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Beach scene with a figure being shielded by the shade of a large sunscreen bottle.

Eczema Sun Safety

For those of us with atopic dermatitis, sunlight exposure is recommended to suppress the inflammatory skin cells in our body due to the ultraviolet (UV) rays. This is a reason why people with atopic dermatitis and psoriasis opt for phototherapy or light therapy treatment, which utilizes UVB rays.

Sun protection

Although sun exposure is recommended to alleviate symptoms of atopic dermatitis, it is still important for us to practice caution when in the sun – skin cancer does not discriminate and is very real! According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, 1 in 5 people will develop skin cancer by the age of 70 years old. This is where sunscreen comes into the picture.

Eczema and sunscreen

Throughout my life, I’ve used all sorts of sunscreens without paying attention to the ingredients and chemicals they are made up of. I remember some made me itchy, which is why I’d avoid sunscreen sometimes. This state of ignorance changed recently when I started planning a vacation to Guatemala, where the weather can get up to 105 degrees Fahrenheit!

Types of sunscreens

From my research, I learned that there are two types of sunscreens:

Chemical sunscreen

Chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays from the sun and contain active ingredients like oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, or octinoxate. Lots of mumbo jumbo. These ingredients are absorbed by the skin and have been found to cause allergic reactions and irritate the skin. They are typically synthetic chemicals that can also disrupt your hormones. I’d prefer to stay away from these types of sunscreen.

Mineral/physical sunscreen

Mineral/physical sunscreens work by blocking the sun’s UV rays. These products are made up of zinc oxide and/or titanium oxide. Sounds scary but mineral sunscreens are recommended by the National Eczema Association and must contain these ingredients for their stamp of approval. The FDA has also recognized these two ingredients as safe. This is the type of sunscreen I will be using moving forward! A few safe mineral sunscreens that contain zinc oxide include Neutrogena Sheer Zinc, Cerave Hydrating Sunscreen, and EltaMD Skincare UV Clear.

The sunscreens I use

I chose to use the Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Sunscreen and came back with zero redness, irritation, or burning! I went with this product because it is unscented, broad-spectrum, SPF 50, and contains zinc oxide. It was also only $12! Unlike EltaMD, which sells for $35 online. The only drawback of mineral sunscreens is that they leave a white residue. I personally didn’t mind this and it was reassuring that the sunscreen just sits on your skin, instead of being absorbed. A thing to note is that some sunscreens advertise being mineral sunscreens, but when you look at the ingredients list, there are traces of chemical sunscreen ingredients – make sure to look out for this when sunscreen hunting!

Other sunscreen considerations

Other things to note about sunscreen when you are choosing the right product for you:

  • Broad-spectrum is a term you will commonly find on sunscreen labels. This simply means that the sunscreen will protect you from both UVA and UVB rays of the sun. Go for this!
  • SPF stands for sun protection factor. This is how long a sunscreen can protect you from UV rays. Finding a sunscreen with SPF greater than 50 should be avoided because it can contain a concentration of unwanted chemicals.
  • Fragrance-free is a must for those of us with atopic dermatitis and can easily be found.
  • Lastly, it is best to avoid sunscreens that come in spray or aerosol format – let’s be environmentally friendly!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The AtopicDermatitis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Yu C, Fitzpatrick A, Cong D, et al. Nitric oxide induces human CLA CD25 Foxp3 regulatory T cells with skin-homing potential. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2017;140(5). doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2017.05.023.
  2. DRI – Dietary Reference Intakes – Calcium and Vitamin D20122DRI – Dietary Reference Intakes – Calcium and Vitamin D. Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, , ISBN: 13‐978‐0‐309‐16394‐1. Nutrition & Food Science. 2012;42(2):131-131. doi:10.1108/nfs.2012.42.2.131.2.
  3. Alnuweiri T, Alnuweiri T. What you need to know about eczema and sun care. Well Good. https://www.wellandgood.com/good-looks/eczema-sun-care-guide/. Published April 30, 2018.
  4. Skin Cancer Foundation. Skin Cancer Facts & Statistics - SkinCancer.org. https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts#ethnicity.
  5. What sunscreens are best for people with eczema? National Eczema Association. https://nationaleczema.org/slather-sunscreen-eczema-skin/. Published January 26, 2018.
  6. More D. Does Sun Exposure Help Eczema? Verywell Health. https://www.verywellhealth.com/does-sun-exposure-help-eczema-82721. Published July 4, 2019.

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