Eczema is an umbrella term for a group of skin conditions that cause itchy, inflamed, rash-like skin patches. These skin symptoms come and go, and periods of activity are known as flares.
A variety of triggers are thought to bring on an eczema flare. Just about any type of weather can have an impact on your eczema, and sunny weather is no exception. Here’s what you should know about the sun and how it can affect eczema.
The exact cause of eczema is unknown, but several factors are thought to play a role, including genes and triggers.
One specific type of eczema, known as photosensitive eczema, is caused by sunlight exposure, but this type is rare.
For most people, the sun itself (or lack thereof) doesn’t cause eczema. However, environmental triggers — including extensive sun exposure — can bring on an eczema flare. This can make warm-weather activities like pool parties or beach days and outdoor dining a challenge.
Even though the sun (and especially the associated sweat) can be an eczema trigger for some, for others, sun exposure in moderation can help clear up eczema. Phototherapy is also sometimes used to treat especially persistent cases of eczema.
You might take advantage of a sunny, warm day by planning outdoor activities. Exposure to sunlight can provide a dose of vitamin D, and for many, sun exposure is a mood booster.
Relaxing in the ocean’s salt water can also help soothe eczema-prone skin (and reduce stress, another eczema trigger). When you’re done swimming, just be sure to the rinse salt water off, pat skin dry, moisturize, and apply sunscreen.
The trick is moderation. It’s fine to enjoy outdoor fun, but you might want to limit your skin’s exposure to direct sunlight.
If you have severe eczema, too much sun exposure can make your condition worse. A sunburn can cause skin inflammation. Overheating can also lead to excess perspiration, resulting in an eczema flare.
Taking precautions to prevent sunburn and stay cool in warm weather is especially important if you have eczema. Start with these tips:
- Stay cool in warm weather by using a fan or air conditioning.
- Seek shade when outdoors on sunny days.
- Wear loose-fitting, breathable cotton clothing.
- Change clothes if you sweat through them.
- Wear protective items like hats and sunglasses.
- Drink plenty of water to keep your skin hydrated from within.
- Apply sunscreen (and reapply as needed).
Talk with your doctor about any medications or remedies you’re using, as some may cause your skin to become more sensitive to sunlight.
When you have eczema, your skin tends to be sensitive. It may react to just about anything, sunscreen included.
Many people with eczema find success with mineral-based sunscreens. To find a sunscreen that works for you, start with these tips:
- Find sunscreen that only contains the active ingredients titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.
- Choose a fragrance-free product.
- Look for one that offers broad spectrum protection, which blocks both UVA and UVB rays.
- Find a formula that contains at least SPF 30.
- Test the sunscreen on a small patch of skin to make sure you don’t have a reaction to it.
It can take some trial and error to find the best sunscreen for your skin. Once you do, follow these tips to get the most out of your product:
- Apply your usual moisturizer at least a half hour before applying sunscreen, to avoid diluting it.
- Then apply sunscreen liberally 15–30 minutes before going out in the sun.
- Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours or more often if sweating, swimming, or toweling off.
- Store sunscreen in a cool, dry, dark place, out of direct sunlight.
- Discard sunscreen each year. Before repurchasing, check the labels, as formulations may change over time.
Pay attention to what triggers your eczema. Sunlight exposure can either trigger a flare or alleviate inflamed, itchy skin.
Either way, take steps to protect your skin in the sun by applying sunscreen. Talk with your doctor about any medications and remedies you’re using that may make your skin more sensitive to sunlight.