According to the CDC, nearly half of adults in the United States (108 million, or 45%) have high blood pressure or are taking medication to treat it. The antihypertensive medication hydrochlorothiazide has been shown to be associated with sun sensitivity and skin cancers. A new study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology shows that this sun sensitivity may be more common in certain people taking this medication.

In a study of 19,079 adults, board-certified dermatologist Anna Chien, MD, FAAD, associate professor of dermatology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, found that race, sex and how long someone takes hydrochlorothiazide affects their risk for sunburn differently.

 The study showed:

  • Relative to their counterparts not taking hydrochlorothiazide, non-Hispanic Black people — particularly women — taking hydrochlorothiazide had increased odds of sunburn. Conversely, non-Hispanic white men had lower odds of recent sunburn, and they found non-Hispanic white women had no difference in odds of recent sunburn.
  • The risk for sunburns was the highest in the first three years of taking hydrochlorothiazide.
  • Based on self-reported survey data, the researchers found no difference in how often people practiced sun safe behaviors, such as seeking shade, wearing long-sleeves, or using sunscreen, based on race or sex among those taking hydrochlorothiazide.

“We know that sunburn is a well-established risk factor for skin cancer, which is why dermatologists strongly encourage everyone to protect themselves from the sun’s harmful rays.

“In alignment with FDA recommendations, we also do not advise patients who need hydrochlorothiazide to stop this medicine solely due to sun sensitivity concerns, but to follow proper sun protection measures. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the US, so we need to make sure everyone starting this medication for high blood pressure is aware of their potential risk for sunburn and knows how to protect themselves.”

— Anna Chien, MD, FAAD

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. To help reduce the public’s risk of skin cancer, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends that everyone #PracticeSafeSun by following three simple steps when outdoors:

  • Seek shade when appropriate, remembering that the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
  • Wear sun-protective clothing, such as a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with UV protection, when possible. For more effective sun protection, select clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) number on the label.
  • Apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to all skin not covered by clothing. Remember to reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating.

[Source(s): American Academy of Dermatology, Newswise]