What Causes Itchy Skin After Sun Exposure?

You know what a sunburn is, but what’s the deal with the itchy skin you experience after being outside? If you’ve noticed that your epidermis (your skin's outer layer) starts crawling soon after sun exposure, you may have a sun allergy.

A sun allergy, also known as a sun rash, can come in many different forms and be caused by a few possible factors. While the condition can be dangerous for some individuals, a severe sun allergy is thankfully very rare. In most cases, the affliction is fairly easy to manage.

How to Determine if Your Itchy Skin is a Result of Sun Allergy

Photosensitivity (sun allergy) occurs when your immune system identifies your sun-altered skin cells as foreign to the body. The immune system then launches an attack that takes the form of an itchy rash, hives, or blisters.

You are most likely to experience itchy skin in areas directly exposed to sunlight, like the neck, lower legs, arms, and backs of the hands.

Itchy Skin

In most cases, a sun allergy is either hereditary or caused by medications. It’s likely that your itchy skin is a result of sun allergy if:

  • Your rash consistently appears within two hours of exposure to the sun.
  • Your rash appears primarily or exclusively on skin that is exposed to the sun.
  • You first notice itchy skin, rash, hives, or blisters after sun exposure in early spring with a gradual decline in symptoms and the season progresses.

Please note that it is possible for your after-sun rash to indicate something other than a sun allergy. Consider discussing your skin condition with your physician.

Types of Sun Allergy

The four most common types of photosensitivity include:

  • Polymorphic light eruption (PMLE): This is the most common sun allergy, affecting somewhere between 10% and 15% of the United States population. PMLE manifests as a burning rash or itchy skin. Those who suffer from this allergy may also experience fluid-filled blisters. PMLE occurs in women more than men. People who have PMLE often experience symptoms for the first time in their teens or twenties.
  • Actinic prurigo: This sun allergy appears as itchy crusted nodules on the skin. Actinic prurigo is hereditary and is most common among Native Americans.
  • Photoallergic reaction: A photoallergic reaction occurs when cosmetics, fragrances, or any other chemical applied to your skin reacts with sun exposure. Even sunscreen can cause a photoallergic reaction. Unlike PMLE, this form of sun allergy can be a delayed reaction, with symptoms taking as many as three days to appear.
  • Solar urticaria: Much rarer than the other sun allergies listed, solar urticaria can be dangerous depending on severity. This photosensitivity takes the form of burning or stinging hives that begin to appear within minutes of sun exposure. In the most severe cases, solar urticaria can cause anaphylactic shock.

When to See a Doctor About a Sun Allergy

It is always a good idea to discuss a suspected skin condition with your physician. If you’re experiencing mildly itchy skin after sun exposure, mention your symptoms to your doctor.

Make an appointment right away if:

  • You experience abnormal bleeding under the skin.
  • The rash covers larger areas of your body that have not been exposed to the sun.
  • You cannot soothe your itchy skin with regular over-the-counter solutions.
  • Your symptoms are especially severe.
  • The rash covers areas of your face.

Also note that it is possible to mistake another condition such as lupus or eczema. Speaking with a doctor can help you clarify the problem so you can tailor your skin care to your needs.

How to Avoid Itchy Skin from Sun Allergy

Most people are able to minimize their allergic reaction to the sun with a few solutions. Some of the most effective strategies include:

  • Introducing sun exposure gradually. When the weather turns warm, resist the urge to spend the first hot day on the beach. Instead, increase your outdoor time gradually, giving your cells some time to adapt.
  • Schedule your sun exposure. The sun is at its peak from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. When you limit your outdoor time to early morning and early evening, you reduce your risk of itchy skin and rash.
  • Protect your skin. Sunscreen, sunglasses, big hats, long sleeves . . . protect yourself from sun allergy using the same tactics you use to avoid sunburn.
  • Learn your triggers. Check your medications. Do any of them cause photosensitivity? Are there any substances you apply to your skin regularly? See if you get different results when you skip the makeup, forgo the body mist, or try a different sunscreen.

How to Soothe Itchy Skin from Sun Allergy

Helpful solutions can help lessen the sun’s effect on your skin. But if you’re photosensitive, you will experience skin challenges in spring and summer.

The best method for relieving the itch is to apply deep-penetrating moisture. After all, itchy skin is dry skin.

Now, tackling dryness can get tricky if you’re susceptible to photoallergic reactions. If your regular moisturizer contains synthetic fragrances or other chemicals, it could react to sunlight and cause a new rash.

Your best bet is to use an all-natural, fragrance-free formula. We recommend Delfina Skin Dry Skin Oil. 

The solution is natural, vegan, and contains ingredients like sea buckthorn, rose hip, and avocado. It also delivers nutrients to the deeper layers of your skin. In other words, Delfina Oil promotes healthy skin, not just moisturized skin.

At Delfina, we believe troubled skin should not get between you and a life fully lived. If there’s anything we can do to help you improve the health of your skin, please let us know.