Escaping the Sun with Trigeminal Neuralgia

Trigeminal neuralgia can make touching your face or head excruciating. Even the slightest pressure from soft fabric or the movement of the wind against these areas can trigger an attack. With that in mind, it is no wonder people suffering from trigeminal neuralgia often dread going outside. 

While most people think that the thick scarves, earmuffs, and hats of winter are the most miserable for TN sufferers, I would argue that the summer sun gives them all a run for their money.

How Trigeminal Neuralgia Hinders Sun Protection

When you go outside in the sun, you should protect your skin. Preventing burning is important of course, but even minimal exposure to the sun can increase your risk of skin cancer and hasten photoaging. 

This is especially true of the delicate skin of the face, ears, scalp, and neck. These areas are the most susceptible to damage from the sun’s rays. 

They are also the areas that are the most painful to protect if you suffer from trigeminal neuralgia. 

The sensitivity of these areas to touch means that nearly every form of sun protection can trigger an attack of terrible pain in the face. Depending on what areas of your face are typically impacted by your TN, you may be able to use some forms of sun protection more easily than others. 

Unfortunately, most people who deal with this condition will have to suffer through an uncomfortable process of elimination to figure out what works for them and what does not. 

There are solutions for most people. Finding the one that works for you may be quicker with the following ideas to guide you. Think about what parts of your face typically trigger an attack, as well as which are most affected by your TN pain. This way, you can narrow down these and any other options to find protection from the sun that works for you.

Solution 1: Choose Skincare with Added Sun Protection

Much of today’s best skincare doubles as sun protection. If you are already applying skincare to your face, neck, and chest, look for options that add sunscreen. 

For me, I have a certain threshold of touching my face that I can tolerate. I have learned what areas can tolerate being touched and which cannot. I also cannot feel my skincare products after a few seconds, but traditional sunblock or makeup products leave me feeling like I am wearing a mask. 

When you have trigeminal neuralgia, wearing a mask is never a good feeling. 

That is why I opt for skincare products that include sun protection in their formula. Once I carefully apply it, I can no longer feel it sitting on my skin. This helps me wear SPF more comfortably, but it is not a solution that works for everyone. 

Some people suffering from trigeminal neuralgia cannot stand to have their face touched at all, even by their own hands. In this case, an alternative application might be the answer for SPF. 

Woman using spray-on skincare to avoid touching her face because of trigeminal neuralgia.

Solution 2: Use Aerosol Sunscreen 

If you cannot stand to touch your face, you may be able to use an aerosol spray sunscreen. 

There are many versions of spray-on sunscreen. Some use a simple pump spray nozzle. You can try these, but many people find that their mist is too inconsistent – and still requires touching your face to evenly apply the product. 

This is why I recommend aerosol spray. Products with aerosol spray are easier to evenly distribute and can also spray from various angles. For those who cannot tolerate touching their face, ears, neck, and other areas, this is a great way to ensure protection from the sun’s damaging rays. 

Solution 3: Get a Sun Hat Suitable for Trigeminal Neuralgia

When I think of hats, I cringe. Not because they don’t look good – that’s a matter of opinion. It’s because wearing them hurts me. 

Most of them, anyway. 

Thankfully, I have found a few comfortable sun hats that I can wear. The least expensive one was less than $15 at my local Walmart. However, that hat probably will not be available for long, since it was in the seasonal section. So, I would recommend checking Amazon or another online retailer to find one that suits you.

Look for hats with a wide brim, an opaque yet lightweight fabric, and a cap that is not too fitted. Also forgo straps, ribbons, or anything else that ties beneath the chin. While that might keep your hat in place on a windy day, it is also a guaranteed TN pain attack for most sufferers. Not worth it, if you ask me!

Wearing a sun hat can help you protect yourself from the sun's rays when you have trigeminal neuralgia.

Solution 4: Change Your Schedule 

Specific hours of the day are the most dangerous for your skin. This time frame poses the most risk of burn, with the average person’s skin burning within 15-30 minutes during this period if unprotected. 

During the hours of 10 AM – 2 PM in most areas, the sun’s rays are at their strongest and most direct. Other areas may experience direct sunlight until nearly 5 PM. Remember that the temperature outside is not the key factor here, but the exposure to the direct sunlight that is often unavoidable during these times. 

The UV Index is a scale used by weather and medical scientists to measure the amount of UV light in the atmosphere at any given time. The more direct the sun’s rays are in an area, the more UV light – and potential for skin damage – will be present. 

The UV Index scale does not necessarily have a cap, although it can be thought of in three primary ranges. 

  • 0-2 – This is a safe range for most people. Protection is not typically necessary during brief to moderate ventures outside and skin is unlikely to burn. This is the safest time to be outdoors.
  • 3-7 – This is a moderate range, in which skin protection should be used. While burning may not be immediate for all skin types, all skin types are in danger of damage from the sun’s rays without adequate protection. Outdoor activity is still safe at this range, as long as protection is used. 
  • 8+ – This is the danger zone. When the UV Index reaches this range, people with sensitive or easily burnt skin should remain indoors if possible. Otherwise, extra protection should be used. Burning and skin damage are likely for all skin types at this range without adequate protection.

In a perfect world, nothing would be scheduled when the UV Index is at its highest – during the 10 AM – 2 PM time range. However, this is not a perfect world, and most outdoor events fall right into that dangerous time frame. 

Reschedule your events if possible. Move them to the earliest or latest possible times and you may be able to avoid the need for sun protection altogether. 

Man's wrist wearing a watch.

Solution 5: Change Your Clothing

You would not wear summer clothing in the middle of winter, so why wear cold-weather clothes when your body needs relief from heat and protection from the sun? 

Until recently, I did not know that sun protection clothing and accessories were available. I knew you could wear a hat and sunglasses in summer. But there are so many additional options that can offer protection. 

If you would rather not wear a traditional hat, sun protection veils, hoods, masks, and other options might be a good fit for you. Look for a model that fits your head without constricting or brushing against sensitive areas of the face. Worried about getting chilled at the beach? Wear a hooded jacket and keep the sun off your shoulders and your face at once.

No matter what you prefer to wear, there are clothing and accessory options offering sun protection to fit your style. 

Solution 6: Change Your Plans

No one ever wants to consider changing their plans to suit their medical condition. But for many of us, this is ultimately the reality of what happens. We often miss out on things we would love to do or places we would love to go just to keep ourselves from being in danger or extreme discomfort. 

This might be the only solution that works for you – at least for now. If there is no way to safely protect yourself from the sun for an outdoor event and the date or time cannot be changed, you may have to opt to stay home. I have gone to weddings and not outdoor receptions or skipped a show and joined my family and friends for dinner afterward to accommodate my condition. 

Sometimes, you simply have to prioritize yourself and your health and safety over anyone’s plans – even your own. 

Trigeminal neuralgia is a complicated and frustrating medical condition. There is currently no cure, although many treatments can be effective in managing the pain and other symptoms. Remember that you do not owe anyone an apology for needing to alter your style, your schedule, or your life. 

If you find that the pain disrupts your life to the extent of making outdoor activity nearly impossible, speak to your neurologist about possible answers. They may be able to provide you with ideas that this list does not even begin to cover. 

Sunscreen being used to protect from damaging sun rays.

To all of my fellow trigeminal neuralgia sufferers, I hope for nothing but a relaxing and pain-free summer – and the ability to protect your skin while you enjoy the sun’s warmth!

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