Eczema and Sunscreen (Atopic Dermatitis): A Detailed Guide

By Leah Groth, Medically Reviewed by Ross Radusky, MD.

Reviewed: April 11, 2023

Medically Reviewed

No one, including people with eczema, should skimp on sunscreen.

If you’re living with atopic dermatitis (the most common type of Eczema) and are dealing with sensitive and sore skin, you know that finding effective yet non-irritating skin-care products can be challenging. Sunscreen is no exception.

According to the American National Eczema Association (NEA), individuals with the chronic skin condition can have a negative reaction to ingredients in sunscreen. Plus, a small number of people experience photo allergic contact dermatitis, a skin reaction that occurs when the sun activates an ingredient found in sunscreen, perfume, or medication.

But sunscreen is very important, not only to protect your skin from cancer and damage but also because sunburn can worsen atopic dermatitis by provoking the itch-scratch cycle, notes the NEA.

This guide can help you understand which sunscreen ingredients to look for and which ones to avoid, along with other tips on how to use sunscreen when you have Eczema.

eczema and sunscreen

The Benefits of Sunscreen for People with Atopic Dermatitis

Your quest to find an eczema-friendly sunscreen is worthwhile. After all, excessive sun exposure can lead to sunburn in anyone, including people with atopic dermatitis.

“Sunburns compromise the skin barrier, which is already compromised in people with eczema, and can lead to flares. Regularly using sunscreen can help prevent this from occurring,” says Jeffrey Cohen MD, a board-certified dermatologist and an assistant professor of dermatology at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

While the sunscreen itself doesn’t directly strengthen the skin barrier, it will protect your skin from the sun. A study published in December 2019 found that UV light weakens the bonds between cells in the stratum corneum, the top layer of skin, by damaging the proteins that help skin cells adhere together. Dr. Cohen says that sunburns in general accelerate skin aging, increase the risk of skin cancer, and increase skin dryness.

What to Avoid in a Sunscreen if You Have Atopic Dermatitis

If you’re living with atopic dermatitis, reading ingredient labels is absolutely crucial. More important than what to look for in a sunscreen — or any cosmetic product, for that matter — is what to avoid. There are specific ingredients known to cause flare-ups, which the NEA details on its website.


If you have eczema, try to avoid fragrance, Cohen says. The NEA explains that fragrance is a relatively common allergen that can be irritating for anyone with sensitive skin. This goes for natural fragrances, including essential oils. Why? Many people have an inflammatory reaction to fragrance. “Many sunscreens have fragrances in them, so it is important to look out for this and choose products without any fragrances,” he says.


Cohen also suggests avoiding any sunscreens that use chemical products to block the sun, “as chemical sunscreens can be irritating,” he explains. Indeed, the NEA awards its Seal of Acceptance only to physical sunscreen products containing titanium, zinc oxide, and iron, and does not give the seal to any chemical UV absorbers such as chemical-based sunscreens. Chemical sunscreens typically include active ingredients such as avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, octisalate, and octinoxate.

Oxybenzone and avobenzone in particular are two common allergens in sunscreen that have been linked to allergic contact dermatitis, so to be on the safe side, avoid products containing these ingredients, the NEA advises.

eczema and sunscreen

Tips on How to Apply Sunscreen

Cohen suggests applying a generous coat of sunscreen evenly to all exposed areas. The NEA notes that the majority of people apply 25 to 50 percent of the recommended amount; most adults will need about an ounce, or “enough to fill a shot glass” to completely cover their body. “It is important to remember to apply sunscreen to all exposed areas, including the ears, which are often missed,” Cohen points out.

Also, the NEA suggests applying sunscreen to dry skin 15 minutes prior to exposure and emphasises the importance of reapplying every two hours, “but sooner if you are in the water,” she says.

According to the NEA, you should never apply sunscreen to damaged or broken skin. You can wear bandages or protective clothing over those areas to avoid infection and protect your skin from the sun.

How to Take Your Sun Protection Up a Notch

Sunscreen is not the only way to guard your skin from the sun, Cohen points out. “Sun-protective clothing is readily available for adults and children, and for people who find sunscreens irritating, this is a great option,” he explains. “More and more brands are offering high quality sun-protective clothing”.

If you or yours have already suffered or are suffering from a “flare up” please follow the link below to find certain relief.