5 Simple Tips for Managing Photodermatitis

This is what I looked like back in September 2013.

I had the misfortune of giving myself photodermatitis. Yes, I did it to myself, albeit unintentionally. I reckoned that my skin would never be the same again. Although it did eventually look normal and healthy again after 6 months, I was right–because now it seems to have returned, confined to a smaller area on the lower half of my face, but now affecting my lip as well. The prime suspect for the trigger is a new toothpaste that I tried, so I am abandoning it for now.

Photodermatitis is essentially sun poisoning. According to the University of Maryland Medical Centre’s website, “Photodermatitis is an abnormal skin reaction to sunlight, or more specifically to ultraviolet (UV) rays. It can be acute (sudden) or chronic (ongoing). Photodermatitis occurs when your immune system reacts to UV rays. You may develop a rash, blisters, or scaly patches.”

It was horrible. It eventually reached a stage where I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror without tearing up, feeling so wretched and helpless. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what was wrong with me and also searching for natural remedies to help me cope with my condition. Now with this second flare-up, I am much better prepared to manage the symptoms and put myself on the road to recovery much sooner.

Here is what I learned, and I hope that these tips will help you or a loved one too.

1. Stay out of the sun as much as possible

Before I determined what was causing those weepy red patches to form all over my face, arms and lower legs, I thought that the best course of action was to wear as little clothing covering those areas as possible. How wrong I was! It made matters worse, and the patches became even more inflamed. Try to stay indoors when the sun is at its harshest (between 12pm and 2pm) to allow your skin a better chance to recover quicker.

A patch of skin that had crusted over (and eventually became weepy again)
A patch of skin that had crusted over (and eventually became weepy again)

You may notice that your skin looks reddest at the end of the day, and is almost normal when you look in the mirror first thing in the morning. Night time is kindest to your poor skin, when all is dark and cool.

2. Cover up with clothing and sunblock

If you do need to be outdoors, wear breathable lightweight cotton clothing (long sleeved tops and trousers). Break out your most fashionable wide brimmed hat and don’t skimp on the sunblock. This helped me feel more comfortable in my daily comings and goings tremendously.

Trying to have fun with new wardrobe accessories!
Trying to have fun with new wardrobe accessories!

Under normal circumstances my skin already turns a bit red whenever I use conventional cream based sunblocks, so trying to find an even milder, non-irritating alternative for photodermatitis would be a challenge. Thankfully a friend recommended this particular product to me and it was a life saver. Here is a bottle of Sunplay Skin Aqua UV Moisture Milk SPF 50+ (I know, it’s a mouthful :p), which I don’t leave home without these days.

bottle of sunscreen
A staple in my work bag

It has a light, watery texture that you can easily dab gently into your skin. It doesn’t feel at all greasy either. You can buy it online here, and it usually costs around RM35 at most pharmacies.

3. Cool packs are your friend

These will literally take the burn out of your skin immediately. Wrap a cool pack with a soft cloth (finely woven cotton is best) and place it against your affected skin. Be careful not to rub the area too much because it can cause your skin to break and weep. Repeat as often as you feel comfortable with.

Don’t apply ice cold packs directly on the skin, no matter how good it feels. It will cause a different kind of burn later!

4. Keep your skin moisturized

150824 teselli body souffle test
An experimental batch of whipped body butter that eventually became our Teselli Body Soufflé

I made my own products to soothe and moisturize my skin back in 2013, which eventually gave birth to our Teselli range of products – but you can also use other products to help with your skin’s healing process. Look for skin moisturizers that have a high level of emollients that will protect your skin from losing too much moisture (which is what tends to happen with most forms of eczema, photodermatitis included). The lighter the texture, the easier it will be to dab it into your skin.

I also tried the Salcura salt/mineral spray, but it didn’t really work for me. I reckon it may be more suitable for eczema types that are caused by mineral deficiencies (in which case you may be better off taking oral supplements for a long term solution). You can find this product at most pharmacies too.

For the lips I also apply sunscreen and a balm to keep them supple and less prone to cracking. It burns constantly (until I apply a cool compress), but I try my best not to accidentally brush them against anything rough (no kissing my kids until they heal, unfortunately) or apply too much pressure on them.

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 5.57.03 PM
Note the blisters in the middle of my lower lip. They hurt!

5. Tank up on water and healthy oils

I already try my best to drink lots of water on a daily basis, but the other area that I am not as disciplined with is taking more omega 3 oils, which help to reduce inflammation in the body on the whole. It may help with reducing symptoms for other types of eczema too. (You can read more about the role of omega-3 oils in skin health here.) But on my part, here are the supplements and other foods that I actively tried to eat more of, and regularly:

  • avocados (I used to eat them and give the seeds to the kids to play with – the only fruit I know of that comes with a toy inside! :p)
  • fish oil supplements. I doubled or even tripled my intake vis-à-vis the recommended daily allowance to no ill effect.
  • B Complex supplements with zinc and magnesium. This was mainly to help me cope with managing so much on a daily basis.

I do see and feel that my skin is less dry and flaky when I remember to eat these things (I can even do without moisturizer on my lower legs, which tend to get dry most easily).

So I hope that these 5 tips are useful to you. Take heart, your skin has a good chance of recovering! Just be gentle on yourself, allow your skin enough time to recuperate, and keep your chin up. Do share your own tips in the comments section if you have other pointers with managing photodermatitis, I’m sure your fellow readers would be most appreciative of the additional information!

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