Many antibiotics, such as doxycycline, carry a warning to avoid going in the sun while taking them, which many people may brush aside and ignore. However, your skin can become badly burnt if you are taking doxycycline and don’t protect it, causing further discomfort.
Continue reading for a complete overview of doxycycline and sun exposure, including why you skin becomes more sensitive when taking doxycycline and how you can prevent sun damage.
What Is Doxycycline?
Doxycycline is an antibiotic used to treat a range of bacterial infections. It accomplishes this by interfering with the bacteria’s ability to produce proteins it needs to survive.
What Is Doxycycline Used to Treat?
Some of the bacterial infections that doxycycline is used to treat include:
- respiratory tract infections (from streptococcus pneumoniae, haemophilus influenzae, or mycoplasma pneumonia)
- non-gonococcal urethritis
- rocky mountain spotted fever
- periodontal disease
- urinary tract infections
- Lyme disease
- Vincent’s infection
In addition to treating the above bacterial infections, doxycycline has also been used to reduce inflammation in those with rosacea and prevent malaria infection in those traveling to high-risk areas.
Is Photosensitivity A Side Effect of Doxycycline?
One of the most important skin-based side effects of doxycycline is photosensitivity, which is a heightened skin sensitivity or unusual reaction when the skin is exposed to UV radiation. This radiation can come from the sun or a tanning bed.
Studies have found that doxycycline can increase photosensitivity, but it is a rare side effect and is not often severe when it does occur. A study on 858 patients reported photosensitivity in 16 patients, and the symptoms ranged from itching and burning sensations to momentary skin reddening when exposed to the sun.
However, there have been some reports of more severe reactions to photosensitivity while on doxycycline, such as in a case report of a 75-year-old woman who developed first and second-degree burns on her hand after exposure to the sun for an hour.
It’s also important to note that doxycycline is not the only antibiotic with photosensitivity as a side effect, so this is something to be aware of with all medications.
How Can Sun Exposure Affect You When You’re on Doxycycline?
Since the sun is a form of UV radiation, it can affect your skin if photosensitivity has occurred.
This means that being outside and exposed to the sun while on doxycycline can cause tingling, burning, or redness to the skin. In severe cases, it may even cause first or second-degree burns.
Essentially, doxycycline can make it so that you receive a sunburn much faster (and much more extreme) than normal.
This is because the sun contains UV rays, which can damage your skin cells at the DNA level. Since doxycycline increases photosensitivity, even being outside for a short time can cause severe sunburn (with significant cell damage).
Additionally, the type of burn while on doxycycline can differ from an average sunburn. It may have erythematous plaques, which are red and elevated patches of skin, or acne-like papules. It may also be itchy and painful, which can increase discomfort.
On top of that, doxycycline can be used as a treatment for rosacea, but being outside while on doxycycline can make rosacea more severe, having the opposite effect.
How To Protect Your Skin While on Doxycycline?
There are many actions you can (and should) take to protect your skin while taking doxycycline.
Limit Sun Exposure
The first thing you should do when taking doxycycline is limit the amount of time you spend in the sun and avoid prolonged periods of sun exposure.
Wear Protective Clothing
Wearing long sleeves, long pants, and a hat can help to provide a barrier between the sun and your skin, which can go a long way in protecting your skin from damage.
If you have to be outside for an extended amount of time and cannot stay in the shade or wear protective clothing, be sure to wear sunscreen and reapply it regularly.
It’s important to do this even in winter. Even though it’s not hot out, the sun is still shining and can still cause damage to your skin.
What Are Other Side Effects of Doxycycline?
Like most antibiotics, doxycycline can cause stomach upset with nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea some potential symptoms. When this occurs, doxycycline can be taken with food to help ease any discomfort it causes.
Some of the other common side effects of doxycycline include:
- weight loss
- vaginal yeast infection
When To See a Doctor?
There are some more severe side effects of doxycycline, including:
- rash with fever or swollen glands
- blurred vision or seeing double
- loss of vision
- joint pain
- difficulty breathing or swallowing
- skin redness, blistering, or peeling
- watery or bloody stools
- stomach cramps
- unusual bruising or bleeding
- swelling in the face, throat, lips, tongue, or eyes
- discoloration of adult teeth
It is important to contact a doctor if you experience any severe side effects while taking doxycycline or if you are concerned about your medication.
How Can DrHouse Help You?
For those with an infection, DrHouse can provide quick and convenient care. In just 15 minutes, you can meet with an online doctor to discuss your symptoms and receive an antibiotic.
For those already taking doxycycline, an online doctor can discuss any side effects you are worried about and what protective measures you should take while taking the medication.
Doxycycline is an antibiotic used for a range of bacterial infections, rosacea, and malaria prevention. While it is an effective treatment for many, photosensitivity is a side effect.
Photosensitivity causes your skin to become more sensitive to UV rays. This means that spending time outside can result in more severe burns in shorter amounts of time.
To protect your skin, it is essential to wear sunscreen, protective clothing, and sunglasses and to stay in the shade as much as you can. If you have any other questions or concerns about doxycycline side effects, an online doctor is a great resource to answer your questions and prescribe antibiotics as needed.
- Randhawa, A., Ngu, I., & Bilsland, D. (2018). Doxycycline photosensitivity. QJM: An International Journal Of Medicine, 111(4), 259-260. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1093/qjmed/hcy001
- Goetze, S., Hiernickel, C., & Elsner, P. (2017). Phototoxicity of Doxycycline: A Systematic Review on Clinical Manifestations, Frequency, Cofactors, and Prevention. Skin Pharmacology And Physiology, 30(2), 76-80. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1159/000458761
- Velušček, M., Bajrović, F., Strle, F., & Stupica, D. (2018). Doxycycline-induced photosensitivity in patients treated for erythema migrans. BMC Infectious Diseases, 18(1). doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1186/s12879-018-3270-y
- Simman, R., & Raynolds, D. (2012). Skin Hypersensitivity to Sun Light Due to Doxycycline Ingestion Causing Hand Partial-Thickness Burn. Journal Of The American College Of Clinical Wound Specialists, 4(1), 16-17. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1016/j.jccw.2013.01.005
- Doxycycline: MedlinePlus Drug Information. (2022). https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682063.html
- Del Rosso, J., Brantman, S., & Baldwin, H. (2021). Long‐term inflammatory rosacea management with subantibiotic dose oral doxycycline 40 mg modified‐release capsules once daily. Dermatologic Therapy, 35(1). doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1111/dth.15180