Better protection from the sun?
January 24, 2012 8:46 PM   Subscribe

Is there a better sunscreen to use to protect my photosensitive skin while swimming? I am on medications that make me temporarily photosensitive.

I am taking doxycycline and using topical retinoids for acne treatment. Both of those cause photosensitivity. I also swim outdoors for about 20-30 minutes a day around midday. Today I noticed a little sunburn on my face (which is where I apply the retinoids) --is it possible that the photosensitivity plus the reflection off the water could have burned my skin in such short time? I have a Neutrogena 15 SPF sunscreen, but is there something stronger I should use, closer to the time when I swim? Or do I need to give up swimming outside til I'm through with treatment?
posted by liketitanic to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Neutrogena SPF 15 won't help much at all when you're photosensitive -- I've used it daily for years and it does the trick under normal circumstances, but it didn't do a thing for me when I was on chemo (certain kinds of which make you photosensitive), as I started getting burned/freckly from just a few minutes out. I definitely had to switch to SPF 45 while I was on my meds. I don't think you should have to give up swimming; just use extra protection.
posted by scody at 9:06 PM on January 24, 2012

I have a relative who underwent treatment with an antibiotic that makes one photosensitive (maybe doxy, can't remember). She got severe burns on her hands just from having her hands on her lap in the car, with sunblock on. Based on this and other experiences she had while on it, I would say you should take the sun-sensitivity VERY seriously. Use the highest SPF you can, SPF-50 or more, applied 20 or 30 min before you swim, and use physical coverings (wide-brimmed hats, clothes) whenever possible.

Could you move your swim to another time of day?
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:09 PM on January 24, 2012

I would def stay out of the sun as much as possible...with the state of the ozone layer these days, skin cancer is just too damn easy to get. trust me.
posted by sexyrobot at 9:40 PM on January 24, 2012

The difference between SPF 30 and any SPF over 30 is negligable.

The most common error in using sunscreen is not applying it frequently enough, especially when you are swimming.
posted by kamikazegopher at 10:08 PM on January 24, 2012

Definitely use at least SPF 30 applied half an hour before you start your swim. Chemical blockers take awhile to kick in. If you're using topical retinoids I would use sunscreen even when you're not swimming -- it might be that your sunburn is partly cumulative through the day. Japanese sunscreens are great for high SPF without stickiness.
posted by michelle lightning at 11:49 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Properly applied, I'm not sure that there is no difference between SPF 30 and SPF 30+ for a photosensitive person. Depending on the level of photosensitivity, there is possibly a big difference.

If, without sunscreen, I burn in 15 minutes, then SPF 30 extends that time to 450 minutes, or 7.5 hours. This is, of course, already much longer than the lifetime of the sunscreen (typically 2-4 hours) so the difference between SPF 30 and SPF 50 is zero for me. If, however, I burn in 1 minute without sunscreen, then SPF 30 gives me 30 minutes, but SPF 50 gives me 50 minutes. Both of these times are well within the lifetime of the sunscreen. And so the difference is very meaningful.

For fair but non-photosensitive people, 15 minutes to burn without sunscreen is a reasonable number, so saying that "anything higher than SPF 30 is meaningless" is a pretty good statement for the general population. But it's certainly not universally correct.
posted by indecision at 11:59 PM on January 24, 2012

I'm not a huge user of sunscreen; I basically work at avoiding the sun. That said, is there a way to switch to indoor swimming at a local fitness center for the interim?

Alternatively, wear more swim gear. Ditch the suit, wear a full body suit swim suit, neck to wrist and ankles.
posted by tilde at 12:46 PM on January 25, 2012

I'm on meds that make me photosensitive, as well. I make sure to use at minimum spf 30. Always make sure you are using enough, an 8 oz bottle really should last you only 4 or 5 applications. Put it on thirty minutes before you go out in the sun, making sure to put on a double layer on your face.

I use sunscreen that is meant for children as it seems to have better coverage, last longer and doesn't sting my eyes as much. Having said all that, I do still have to be careful and try to stay out of direct sunlight as much as possible. If you can change your swim time to any other time of day, where the sun won't be so intense.

Make sure you wear a good swimsuit, one that covers as much skin as possible. If there is any way you can find an indoor pool, that would work even better.

Also, you will remain sensitive for awhile after finishing the medications, so, remain careful for some time.

(I just double checked my bottles of medications (I'm a diabetic, cancer survivor, with degenerative muscle and bone issues) and all except one of them tell me to stay out of the sun.)
posted by SuzySmith at 1:49 AM on January 26, 2012

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