- For those living with eczema, the heat of the summer can cause itchy, uncomfortable skin flare-ups.
- Medical experts stress that people living with eczema need to be vigilant about managing flares, especially when spending time in the sun on hot, dry days.
- For people living with eczema, sunburns can not only further damage the delicate skin barrier, but also cause an acute worsening of inflammation in the skin as the body tries to heal itself from sun-induced injury.
The middle of the summer is a time for barbecues, picnics, family reunions, and beachside vacations.
For those with chronic skin condition eczema, this season might be marked less by fun in the sun, and instead by itchy, uncomfortable skin flare-ups.
Why might people with eczema be particularly prone to flares during the summertime? Eczema is highly variable by person, and a range of factors from geography to environmental changes can play a role in just how it might affect you during the summer.
As with any chronic condition, experts stress being vigilant about managing flares, especially if you plan on spending time in the sun on hot, dry days.
Why warm sunny days can trigger eczema flares
When we talk about eczema, we’re most commonly referring to atopic dermatitis, defined by inflamed, irritated, and itchy patches of skin that often come with a reddish rash. It can affect a range of ages, from newborns to older adults, age 65 and beyond. It’s found in 1 out of every 10 Americans, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association.
During the summer months, eczema might not be as bad for people who live in more humid climates. This is due to the fact that warmer temperatures and added humidity might actually “provide some much needed moisture to eczema-prone skin,” said Dr. Teo Soleymani, health sciences clinical instructor in dermatologic surgery at UCLA Health.
The problem comes in “very hot and dry climates,” he explained.
In these areas, “summer can often exacerbate the condition, as the dry heat dehydrates the skin, often causing flares,” Soleymani told Healthline. “Moreover, as summer rolls around and people spend more time outdoors, overexposure to the sun and sunburns are a time-tested validation of summer’s arrival.”
He added that “sunburns are terrible for patients with eczema as they not only further damage the delicate skin barrier, but also cause an acute worsening of inflammation in the skin as the body tries to heal itself from sun-induced injury.”
Soleymani said that, due to this, eczema flares often occur after sunburns, lasting longer than usual while your skin tries to heal itself.
Dr. Annabelle Garcia, a San Antonio, Texas, board certified dermatologist with her own practice, Sonterra Dermatology, explained that eczema is certainly not a problem exclusive to summer. People living with moderate to severe eczema deal with flares “pretty much year-round,” she told Healthline.
In the winter months, dry skin can worsen symptoms, while the summer months present “different irritants” like sweating and excessive time out in the sun.
“Sunscreen products can be quite irritating to the skin. Usually, patients with eczema tend to suffer year-round due to climate changes, seasonal changes, allergens in the air,” she added. “So, everybody is a bit different in terms of what triggers their eczema. Definitely, the summer can be a difficult time for patients who have this condition.”
Garcia said those long days at the beach can pose problems for people living with eczema. Besides irritants in some sunscreens, sand, salt water, and chlorinated pool water can “be quite drying” for the skin. Excessive sweating from hot days sunbathing or performing outdoor activities or sports can also be a trigger.
“These are typical things we sometimes don’t think of as common irritants to people with atopic dermatitis,” Garcia said.
While the average person’s skin provides some natural defense from those kinds of irritants, Garcia said people with moderate to more severe eczema have a compromised skin barrier, making them more prone to the sun and sand of summer.
Eczema putting a damper on summer
“Arsalan K.,” who asked not to be identified by his full name, has pretty much always known a life with eczema.
He told Healthline that he first noticed milder symptoms back at the age of 6 that were more “annoying” than “uncomfortable” such as mild redness and itchiness.
These flares would generally subside and not impede his daily life. By the time he was around 11 to 12 years old, he noticed the condition “manifesting itself in more uncomfortable ways,” with “redness, discoloration and large patches of puffy, cracked, sometimes bleeding skin.”
For Arsalan, tennis and athletics were big parts of his childhood into his young adulthood — he used to be a personal trainer — but noticed that as his eczema symptoms got worse in his late teens into early 20s, he found it affecting his ability to enjoy the activities he loved.
When exercising outdoors, he said he had to strategize when he was out in the sun to keep cool so he wasn’t out for too long in warm temperatures and risking a major flare.
“I wasn’t able to go out and do that kind of exercise,” said Arsalan, who, along with Garcia, is publicly sharing his story through “The Now Me,” a public awareness campaign from Sanofi and Regeneron. “I would have to do that exercise at very awkward times in the day, which would end up being very inconvenient, just to kind of overcome this issue.”
Arsalan said that beyond altering how he socialized and worked out in sunny, exposed spaces, he also had to think about what clothes he was wearing, with certain fabrics irritating his skin more than others.
He added that he went from “dealing with it from a physical activity standpoint” to having it affect not just what to wear but “what you do and when you do it and choosing when to go out to eat and being able to hang out with friends. It really permeates into everything.”
Arsalan said he empathizes when others he comes into contact with describe how having sensitive, eczema-prone skin can make these summer months challenging.
“You have to be super concerned about things like choosing the right clothes, making sure you are wearing a light, breathable fabric, lighter colors that don’t absorb as much of the heat, and trying to find areas of shade,” he added.
“You have to almost strategically map out your routes and think ‘OK, if I need to take a break for 20 minutes, it’s not because you are out of breath, but it’s because you’ve been in the sun too long.’ You have to find those strategic points of going indoors for a bit.”
Ways to manage summertime eczema flares
Arsalan’s story isn’t unusual.
Both Soleymani and Garcia said that since eczema manifests itself in such variable ways, there is no one-size-fits-all approach for managing it during the summer. Effective treatment depends on each individual’s case and severity.
If you’re reading this and concerned about your eczema symptoms, as always, consult your personal clinician about what might be the best course of treatment for you.
Soleymani said that one of the best ways to combat the effects of the summer on eczema is to “protect yourself from overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation and replenish your skin’s natural barrier with adequate moisture if you live in hot, dry climates.”
“This doesn’t mean to avoid the sun completely, that would be impractical (and no fun!) during summer. However, protection from overexposure can come in the form of sunscreen and sun-protective clothing, which helps minimize the risk of sunburns,” he explained.
When it comes to choosing moisturizing methods, Soleymani suggested keeping your skin “moist and supple” with “simple emollient.” He said that is most helpful for people who are living in dry, desert-like environments.
“For those who live in more humid climates, summer can provide a temporary, and much needed, break from the thicker moisturizers used during winter to ones that are a bit lighter as the summer itself helps provide some added moisturization,” he said.
Garcia said that people with moderate to severe eczema might find themselves needing to moisturize “once, twice, and even three times a day with a good emollient.”
She said the best moisturizer products are ones that replenish ceramides, specific lipids in the skin that people living with eczema tend to lack.
She said she personally points people with eczema to creams rather than lotions, since “creams tend to protect the skin barrier better.”
Garcia said that you need to be vigilant about what kinds of products you are using on your skin.
Summer travel can mean finding yourself staying for a week or two in a drastically different environment than what you’re accustomed to. While vacations are fun, this could mean flare-ups for people with eczema. She points her patients to moisturizing products that are hypoallergenic.
“If it smells too good, too fruity, or a floral smell like a bouquet of flowers, then it’s probably not good for the skin,” Garcia stressed. “Patients with atopic dermatitis tend to be allergic sometimes to other things. They tend to have food allergies, for instance, or they tend to be allergic to nickel and metals and other things because they have that compromised skin barrier.”
She cautioned that people with eczema also seek mineral-based sunscreens that possess effective “physical barriers” from ultraviolet rays.
She said these will most commonly be sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These tend to be better tolerated by people with eczema or sensitive skin in general.
“Minimizing the use of chemical sunscreens is helpful, too, and reapplying sunscreen when you’re in the water and just remembering hats, sun-protecting hats, and long sleeves can be helpful as well,” she added as summer recommendations for people with eczema.
For his part, Arsalan’s treatment journey has evolved over the years. He tried topical corticosteroids as well as more “holistic treatments” recommended by family but decided to take it upon himself to eventually research what might be good options. He’s currently on Dupixent, an injectable treatment that is part of Sanofi and Regeneron’s campaign.
Since he’s been pursuing this course of treatment, his symptoms have greatly improved, and he has been keeping his flares under control.
Soleymani suggested that if you have eczema and are heading to the beach or the park, you should try to “avoid peak UV hours to minimize the risk of sunburns.”
“For those who live in very dry climates, keeping your skin moisturized during the dry summer heat can help reduce your eczema flares,” he said. “Additionally, summertime also means added pool and beach time. If you enjoy swimming, whether at the beach or at the pool, make sure to not only reapply sunscreen every few hours to reduce the risk of sunburn but also remember that chlorine and salt water can dry out the skin as they evaporate off the body, so make sure to moisturize well after drying up.”
Garcia said that eczema is a highly manageable condition.
“Most of my patients with moderate-to-severe eczema lead a pretty normal life in terms of quality of life,” she added. “Definitely, treatment options are out there, and you should seek a specialist. Most commonly, these patients are managed by board certified dermatologists. These patients have the tools to live a healthier life, a better life, and improved quality of life.”
While it might require a bit more strategizing to enjoy summer activities than your friends who don’t have eczema, treatment options are out there to help you manage flares, keep your skin protected, and take advantage of the nice weather and sun-drenched days with friends and family.
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