Does time in the sun result in an itchy, bumpy rash? Maybe you are allergic to the sun. Have you heard of PMLE? Because that just might be your issue.
I say that because that’s my issue.
Let me remind you that I live in Wisconsin. After a snowy, cold, it-gets-dark-too-early winter that just won’t end, there’s nothing I look forward to more that those warm, sunny spring days.
Spring around here is a breath of fresh air – literally! There’s something about the moderate temps, and budding life and sunshine that lift my spirits like nothing else can. But with that long awaited sun and warmth, comes rashes, bumps and itchiness that plagues me until mid summer.
This post may be sponsored or contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. See my full disclosure here. I am not a doctor, therapist or professional of any sort. These are only my personal opinions and experiences. Always consult your doctor.
For the last five or so years, every spring I get the same itchy, bumpy rash every spring. It took me some time, but finally attributed it to the sun. That was the only correlation between the years. As soon as I start spending time in the sun, within a matter of hours I start to itch.
Just a half hour lunch break outside is enough to trigger a reaction.
First the rash. Then little bumps that look like tiny fluid filled pimples. And if I continued to itch, I’d make myself bleed. Gross, eh?
I have some days where the reaction seems almost immediate. Though it’s possible it’s just the compound effect from being in the sun the day before.
Looking back, I do think this is something I’ve had for more than 5 years. It’s just that my reaction wasn’t as severe – and after just a couple of sun exposures my skin was acclimated.
As the years have gone by, my reaction is more severe and it now takes half of summer to get acclimated. Ugh, getting older is a b*tch.
Although I have never been diagnosed, numerous internet searches led me back to Polymorphous Light Eruption, or PMLE.
The location, timing and rash description was a match with what I dealt with each spring.
Symptoms of PMLE
- Rash located at the “V” of the neck, back of the hands, and outside surface of the arms.
Occurs in the spring of temperate climate residents.
- Produces an itchy or burning rash within the first two hours after sun exposure.
- May also develop small fluid-filled blister.
***I will absolutely add pics of my arms when the season is here!***
Update: Picture added below of a June 2019 rash on my chest.
What is Polymorphous Light Eruption (PMLE)?
PMLE is a relatively common skin reaction to people who are photosensitive – that is, sensitive to sunlight (ultraviolet light). About 10% to 15% of the population and far more women than men are affected.
It isn’t well understood, but simply put, people who react are usually allergic to the UVA rays, while UVB rays are what cause sunburn and premature aging.
It can appear suddenly, after years without an issue. That’s what happened to me. It is also thought to run in families, although I don’t know of anyone in mine who deals with this concern.
PMLE is not dangerous or contagious. Just irritating and unsightly.
You can’t make it go away, but you can help minimize the reactions.
How to you cure PMLE?
Ok, so here’s why I say I only “kinda” found the answer to my problem. You can’t cure PMLE. It’s about treating the symptoms or better yet, prevention.
But unfortunately, there isn’t a ton of information out there. Just avoiding the sun isn’t a solution for me after a long, cold Wisconsin winter. My body needs some Vitamin D something bad! And I’d rather not lather up an unsightly rash in hydrocortisone.
So the next option? How about a sunscreen or cream that allows me to enjoy the sun AND prevents the rash? But that’s where the problem lies. There’s not a lot of options on the market. And what is known, is because of fellow suffers who found relief by trial and error.
Read on to find out how I prevent and treat my PMLE rashes.
How to Prevent PMLE Rashes
In my research, the best bet is prevention.
Cover up: Wear tops that cover your arms and chest, the areas most susceptible to rashes.
Avoid the sun between 10a and 2p: This is the time when the sun’s rays are the most intense.
Phototherapy: Done in a doctor’s office, you’ll be exposed to small amounts of UVA or UVB light in an attempt to let your body become accustomed to the rays, just as they would in the outdoors, but in a controlled environment.
Certain Sunscreens: Look for sunscreens with avobenzone or zinc oxide. And make sure it’s Broad Spectrum (blocks the UVA rays).
I found a few good contenders…
Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch:
This is the first sunscreen I tried and it works for me.
Pros: The thin bottle allows me to easily put this in my purse. It’s affordable and available almost anywhere you would find sunscreen for sale.
Cons: Contains chemicals known to cause hormone disruptions and cell damage that may provoke cancer.
La Roche-Posay Anthelios:
I own but have yet to use. Do you have experience with this brand?
Pros: Good reviews.
Cons: A bit clunkier of a bottle. Quite pricey. It’s also harder to find, though I’ve spotted some La Roche Posay products at Walgreens. Also contains chemicals known to disrupt hormones.
I do not own and have not used, but would love to know if others have and their thoughts!
Pros: Specifically made for sun allergy.
Cons: Not readily available in the U.S. It’s available on Amazon with good reviews. A bit on the pricey side.
A new purchase for me. I have previously been a fan of how easy sprays apply. So might be a good avobenzene-containing option.
Alba Botanicals is also a brand found where you’d buy sunscreens.
Treatment for PMLE Rashes
If you forgot to apply sunscreen. Or just learned what your rash is, it’s ok. There are a few post-rash options for you.
Try an over the counter diphenhydramine HCl like Benadryl.
A cold washcloth will provide some relief to itchy, warm skin.
Any hydrocortisone cream or ointment will do.
An over-the-counter brand will top out at 1%. If you are looking for something stronger (such as my big ‘ole tub you see pictured) you’ll need to get a prescription from a doctor. That runs at 2.5%.
After several years of PMLE symptoms and prevention trials, I’m still looking for the perfect solution.
Do you suffer from PMLE? What are your go-to products for relief? Share with us your solutions!
I’m a little bit crafty, a diy-er, a thrifter, a lover of craft IPAs and probably swear a tad too much. I’ve been living with anxiety since high school and learned a lot along the way. Just trying to live my life simple. And sane. Welcome to my corner of the web!