen, and cause an allergic reaction known as photoallergic eruption. Ingredients in fragrances, cosmetics or ointments as well as oral medication (including ibuprofen and diuretics) can also spark an irritation in response to sunlight. 

 

What does a photoallergic eruption look like?

Symptoms may not begin until one to two days after sun exposure and when it does appear, it will usually be in the form of itchy red rash or tiny blisters. In some cases, the rash may even spread to an area of skin that had been covered by clothing. 

 

Itchy skin after sun exposure

How to treat itchy skin after sun exposure

There are a number of ways to alleviate and manage the discomfort of itchy skin after sun:

 


Itchy skin after sun exposure

Other conditions that could cause itchy skin after sun

woman treating itchy skin from sun exposure

Other conditions that could cause itchy skin after sun 
Sometimes people experience itchy skin after being out in the sun, but have no rash. There are a few reasons that may be responsible for itchy skin after sun exposure no rash. These include:

  • Dry skin: dry hot or cold weather can lead to dry and itchy skin. Avoid drying out your skin with harsh soaps or cleansers. Dry skin becomes more common as you age, so it’s important to seek out a good moisturiser and wear sunscreen daily to combat dryness. Try NIVEA SUN UV Face Q10 Anti-Age & Anti-Pigment Cream SPF 50 which gives you the added bonus of Q10 anti-ageing formula that helps to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles that dry skin often highlights. 
  • Hayfever: the less idyllic side to some people’s summer, hayfever can cause itchiness, particularly around the nose and on the neck. While it’s not directly related to the sun, spring and summer are peak hayfever periods and being outside - as we are more likely to be on warm days - can set off symptoms. 

Prickly heat
This common complaint is caused when sweat glands get blocked and the trapped sweat leads to a rash developing a few days later. Symptoms include small, itchy red spots anywhere on the body. It is not caused by the sun especially - you can get prickly heat in a hot room in winter - but as we’re more likely to sweat on a warm day, it is often associated with summer.

Prickly heat will calm down of its own accord, but you can ease the itchiness by applying a flannel soaked in cool water to the affected area. Prickly heat can be aggravated by sunscreen, so if heat rash is a problem for you, choose a sunscreen designed for sensitive skins such as fragrance-free NIVEA SUN Sensitive Immediate Protect Spray SPF 50+.

father and daughter avoiding itchy skin after sun exposure