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Sunscreen is a must for everyone, especially if you have eczema. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) estimates 1 out of 5 people in the United States are expected to develop skin cancer at some point during their lifetime.
Given the intensity of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, one of the best ways you can protect your skin from sunburn, skin cancer, and photoaging is by wearing sunscreen every day.
This is especially important for babies and young children. Unprotected sun exposure early in life increases the risk of skin cancer through adulthood.
Still, having eczema (atopic dermatitis) can make wearing sunscreen uncomfortable. It may even worsen symptoms.
While it’s tempting to want to skip sunscreen, that can make matters worse. The key is to find a sunscreen that works with your eczema, rather than against it.
In a perfect world, every product you put on your skin would contain few (if any) artificial ingredients, chemicals, and fragrances. But the reality is that most sunscreens out there aren’t exactly eczema-friendly.
You can look for “seals of approval” from eczema-friendly organizations, such as the National Eczema Association (NEA) and the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).
You can also look at the ingredient labels. As a rule of thumb, mineral-based ingredients, such as zinc and titanium oxide, are more eczema-friendly.
The sunscreen in question should also be alcohol- and fragrance-free. Water-resistant formulas are ideal as well as those that have an SPF of 30 or more, reports the AAD. A “broad spectrum” sunscreen protects you from both UVA and UVB rays.
If you have eczema, you likely have sensitive skin, too. This is why patch testing every product you plan on using on your skin ahead of time is so important.
Place a small amount of sunscreen to the inside of your elbow and wait two days. If no rash appears, then the sunscreen is safe to use on the rest of your skin.
Sunscreens with the NEA Seal of Acceptance
The following is a list of sunscreens awarded the NEA Seal of Acceptance:
- Aveeno Natural Protection Lotion Sunscreen
- Aveeno Baby Natural Protection Face Stick Sunscreen
- CeraVe Sunscreen (both face and body versions)
- CeraVe Baby Sunscreen, SPF 45
- Neutrogena Pure and Free Liquid and Stick Sunscreen (Baby and Baby Faces, SPF 60+)
- Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Sunscreen, SPF 60+
Children with eczema also need sunscreen. However, as a rule of thumb, sunscreen isn’t used for babies under 6 months old, including infants with eczema. Instead, make sure your baby wears long sleeves, pants, and wide-brimmed hats when outside. Avoid placing them in direct sunlight.
The same ingredients you’d want in your sunscreen would also work well for your children, too. It’s easy to assume products marketed for children are safe for sensitive skin, but that may not be the case. Always read the ingredient labels.
The NEA has approved both Aveeno Baby Natural Protection and Neutrogena Pure and Free Baby sunscreens for babies with eczema.
Also, don’t forget that patch testing new sunscreen is important for children, too. Call your child’s pediatrician if you think they’ve developed an adverse reaction to sunscreen.
If you’re not planning on being outside for a long period of time, then you may consider getting a sunscreen for your face only.
When applied to your entire face and neck, this method helps protect your skin for everyday instances of sun exposure, such as commuting to work, walking your dog, or sitting outside for a quick break.
For children, you may apply a regular sunscreen to their faces every day. Adults may use combination sunscreen moisturizer and foundation products containing at least an SPF of 15 or higher.
Sunscreen for eczema is intended for all-over use, including over any rashes you currently have.
You should not, however, apply sunscreen to any broken skin. Cover these areas with bandages instead, then carefully apply the sunscreen around them.
Liquid or lotion-based sunscreens work best because you have the most control over the product. Use about a shot glass worth of sunscreen for your entire body.
If you need a quick touch-up, a spray version may work, but you can’t apply spray versions to your face. Instead, you’ll need to spray the product in your hands first. Never use sunscreen sprays indoors.
The NEA recommends that you apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before sun exposure. This gives your skin enough time to absorb the product. You’ll also need to reapply the same full amount every two hours or after towel-drying.
Tips for Applying sunscreen
Follow these tips to get the most benefit from your sunscreen:
- Choose broad-spectrum, SPF 30+, water-resistant sunscreen.
- Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before you go in the sun.
- Reapply at least every two hours while in the sun.
- Use enough sunscreen to cover your body well (approximately a shot glass full).
Aside from wearing sunscreen, you can help protect your skin from both UV ray damage and your eczema in the following ways:
other ways to protect your skin
- Avoid times of peak sunlight, which occur between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Stay in the shade as much as you can.
- Dress in light, cotton layers. Synthetic fabrics can aggravate eczema rashes.
- Take a cool shower or bath after being outside.
- Rinse off your skin immediately after swimming in chlorinated water.
Eczema-prone skin is sensitive. This may make you cautious about putting too many products on your skin (and rightly so!).
However, sunscreen is a daily must, even during wintertime. The key is to choose the right products so you can get all the sun protection you need without worsening your eczema symptoms.
You may also consider checking with your dermatologist for their specific sunscreen recommendations, especially if you spend a lot of time outdoors for work or play.
Also be sure to see a doctor if you have an adverse reaction from using a particular product.