Have a Sun Rash? 3 Dermatologists Weigh In on What to Do
There are lots of instances when you might experience a sun rash in the Summer months. Maybe the UV index is especially strong while you're outside, or it's your first exposure of the season. According to dermatologist Dhaval Bhanusali, MD, about 20 percent of people are prone to these red, splotchy rashes and it's something he sees frequently in his office, so there's no need to panic. The rash can involve uncomfortable side effects like itchy red skin with bumps, blisters, and red patches, but may go away by itself within 10 to 14 days.
However, if you're concerned about when it will go away or how to treat it, we've consulted Dr. Bhanusali as well as dermatologists Marnie Nussbaum, MD, and Debra Jaliman, MD, to find out what exactly a sun rash is, so you can rest easy.
What Is a Sun Rash?
According to Dr. Jaliman, a sun rash is an allergic reaction. "[It's] also known as sun poisoning or sun allergy and is an allergic reaction to exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays," she said.
Dr. Nussbaum added that it may show up a little while after you've been in the sun. "It typically starts 30 minutes to a few hours after exposure to sunlight – and it may itch or burn."
What Causes a Sun Rash?
According to Dr. Bhanusali, there are several causes of the red, splotchy skin. "It's most commonly another name for polymorphic light eruption (PMLE), which is a reaction that people have to the sun itself," he said.
Although less common, he also has several other explanations for the rash. "Some people can have autoimmune conditions that can cause an inflammatory-like reaction like burning on the cheeks when in the sun," he said. "There are some patients who have allergies to ingredients in sunscreen as well."
Wondering if you can be affected? "It is more common in females with light skin or with a history of a sun rash, but can happen to anyone," Dr. Nussbaum said.
How to Prevent a Sun Rash
Dr. Jaliman's advice for preventing sun rashes also serves as wise instructions for protecting your skin from UVA and UVB rays. "Minimize your sun exposure by avoiding the sun during the peak hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.," she said. "Always wear at least SPF 30, a wide brim hat, and protective clothing with UPF."
What Should You Do If You Have a Sun Rash?
Dr. Jaliman suggests a few at-home treatments to ease your rash. "You can soothe it with aloe vera, use over-the-counter hydrocortisone, and take an antihistamine," she said.
However, if it doesn't go away, both she and Dr. Bhanusali recommend you head to a dermatologist. "Often if it is itchy, your derm may give a topical steroid to relieve symptoms," he said.