If you have eczema, you already know that the condition makes your skin more sensitive to irritants and allergens, but did you know that eczema also makes your skin vulnerable to the sun’s damaging rays? It’s true! Exposure to sun can make your eczema worse, as the heat can lead to perspiration that causes a flare-up, and sunburn can cause inflammation to make your eczema worse. This means that, when it comes to eczema and your skin, wearing sunscreen is just as important as putting on moisturizer.
But if you are like many people with eczema, you worry about what you should put on your skin because you want to avoid the burning, itching, dryness and redness that comes with a flare-up. To avoid eczema flare-up while still protecting your skin from the sun’s damaging rays, it is important to choose the right sunscreen.
While most sunscreens look the same sitting side by side on the shelf, there are some important differences between them, especially if you have eczema. Understanding the differences can help you choose the right sunscreen to provide maximum protection for your skin. Knowing how to apply and when to reapply sunscreen can also help you avoid the discomfort of an eczema flare-up.
It’s all about SPF
Skincare professionals often discuss sunscreen in terms of SPF, which stands for Sun Protection Factor. SPF is a relative measure of how long sunscreen will protect your skin from damaging UV rays from the sun. Theoretically speaking, if your skin begins to burn after one minute in the sun, an SPF 15 sunscreen would prevent burning for 15 minutes and an SPF 30 would protect your skin for 30 minutes. In the real world and assuming you have used the sunscreen correctly, if you would burn after 20 minutes, an SPF sunscreen should protect you for about 10 hours.
Applying sunscreen correctly is important too
Apply sunscreen generously – most people apply too little – about 15 minutes before heading into the sun. If you use an emollient, apply the emollient first then wait about 30 minutes before applying the sunscreen, as emollient can cause a “frying effect” upon exposure to sunshine.
Be sure to apply the sunscreen to all exposed areas of your body, including the back and sides of your neck and on your temples and ears; people tend to forget their necks and ears, and end up sunburned there.
Avoid rubbing in the sunscreen, as this can trigger itchiness. Instead, apply the sunscreen in smooth, downward strokes to provide adequate and even coverage. Have a partner apply sunscreen in places you cannot reach, like the middle of your back.
What should I look for in an eczema-friendly sunscreen?
There are two main types of sunscreen products: those made with chemical absorbers and those made from mineral-based ingredients. Skip the products with chemical-based ingredients, such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, and parabens, as they can irritate sensitive skin. Instead, go for sunscreens that contain mineral-based ingredients, such as titanium dioxide (TiO2) and zinc oxide (ZnO). Be aware, though, that titanium dioxide can leave a somewhat-unattractive white residue on your skin, especially if you have darker skin.
Fragrance- and preservative-free
Exposure to certain fragrances and preservatives can make your skin more sensitive, and therefore more prone to eczema flare-ups. Avoid products that contain perfume (sometimes labeled as “parfum”), benzyl alcohol or cinnamyl alcohol, for example, and stay away from sunscreens that contain 2-Bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol, diazolidinyl urea, and formaldehyde. For best results, look for products that say they are free from fragrances and preservatives, but double-check their ingredient labels.
Broad-spectrum sunscreens protect against both UVA and UVB rays in sunlight. Both UVA and UVB rays are harmful, and overexposure to either UVA or UVB can lead to skin cancer. UVA rays, also known as aging rays, can cause premature signs of aging, such as wrinkles and age spots. UVA rays can pass through window glass, so they can damage your skin even while you sit indoors or in your care. UVB rays, also known as burning rays, are the main cause of sunburn.
Broad-spectrum sunscreens often contain both TiO2 and ZnO, as titanium dioxide is more effective in blocking UVB and zinc oxide blocks UVA rays.
SPF 30 or greater
Sunscreen offering SPF 30 or greater provides maximum protection from damaging UV rays. SPF 30 blocks about 97 percent of the sun’s rays.
Should I test a sunscreen before I use it?
Yes, you should always test a sunscreen on a small area of your skin first to find out if it will cause a reaction before you slather it all over your face and body. It is also smart to test sunscreens you have used in the past, as the manufacturer may have changed the formula or your skin may have changed.
The National Eczema Society suggests you apply a small amount to the same place once a day for five days, as it may take some time for a reaction to develop. Your forearm is a great place to test a product, as you can easily check the skin for signs of a reaction.
Do I really need to reapply sunscreen?
Yes, reapplying your sunscreen provides long-lasting protection from the sun. All sunscreens, whether chemical or mineral, naturally break down on your skin when exposed to sunlight. Reapplying sunscreen refreshes the layer of protection for your skin.
The American Academy of Dermatology suggests reapplying sunscreen every two hours, even on cloudy days. You should also reapply your sunscreen after swimming or sweating.
As with all skin products, what works for one person with eczema may not work for another, but finding the right sunscreen is essential for anyone living with eczema. Reading ingredient labels, consulting with your doctor, and doing patch tests of sunscreens can help you find the perfect sunscreen to protect your skin, even with eczema.