NIHR | Manchester Biomedical Research Centre

Skin conditions triggered by sunlight have very substantial impact on patients’ quality of life, Manchester BRC-funded study reports

A study funded by NIHR Manchester BRC has confirmed that patients with photodermatoses – which are skin conditions triggered by sunlight – experience a ‘substantial’ impact on their mental health and quality of life.

NIHR Clinical Research Fellow, Dr Kirsty Rutter, was joint first author of a systematic review – which is a summary and analysis of existing research – published in the peer-reviewed British Journal of Dermatology (BJD).

Photodermatoses, or photosensitivity conditions, are a group of skin disorders caused by exposure to sunlight. They cause a range of distressing symptoms, including pain and burning, and can make the skin blister, flake and scar. People with these conditions have to be careful to avoid and protect themselves from sunlight.

The study found that a striking proportion of patients experience very large negative impact on their quality of life, with a particular impact on issues related to employment, social/leisure activities and clothing choices.

Dr Rutter, who is based at The University of Manchester in addition to being an Honorary Consultant Dermatologist at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Our review confirmed that between 31 and 39 per cent of patients with photodermatoses experienced a ‘very large’ or ‘extremely large’ impact on their quality of life.

Additionally, patients also had around double the rates of anxiety and depression found in the general population, although very few studies have focussed on their psychological health.
A photo of Dr Kirsty Rutter

As part of their review, Dr Rutter and co-authors summarised the findings of 20 relevant, published, English-language studies; 19 assessing quality of life and three assessing psychological function.

The review authors found that six different tools had been used to assess quality of life, and four different tools to assess psychological health.

Dr Rutter said: “By reviewing published studies, we found that several different tools have been used to assess patients, although that they have not been specifically designed with photodermatoses in mind. Developing more specific methods of assessment could be beneficial.

“Despite this, we found that around a third of patients experienced a very or extremely large impact on their quality of life, which is concerning.

It’s really important for us to recognise that many patients with photodermatoses experience very substantial negative impacts on quality of life and psychological health. More research needs to be carried out on this, so we can ultimately determine how we can best improve the quality of patients' lives.

Dr Rutter is a researcher within our BRC’s Photodermatoses Programme, which is part of our Dermatology Research Theme. Professor Lesley Rhodes is the Photodermatoses Programme Lead and Dr Rutter’s Academic Supervisor.

Professor Rhodes said: “This study, led by Dr Rutter, is the first ever systematic review of the impact of the photodermatoses on life quality and psychological welfare. This research has greatly improved understanding of the impact of these disorders, and enables us to better evaluate the benefit of new treatments.

A photo of Professor Lesley Rhodes

Professor Lesley Rhodes

Dr Rutter has made quite an impact with this review; it was one of only two manuscripts on the photodermatoses to be included in the Environmental Effects Assessment Programme (EEAP) report of the United Nations this year, and she was invited to talk on the topic at the World Congress of Light and Life

“Through her BRC post, and together with BRC-appointed researcher, Dr Nathan Hawkshaw, Dr Rutter is further exploring the mechanisms underlying certain photodermatoses, in order to identify trigger molecules and targets for treatment. There is unmet need, with previously scant funding of research into the photodermatoses, so this is particularly significant.”

Dr Nathan Hawkshaw is the lead author of a research paper recently published in Clinical & Translational Immunology, which identified, for the first time, how the human skin suppresses inflammation after exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation (UVR). Read more in our news story.