Polymorphic Light Eruption

Authored by Dr Jan Sambrook, 02 Apr 2015

Patient is a certified member of
The Information Standard

Reviewed by:
Dr John Cox, 02 Apr 2015

Polymorphic light eruption (PMLE) is a skin rash that can happen when you go out in the sun.

Polymorphic light eruption (PMLE) is a particular type of rash that occurs as a reaction to sunlight on the skin. The name comes from polymorphic eruption, which means a rash that has many forms.

Polymorphic light eruption (PMLE) is most likely to occur in spring or early summer when your skin is not used to sunshine, or perhaps when you go on holiday to a sunny place. It can keep coming back as your skin gets used to the sun but is usually less severe each time it appears and it gets better more quickly.

PMLE is not the same as sunburn. You can't catch PMLE (it is not infectious) and it has nothing to do with skin cancer.

Polymorphic light eruption (PMLE) mostly affects people aged 20-40 years. It is more common in women. It probably affects around 1 in 10 European women.

It doesn't only occur in people with pale skin; it can also occur in people with darker skin.

The problem is more common in countries with temperate climates - that is, neither hot like the tropics nor cold. Northern Europe and much of North America have temperate climates.

Some people get polymorphic light eruption (PMLE) each year. It starts each spring with a rash that lasts for up to a week, and then comes back if you go out in the sun again. But it usually is less severe each time it comes back.

Sometimes it will stop of its own accord but many women who are affected by it find that it doesn't come back after the menopause.


The picture shows a typical rash of PMLE, although it can vary from person to person.

Further reading and references

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