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Can You Go in the Sun with Shingles?

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By Elizabeth Hanes, BSN, RNJune 18, 2020

Shingles is a miserable condition. The painful, blistered rash can throw a monkey wrench of discomfort into your normal day-to-day routines (especially sleep!).

But what about spending time outdoors? Is it OK to go in the sun if you have shingles? The answer is “yes and no.”

Being out briefly in the sunshine while, say, running errands won’t harm you. But something like a day at the beach? Not a good idea.

You should avoid prolonged sun exposure if you have shingles because:

  • The area of skin affected by the shingles rash is already tender and fragile, so excessive ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure, such as sunshine, can further damage that skin.
  • The rash cannot tolerate sunscreen, so you’d not be able to protect it from the sun’s UV rays.
  • Sunshine can trigger an episode of shingles, so you’re vulnerable to another round of it if you get out in the sun too quickly after the blisters dry up.
  • You shouldn’t be exposing the rash to open air, anyway, while you’re in public; always keep a shingles rash covered when you’re out and about to avoid spreading the virus to people who have never had chickenpox (or received the chickenpox vaccine).

All that said, some sun exposure may be unavoidable when you have shingles. You should simply do your best to minimize it. Keep the rash covered with clothing or with loosely applied gauze bandages when you go out. When walking or sitting outdoors, stay in shaded areas or use an umbrella to shade yourself.

If you have shingles and experienced prolonged sun exposure, be on the lookout for signs of sunburn in addition to the shingles rash. You might notice that the redness of the rash gets worse or that the pain increases. As long as you’re not allergic to over-the-counter pain medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, you can take these to ease the pain.

Other ways to treat shingles after going in the sun:

  • Apply cool, damp compresses
  • Apply calamine lotion
  • Take an oatmeal bath
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing

If your shingles symptoms worsen after sun exposure, call your doctor’s office.

Shingles generally clears up in a month or so. If your symptoms linger, talk to your doctor.

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