What’s the skinny on sunscreen and eczema?

woman in hat sits outdoors and applies sunscreen to arm

By Margaret W. Crane

Published On: Jul 19, 2018

Last Updated On: Jul 13, 2021

Sunscreens work by providing a protective layer between the sun’s potentially harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation and your skin. While they’re not exactly a magic bullet against skin damage or skin cancer, they’re an essential part of our overall sun protection strategy, especially for people with eczema and extra sensitive skin.

If you receive any sun exposure at all, you need sunscreen. There’s only one exception to that rule. Children under six months of age should have very limited exposure to the sun, as their skin is extremely sensitive to the sun’s rays and to the ingredients in sunscreen itself. Shade and protective clothing are the best ways to sun-proof your infant’s skin. But for the rest of us, sunscreen is a must.

To help you choose the best sunscreen to suit your needs and use it optimally, we’ve collected your top FAQs, along with tips for staying safe while enjoying your summer to the max.

How do I choose the right sunscreen?

Not all sunscreens are created equal. What works for one person may not work for another. Finding the right product can be complicated. And the task becomes even more challenging if you or your child has eczema. A product’s effectiveness may change when your eczema flares—and again when it calms back down.

The following tips should help you find your way to an eczema-friendly sunscreen that’s in sync with your needs:

  • Look for a product with mineral-based ingredients such as titanium dioxide (TiO2) and zinc oxide (ZnO).
  • Make sure the product offers broad-spectrum protection from both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Look for sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 or greater.
  • Choose a product that’s alcohol-free.
  • Read the label carefully to see if it contains anything to which you’re allergic.

Which sunscreens are best for people with eczema?

Here’s a list of sunscreen products that have earned NEA’s Seal of Acceptance™:

  • AVEENO® Baby Natural Protection Lotion Sunscreen
  •  AVEENO® Baby Natural Protection Face Stick Sunscreen
  • AVEENO® Natural Protection Lotion Sunscreen
  • CeraVe® SPF 50 Sunscreen Body Lotion
  • CeraVe® SPF 50 Sunscreen Face Lotion
  • CeraVe® Baby Sunscreen SPF 45
  • Neutrogena® Pure & Free® Liquid Sunscreen
  • Neutrogena® Sensitive Skin Sunscreen Lotion SPF 60+
  • Neutrogena® Pure & Free® Baby Sunscreen Lotion SPF 60+
  • Neutrogena® Pure & Free® Baby Faces Ultra Gentle Sunscreen
  • Neutrogena® Pure & Free® Baby Sunscreen Stick SPF 60

For an extensive list of eczema-friendly personal care and household products, consult NEA’s Product Directory.

Should I test a sunscreen product before I use it?

Absolutely. Apply a small amount (about the size of a pea) to the inside of your wrist or the crook of your elbow. Don’t wash the area for 24 to 48 hours, and watch for any allergic reaction such as itchiness, redness, flaking, pain, or a rash or breakout of any kind.

A small number of people are prone to photoallergic contact dermatitis, a skin reaction that occurs when the sun activates an allergen found in sunscreen, perfume or medication. If you experience such a reaction, you can request a patch test from an allergist to identify the problem ingredient and avoid products that contain it.

How much sunscreen should I use?

To ensure that you get a sunscreen’s full SPF value, apply 1 oz.about a shot glass full – to your face and the exposed parts of your body. Most people tend to apply only half to a quarter of that amount, which means the SPF they’re getting is lower than it should be. During a long day at the beach, use around a quarter to a half of an 8-oz. tube or bottle.

Where, exactly, should I apply it?

Apply sunscreen evenly to all uncovered skin, paying special attention to your lips, nose, ears, neck, hands and feet. If you don’t have much hair, apply some to the top of your head, or wear a hat. And remember, never apply sunscreen to damaged or broken skin. Instead, wear bandages or protective clothing over those areas to avoid infection, while still protecting the skin from sun rays.

How often should I use it?

Apply sunscreen about 30 minutes before sun exposure to allow the ingredients to fully bind to your skin. Make sure to reapply the same shot glass dose every two hours—and also immediately after swimming, toweling off or working up a sweat.

Can’t I just use a moisturizer with sunscreen in it?

After-shave lotions and moisturizers containing sunscreen are fine for everyday use. As long as you plan to spend just a few minutes here and there in the sun, your favorite lotion laced with SPF 15 sunscreen may be enough. But if you’re at the beach, on a picnic or playing outdoor sports, use a serious, water-resistant sunscreen that’s up to the job of protecting you from the sun’s potentially harmful rays.

Do I need to apply sunscreen when it’s cold or cloudy outside?

You can develop UV-related sun damage in the winter. And even on a cloudy day, up to 40 percent of the sun’s UV rays come through. If you work and play outside, it’s a good idea to use sunscreen all year long.

One more thing…

Sunscreen alone isn’t enough to protect your skin against UV rays. It’s just one part of a sun protection program that includes wearing protective clothing and staying out of direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., especially during the summer months.

So, choose, test and use sunscreen wisely, and from all of us at NEA, enjoy your summer in the sun. Your skin will thank you for it!

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