Polymorphic Light Eruption

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

What is it?

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.

When does it happen?

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.

Who gets it?

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.

Will it ever go away?

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.

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Dr Jan Sambrook
Peer Reviewer:
Dr John Cox
Document ID:
9374 (v4)
Last Checked:
02 April 2015
Next Review:
01 April 2018

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.