About the sun and eczema

Some people find that their eczema improves with exposure to sunlight (this is particularly true of the contact and discoid types), while others experience a worsening of their condition. Rarely, eczema is directly caused by exposure to ultraviolet light (sunlight). The term for this is ‘photosensitive eczema’.

bright sun

Certain drugs, chemicals and even plants can cause the skin to become sensitive to sunlight. If you develop eczema or your eczema becomes a lot worse after sun exposure, check with your healthcare professional to see if this could be due to your medication or some other cause.

Everyone should protect their skin from the sun all year round. The sun’s rays can still penetrate in winter, but in the UK they are more harmful between March and October.

What are the best sunscreens for eczema?

People with eczema and sensitive skin can react to all sorts of things, and finding a suitable sunscreen is a matter of trial and error. When choosing a sunscreen, you will need to consider the same things that you would consider when choosing an emollient (for example, it is recommended that you avoid fragrance).

Ingredient labels on products will help you avoid substances to which you have a known sensitivity, but you should always be careful and make sure you test any new sunscreen before applying it liberally. You can do this by dabbing a test area on the forearm before applying it to the whole body, just in case it causes a reaction or stings. It is recommended that you do this once a day for five days as sensitisation can take some time to develop. It is also recommended that you patch test sunscreens that you have used in the past, since the formulation – or indeed your skin – may have changed. There are two types of sunscreen:

  1. Chemical absorbers, which absorb UV radiation
  2. Mineral-based reflectors (usually containing titanium dioxide), which reflect UV radiation.

Many people with eczema seem to find mineral-based sunscreens less irritating to their skin than chemical absorbers. However, titanium dioxide can leave a white sheen on the skin and this can be off-putting, particularly for people with darker skin. As with all products used on the skin, what works for one person with eczema will not necessarily work for another.

Try to apply your emollient about half an hour before applying sunscreen. This will prevent the sunscreen from becoming diluted by the emollient and will ensure that the sunscreen keeps its
protective properties.

For more information on eczema and the sun, please see our Eczema and the sun factsheet