Open Accessibility Menu

Common Medications that Increase Sun Sensitivity and Sunburn

  • Category: Dermatology
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Baton Rouge General
Common Medications that Increase Sun Sensitivity and Sunburn

Sun safety is always important, but sunscreen alone may not be enough to protect you if you take certain medications. There are dozens of over-the-counter drugs and medications that can increase sun sensitivity, UV damage and risk of severe sunburn. If you take medications regularly, these are some of the common medications, here are some common ones that can increase your sun sensitivity and lead to permanent damage.

Vitamins and Herbs

Most people wouldn’t consider risk of sunburn as a possible side effect of daily supplements, which some people take for health conditions or wellness. Certain supplements can not only interact with each other but can increase sun sensitivity and risk of severe sunburn. St. John’s Wart is a popular supplement taken to help with depression and other mental health conditions and is known to induce photodermatitis, making skin overly sensitive to sunlight. Niacin and other forms of Vitamin B3 that are used to help treat high cholesterol can also increase the risk of sunburn.


Certain antibiotics come with a sun-sensitivity warning about the increased risk of sunburn, possible even weeks after completing the required dosage. For example, bactrim, or sulfamethoxazole trimethoprim, is commonly prescribed to treat bacterial infections like bronchitis and bladder infections. Tetracyclines used to treat pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses, skin, eye, intestinal and urinary tract infections are considered some of the worst when it comes to sun sensitivity.

Acne Medications

Over-the-counter retinoids can increase sunburn risk, especially prescription retinoids like Retin-A and Tazorac. These medications work well at controlling acne by unclogging pores and increasing cellular turnover, however they thin out the top superficial layers of the skin and reduce oil production, leaving skin drier and more susceptible to sun damage.

Isotretinoin, considered to be the most effective prescription acne medication found in Accutane, can cause severe sunburn, an important consideration if you’re considering this treatment option. Accutane suppresses oil production in the skin causing very dry. sensitive skin which can lead to skin sensitivity and severe sunburn. Doctors suggest avoiding the sun as much as possible while taking Accutane or discontinuing the medication if traveling to a beach destination to reduce the risk of severe burns.

Products that include benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid can also greatly increase the risk of sun damage. Take extra precautions while using these types of skin care products and wear a wide-brimmed hat and rash guard in addition to a sunscreen with an SPF of 50 or higher.

Topical Medications

Sun exposure can amplify the effects of certain topical medications including Clonidine, which is used to lower blood pressure or Fentanyl, a powerful pain-relieving patch that delivers medications directly through the skin. A sunburn causes the blood vessels on the surface of your skin to dilate, which could mean increased absorption of the medication.

Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs

OTC medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil/Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) used to treat pain, swelling and fevers can increase the risk of sunburn. The sun’s ultraviolet rays trigger certain compounds contained in these medications to react and causes a structural change in the drug. This change causes the production of antibodies that are responsible for the sun sensitivity reaction, which can include an allergic rash or severe sunburns.


Medications used to help treat depression and anxiety can make you more likely to burn. The most common antidepressants include fluoxetine (Prozac), escitalopram (Lexapro), citalopram (Celexa), sertraline (Zoloft), amitriptyline (Elavil), doxepin (Silenor) and dapoxetine (Priligy). In most cases, sun or photosensitivity will be listed as a possible side effect on the printed materials that accompany these medications and may be printed on the label. Doctors are not certain exactly why antidepressants increase sun sensitivity, and not everyone who takes these medications will react the same. It’s important to read the information included with the medication or ask your doctor or pharmacist if sun sensitivity is to be a concern.

Oral Contraceptives

Those who use oral contraceptives containing estrogen and progestin may become more sensitive to sunlight. While many may not experience an increase in sensitivity, these medications are known to cause brown, blotchy spots on exposed areas of the face, neck, chest and hands. Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours and wear a hat to help reduce the risk of exposure.

Sunburn accelerates skin aging and is the leading cause of basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70 and having 5 or more sunburns doubles your risk of melanoma. Remember that sunburns are not always immediately visible. Sunburn symptoms can start 4 hours after exposure and get worse 24-36 hours after. Limiting sun exposure is the best way to reduce the risk of sun damage and skin cancer. Sunburns can be painful and while they will fade, the damage is forever.

So, pay attention to the warning labels and common side effects with all medications so they don’t take the fun out of your sun this summer!