What Is Heliophobia?

Why Some People Fear the Sun

Woman holding up her hand to protect face from sunlight

JGI / Jamie Grill / Getty Images

It sounds like the plot of a vampire novel—an otherwise healthy, well-adjusted person begins to live a life shrouded in darkness. She works nights and sleeps all day behind blackout curtains. If she must leave the house during the day, she slathers on a thick layer of sunscreen and hides behind dark glasses. Yet for those with heliophobia, or fear of sunlight, this may be a reality.

Fear of Skin Cancer

In some cases, heliophobia is actually a type of health anxiety. Skin cancer is a very real risk from overexposure to the sun. In recent years, it has been heavily covered in the media.

People suffering from hypochondriasis or nosophobia may develop symptoms of heliophobia, believing that minimizing their exposure to the sun will minimize their chances of developing skin cancer. Likewise, those who have been treated for skin cancer, or know someone who has, may be at increased risk for heliophobia.

Fear of Sun Damage

There is a great push in society today to minimize the effects of aging. Sun damage is a known cause of premature aging, which can lead people to avoid the sun. Those who suffer from body image issues may be more likely to take this natural concern to an unhealthy extreme.

Medical Sun Sensitivity

Photodermatitis is an abnormal physical reaction to UV rays. The condition causes skin irritation, scaly or bumpy rash, and pain.

Porphyria is the medical term for a group of related generally inheritable disorders. These exceptionally rare diseases can cause a long list of symptoms, including neurological and psychiatric symptoms. Additionally, porphyria can cause severe photodermatitis that can lead to rapid skin blistering when exposed to the sun. Vlad the Impaler, on whom the character of Dracula was based, may have suffered from a type of iron-deficient porphyria.

Fears related to medical sensitivities to the sun are not generally considered a phobia. However, some people with sun sensitivity are afraid to expose themselves to the sun at all, even under a doctor's recommendations. If you are sun sensitive, work closely with your physician to determine safe levels and methods of sun exposure.

Heliophobia and Lifestyle Choices

Some people simply prefer to sleep during the day and perform the activities of daily living at night. In today's culture of 24-hour restaurants, shops, and entertainment options, it is easy to accommodate any natural bodily rhythms. This lifestyle is often associated with those who self-identify as "Goths," but people from all walks of life prefer a nighttime schedule.

Most people who work and play at night have no actual fear of the sun and, therefore, do not suffer from heliophobia. Over time, however, it is possible to develop sun avoidance. If you find yourself unable to cope during the day when necessary due to concerns about the sun, you might have developed a bit of heliophobia.

Complications of Heliophobia

Most of the time, heliophobia is mild and causes few problems in daily life. Working nights, slathering on sunscreen, and installing blackout curtains are minor fixes that generally take care of the issue. More severe cases of heliophobia, however, could cause problems.

If you have a job that requires you to spend time outside during the day, heliophobia could limit your success at work. Likewise, children and teens may be at higher risk for complications since they are required to be at school during designated daytime hours. Even if they are homeschooled, kids with heliophobia may be at risk for social isolation and depression due to their inability to spend time with peers. Both children and adults may be ostracized for their "strange" habits.

Treating Heliophobia

Like most phobias, heliophobia can be treated in a variety of ways. Your mental health professional will work with you to develop a treatment plan that might include cognitive-behavioral methods, hypnotherapy, or other techniques.

If your heliophobia is caused by a medical sensitivity to the sun, your therapist will work in tandem with your physician to simultaneously treat both the physical condition and your anxiety.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Flament F, Bazin R, Laquieze S, Rubert V, Simonpietri E, Piot B. Effect of the sun on visible clinical signs of aging in Caucasian skinClin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2013;6:221–232. doi:10.2147/CCID.S44686

  2. MedlinePlus. Porphyria.

  3. Almeida A, Araujo Filho G, Berberian A et al. The impacts of cognitive-behavioral therapy on the treatment of phobic disorders measured by functional neuroimaging techniques: a systematic review. Revista Brasileira de Psiquiatria. 2013;35(3):279-283. doi:10.1590/1516-4446-2012-0922

Additional Reading
  • American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

By Lisa Fritscher
Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics.