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Rampage Columns

Escaping the Sun

Apr 02, 2012

I wake up and feel tiny bumps on my arms that seem to have popped up overnight. I sigh as I realize it is officially spring, and the sun’s rays have become stronger.


Many people on campus suffer from seasonal allergies, but this mostly refers to things like pollen and grass. I also suffer from an allergy in the spring and summer, but my cause never goes away. I am allergic to the sun’s rays.


The process usually goes something like this. I stay out in the sun too long without sunscreen (too long is usually more than five minutes), and by the next day my skin has broken out with little bumps on my arms, legs, feet and any other sensitive area that is not used to constant sun exposure. I thank God I have never had a reaction on my face. They eventually heal and go away, and then my skin is ready for the next time I go outside unprepared.


My allergy started when I was in my early 20s. I lay in a friend’s tanning bed for a five-minute session. I had never been in a tanning bed before and will never go in one again. After that, I experienced my first breakout in just about every area exposed to the UV light. It was the most uncomfortable thing I had ever experienced, and I had no idea why I had painful, itchy bumps all over me. Ever since then the sun has been my enemy for six months out of the year.


After time, the severity of the itch is not as bad. The only time it is very painful is if I break out on an area that has not reacted before. Last year, while working at a summer camp, I broke out on my ears. It was horrible.


I read in a medical article that a sudden overexposure to UV light can sometimes cause a chemical reaction in your body that makes it believe ALL UV light is like an infection on your skin. When your body tries to attack the infection it causes a breakout. That is exactly what happened to me.


For a long time, I felt alone and embarrassed in my struggle. But after coming to BC I realized other people here on campus have the same allergy I do. My friends, Carrie Smith and Lisa May, also share this frustration with me.


Carrie said she thinks her condition is hereditary since other people in her family have it. She had her first reaction when she was young, around five years old. Lisa didn’t develop her allergy until she was 16, during a trip to New York. Like me, no one else in Lisa’s family has it.


We all take precautions like wearing sunscreen and staying indoors as much as possible. Allergy pills also seem to help. Carrie also mentioned that peppermint soap seems to get rid of any itchiness.


Carrie said she wears jeans during most of the spring and summer months, regardless of how warm it gets. Often that is the best way to prevent a breakout, even though it is uncomfortable. 


Though it seems like this allergy would completely rule our lives we have each learned to adjust and work around it in our own way. Yes, it’s annoying to wear jeans during most of the summer and to have to slather on sunscreen every day to protect our skin, but after time it becomes part of a routine. We just have to be conscious of the allergy and take care of our skin.


My dermatologist did make me feel a little better the day she confirmed I had this allergy. She said when I get older I will look younger than all my friends because I will have spent less time in the sun.