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Caution: Your high blood pressure medicine could sun-sensitize you

Sep. 19, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

You don't have to spend your day on a Vegas rooftop, like Justin Bartha's character Doug in "The Hangover," to get a bad sunburn or even worse. Turns out most high blood pressure medicines make your skin so sun-sensitive that with prolonged use (five years at least) they can trigger lip cancer (which is usually very rare) unless you protect yourself.

Various antihypertensives raise your skin cancer risk from 42 percent to (and this is NOT a typo) 322 percent! Only the beta blocker atenolol, when used by itself, doesn't cause this problem.

But listen up! High blood pressure is such a big health risk for stroke, heart attack and kidney problems -- at least three times the risk of high LDL cholesterol -- that you need to keep taking your medication(s) and making lifestyle changes that lower your BP. You just have to be fanatic about using sun-shielding lip balm and sunblock.

And this is not unique to BP meds: Many meds, from anti-inflammatories and antihistamines to antibiotics and antidepressants, are sun-sensitizing. The herbal supplements ginkgo biloba and St. John's wort are also on the list.

To protect yourself, we want you to:

Always ask your pharmacist if your prescribed drugs and over-the-counter medications increase your sun sensitivity. If you're using one that's sensitizing, be even more vigilant about protecting your skin from the sun with sunhats and sun-screening clothes.

Make putting on a full-spectrum lip balm and sunblock (at least 30 SPF with micronized zinc oxide) part of your morning routine.

Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Medical Officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. For more information go to www.RealAge.com.

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