• Erythropoietic Protoporphyria, Photoallergy, Photodermatitis, Phototoxicity, Polymorphous Light Eruptions, Porphyria Cutanea Tarda
Everyone will burn if exposed to enough ultraviolet radiation from the sun or other sources. However, some people burn particularly easily or develop exaggerated skin reactions to sunlight. Doctors call this condition photosensitivity. For some people, consuming certain medications or plant products—or rubbing them on their skin—can cause photosensitivity. Similar reactions are seen in diseases such as some forms of porphyria (a group of usually hereditary metabolic disorders) or
The most important step toward treating photosensitivity is to identify whether an external substance is causing the reaction, and then eliminate it if possible. Antibiotics are among the most common photosensitizing drugs. Many other natural substances can also cause this reaction. Another commonsense step is to use sunscreen and wear protective clothing, or simply to stay out of the sun.
Some types of photosensitivity may respond to specific treatments such as oral beta-carotene, steroids, or other medications.
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
Beta-carotene, a plant pigment giving color to carrots and yams, may be beneficial for at least two kinds of photosensitivity: PLEs
and photosensitivity caused by certain types of porphyria.
One characteristic of beta-carotene is that it gives a deep yellow color to human skin when taken in high doses for several months. Since supplementation must go on for a while to see results, this side effect makes it difficult to conduct a truly
That said, three controlled trials of beta-carotene for polymorphous light eruptions found mixed results. A 10-week study in 50 people with PLE given beta-carotene plus canthaxanthin (another carotene) or placebo found evidence of significant benefit.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full
Other Proposed Natural Treatments
Many, though not all, studies suggest that various antioxidant substances, including chocolate
On this basis, a variety of antioxidants have been tried for photosensitivity as well. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 12 people with EPP, 1 g of vitamin C taken orally daily appeared to help reduce symptoms.
A small double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of individuals with PLE found no benefit with combined vitamin C (3 g per day) and vitamin E (1,500 IU per day).
In an uncontrolled study of adenosine monophosphate (AMP) in 21 people with porphyria cutanea tarda, many participants showed decreased photosensitivity, much to the surprise of the investigator.
Two cases of EPP were also reportedly improved by
A number of common herbs and plant products are known to provoke extreme reactions to sunlight in some individuals. One of the more well-known culprits is
St. John's wort
, which has caused fatal photosensitivity reactions in cattle that grazed on it. In one study of highly sun-sensitive people, double doses of the herb produced mild increases in reaction to ultraviolet radiation.
Photosensitivity can also result from touching or eating other plants, including celery, dill,
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58. Heinrich U, Neukam K, Tronnier H, et al. Long-term ingestion of high flavanol cocoa provides photoprotection against UV-induced erythema and improves skin condition in women. J Nutr. 2006;136:1565-1569.
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Last reviewed April 2009 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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