Sunscreens are a type of topical product that help prevent ultraviolet (UV) light from penetrating the skin and causing skin changes. Some sunscreens may not be suitable for people with eczema.

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Eczema is an umbrella term that healthcare professionals use to describe a number of skin conditions that result in skin inflammation, itching, and irritation.

This article explores what eczema and sunscreen are and which sunscreens are suitable for eczema. It also discusses tips for sun safety and answers some common questions about sunscreen and eczema.

Doctors often use the term eczema to describe a group of conditions, but some people may use the word to refer to a specific type of eczema, such as atopic dermatitis.

A person with eczema is more likely to have a dysfunctional skin barrier, which may be due to genetics. If the skin barrier is ineffective in keeping water within the skin, it leads to dry skin. Eczema may also lead to the skin becoming more prone to infections.

An overactive immune system may also play a role in eczema when irritants and allergens come into contact with a person’s skin.

There are many types of eczema, including:

Sunscreens are topical treatments that are important for protecting the skin from the sun’s rays. They contain chemicals that absorb or reflect and scatter ultraviolet B (UVB) and ultraviolet A (UVA) light.

The sun emits ultraviolet (UV) light, which is able to penetrate the outer layer of skin and cause skin changes. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, UVA light may cause skin aging, whereas UVB light can cause skin burning.

There are two types of sunscreen ingredients that provide sun protection: Physical ingredients and chemical ingredients.

Physical ingredients include minerals such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which block and scatter UV light. Chemical ingredients include octisalate and avobenzone, which absorb UV light.

Sunscreens typically have a sun protection factor (SPF) number. This number indicates the length of time it would take for the sun’s UVB light to redden the skin if a person uses sunscreen compared to the length of time if a person does not use sunscreen.

For example, a sunscreen with an SPF number of 50 indicates that it would take 50 times longer to redden the skin compared to if a person does not use sunscreen.

Regular and daily use of sunscreen with a minimum SPF number of 15 may lower the risk of squamous cell carcinoma development by approximately 40% and the risk of melanoma development by 50%.

A person with eczema should select a sunscreen that is fragrance-free to help prevent irritation or an allergic reaction.

The sunscreen should also provide broad-spectrum protection, which means that the sunscreen should protect against both UVA and UVB light. It should also have an SPF of 30 or higher and contain titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.

A person should also check the list of ingredients in sunscreen and consult a healthcare professional to ensure that they are not allergic to any of the ingredients.

Learn more about some of the best sunscreens for sensitive skin here.

There are other tips that a person can follow to protect their skin from sun damage. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends the following practices:

  • avoiding the sun and seeking shade during the hours of 10 a.m.–2 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest
  • wearing clothing that is sun-protective, such as:
    • lightweight and long-sleeved shirts
    • pants
    • sunglasses
    • a wide-brimmed hat
  • applying sunscreen that is broad-spectrum, water-resistant, and with an SPF of 30 or more
  • reapplying sunscreen every 2 hours, or after sweating or swimming

The AAD recommends that a person use at least one ounce, or about a shot glass full, of sunscreen to cover their entire body. A person should apply sunscreen to all exposed areas of the skin.

Below are some of the most common questions and answers about sunscreen and eczema.

Can sunscreen make eczema worse?

Both physical and chemical sunscreens are safe and effective. However, chemical sunscreens may be more likely to cause skin irritation than physical sunscreens.

A person should therefore consult their doctor about the most suitable sunscreen option for them.

Is sunscreen necessary for eczema?

Sunburn can trigger eczema. Therefore, sun protection is vital for a person with eczema.

A person with eczema should ensure that they find a suitable sunscreen that will not trigger eczema and still provide adequate sun protection.

A 2021 study found that UV radiation from the sun may make certain types of eczema, such as atopic dermatitis, worse. The authors noted that appropriate sunscreens with moisturizing properties may provide adequate sun protection as well as reduce inflammation and relieve itching in eczema.

Is zinc oxide good for eczema?

Zinc oxide is a chemical substance that has soothing and protective properties. It is an active ingredient in physical sunscreens as it reflects UV radiation. A person may also find it in topical treatments for eczema.

A 2017 study found that a combination of zinc oxide with other ingredients such as glycyrrhetinic acid and bisabolol in a cream significantly reduced participants’ total eczema severity scores.

Eczema indicates a group of skin conditions that result in itchy, inflamed, and dry skin. Different types of eczema exist, including atopic dermatitis, hand eczema, and neurodermatitis.

Sunscreen is a topical treatment that provides protection against UV radiation. A person with eczema should use sunscreen because sunburn can trigger eczema.

People with eczema need to ensure that the sunscreen they use is fragrance-free and does not contain ingredients that may trigger an allergic reaction or cause irritation. A doctor can help a person find out if they are allergic to any ingredients and which sunscreens are best for them.