Can Sun Exposure Help Eczema?
If you are struggling with eczema, your tendency may be to keep your skin covered all the time. Covering affected skin with cotton or other light clothing can be a comfort as well as decrease the urge to scratch. And those beyond the baby and toddler years who have a sense of social awareness may be conscious of exposing not-so-beautiful skin.
However, research shows that sunlight exposure to eczema can provide numerous benefits. Let’s look at why you may just want to let your skin see the light of day!
Sunlight Improves Eczema
Many studies show that, in general, sunlight is beneficial for eczema. For example, this study, based in Australia, shows that those with eczema who live in the north of the country closer to the equator with stronger sun exposure, have less eczema and allergies. Other studies demonstrate that eczema improves during summer holidays when time is spent outdoors, especially at sunny locations like the beach.
Also consider that ultraviolet (UV) light therapy is a well-known and effective therapy for eczema. The exposure of the skin to UV light rays, especially UVB rays, can greatly improve eczema. Ultraviolet light is the same light we receive through the sun, although sunlight includes a broader spectrum of rays including UVA, UVB, and UVC rays.
How Does Sunlight Help Eczema?
Increased Vitamin D Levels. Did you know low Vitamin D levels are associated with eczema? Multiple studies show the relation of Vitamin D and eczema occurrence and severity (see Study 1 and Study 2). Did you also know that sunlight exposure is the most effective way for the body to create Vitamin D? Although Vitamin D supplements can be a great help too, they are not as powerful as sunlight.
But there’s more… when vitamin D levels rise, so does the production of a substance called cathelicidin. Cathelicidin is a protein which protects the skin against bacteria, fungi, and viruses. The skin of those with eczema, which is prone to various infections, has low levels of cathelicidin.
b>Lowers Inflammation. An important study found that UV exposure increased levels of nitric oxide in the skin. This increase of nitric oxide produced an increase in T-regulatory cells, specialized immune cells which help decrease inflammatory immune response. When levels of T-regulatory cells were measured in eczema patients after a UV treatment, it was found that higher levels of T-regulatory cells corresponded with improvements in eczema.
Did you follow all of that? Pretty deep, but pretty amazing. To summarize, sun exposure can lower inflammation through the increase of special immune cells
Can Sun Exposure Be Harmful for Eczema?
Sunburn. Being in the sun is not without risk of sunburn, which can greatly damage the skin. To avoid sunburn, limit periods of strong sun exposure to 15-20 minutes, especially if you have fair skin that is prone to burning. They key is get limited sun exposure frequently, not in a long stretch.
Dryness. You may find after times of sun exposure that your skin feels dried out. To combat the dryness, make sure to hydrate your skin from the inside out by drinking plenty of water. Be ready to apply extra moisturizer as well.
Sweat. Along with the heat of the sun often comes sweat, which may aggravate eczema. Sweat is a beneficial process for our bodies as it takes out toxins, so don’t shy away from it too much! If sweat bothers your eczema, take a shower after sweating to cleanse the skin.
Photosensitivity. For some with the condition known as photosensitive atopic dermatitis, sunlight will actually bring on and worsen eczema. It is like an allergy to the sun. The condition is not common but is good to be aware of when considering sun exposure and eczema. If your eczema seems to get considerably worse after sun exposure, you could have a sensitivity to the sun. Be sure to consider other factors that may have aggravated your eczema rather than sunlight, but if you see a definite pattern, please talk to your physician about the possibility of photosensitivity.
- Timing is everything with sun exposure. It is ideal to be in the sun during the hours of highest intensity (10:00am to 3:00pm) to gain the most benefit from the rays. However, when the rays are strong, risk of sunburn is the highest as well. Limit the duration of exposure to 15-20 minutes or a bit longer or shorter depending on how sensitive you are to burning.
- For times of extended exposure to the sun, use sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30.
- Journal how you feel after sun exposure. Do you see improvements after frequent times in the sun? Does your eczema seem to get worse? Are there other factors that could be aggravating your eczema when you are outdoors in the sun (pollen, sweat)?