Like many other questions about eczema, the answer is complicated. There are many different kinds of eczema, and while some are definitely improved with sunshine, some are actually aggravated by being out in the sun.
Photosensitive eczema, solar urticaria, polymorphous light eruption or chronic actinic dermatitis (CAD)
These are skin conditions which are triggered by sunlight; they are all thankfully rare, but can be challenging for those living in sunny climates, as rashes can appear within a minute after going out into the sun on exposed areas of skin (necks, faces, arms). If you suspect you have a photosensitive condition, see your doctor for a definite diagnosis and make sure you keep your skin in as good a condition as possible with effective emollients.
Some medications increase your sensitivity to sunlight; if your eczema regularly worsens with being out in the sun, check with your doctor whether your medication is the cause.
And of course there are the problems associated with being out in the sun that apply to everyone with sensitive skin, not just those with photosensitivity.
Avoid the following if at all possible:
- Sweat: the minerals in sweat can cause itching and inflammation
- Sunburn: be moderate and careful. Wear long, light layers and protect skin from burning.
- Pollen: see our Ten Hayfever Hacks For Beating The Pollen Bomb blog.
- Overheating: blood vessels dilating means more inflammation and worsening eczema symptoms
- Irritant sunscreens: choose one that is free from known triggers (parfum for example) and patch test assiduously a week before you go on holiday
- Oily emollients: don’t expose skin covered in oil-based emollients to bright sunlight; use oils and ointments last thing at night instead
However, it does seem that people who have too little exposure to UV-B from sunlight are more likely to develop atopic eczema or contact dermatitis in the first place. The reason seems to lie in what sunlight - and the lack of it - does to the body. For most people, sunlight actually plays a vital part in their general well-being and the health of their skin, because exposure to sunlight leads to:
Increased vitamin D
Vitamin D deficiency is more common in people with eczema; increasing your vitamin D can strengthen your body’s resilience, support your skin barrier function and help it to fight the infections people with eczema are more prone to.
Sunlight triggers the release of compounds (regulatory T cells and nitric oxide) which dampen the problematic immune system response in people with eczema.
In conclusion, sunlight is definitely a positive thing for most people with eczema, something that can help manage flare-ups, improve the condition of their skin and generally improve their health, so long as they are careful not to overdo it.
For more holiday tips, check out our Ultimate Guide To Travelling With Eczema.
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If you require medical advice we recommend you always contact your healthcare professional.
If you or someone you are caring for seems very unwell, is getting worse or you think there's something seriously wrong, call for emergency services straight away. For general medical advice, please contact your healthcare professional, this article does not contain or replace medical advice.
Do not delay getting help if you're worried. Trust your instincts.