Author: Marisa Healy, BSN, RN
Last Reviewed: July 31, 2022

What is it?

Photosensitivity is when the skin becomes more sensitive to any type of light. Someone who is photosensitive will get a sunburn more easily and more severely than other people. Areas of the skin not exposed to the sun can even be affected. Photosensitivity can also cause lesions or a rash on skin that was exposed to sunlight.

Some chemotherapy medications and radiation therapy treatments can cause photosensitivity. Other medications that can cause photosensitivity are certain antibiotics, some medications to control nausea and vomiting, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. People have different degrees of sensitivity to sun exposure. Even if you have never been sensitive to the sun, you may be at risk now.

Chemotherapy-induced photosensitivity does not last forever, but it may take many weeks for it to go away. Radiation-induced photosensitivity is permanent. Skin that was in the radiation treatment fields will always be more sensitive to the sun.

How is it treated?

The best way to lower the effects of photosensitivity is to not go in the sun. If you need to be in the sun, you should:

  • Put on sunscreen/sun block often. Areas that have lost hair, such as eyebrows, need sunscreen as well. Follow the package instructions for how often you should reapply.
  • Use sunscreen lip block.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, a hat, and sunglasses.
  • Avoid perfumes and other chemical products on your skin. These may make your skin more sensitive.

If you do get a sunburn, cool compresses on the burned areas will cool the skin and soothe pain. Your care provider may also prescribe pain medication and topical medications to relieve itching or burning.

When should I contact my care team?

  • A severe sunburn that blisters or causes open sores.
  • A sunburn with severe pain.


DePietro M. Healthline. Photosensitivity. 2018.

Skin Cancer Foundation. The Photosensitivity Report.


May 20, 2022

Sun Safety

by Carolyn Vachani, MSN, RN, AOCN