Finding the right sunscreen for eczema sufferers can be a challenge, more so if the person is a new born baby or young child.
Eczema is a condition that makes delicate young skin of children vulnerable to the damaging rays of the sun, according to the National Eczema Association, so finding a sunscreen that works without causing irritation can present a problem.
What is generally recommended is parents should consider the same things that you would when choosing an emollient – for example, that you avoid fragrance and other ingredients that are commonly associated with sensitisation.
If your baby is under six months old, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends that they are clothed in sun-protective clothing and are kept out of the sun altogether. The AAD explains that sunburn is also one of the triggers of eczema.
AAD adds: “At six months of age, you can start using sunscreen. Choose one with the active ingredient titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide. The sunscreen should also be fragrance-free, offer broad-spectrum protection, and have an SPF 30+.”
Which sunscreen should I use on a child with eczema?
There are two types of sunscreen:
- Chemical absorbers, which absorb UV radiation.
- Mineral-based reflectors (usually titanium dioxide), which reflect UV radiation.
Many people with eczema seem to find that mineral-based sunscreens are less irritating to their skin than chemical absorbers.
What is the difference between mineral based sunscreen and chemical sunscreen?
The key difference between mineral and chemical sunscreens is that chemical sunscreens are absorbed by the skin, while those containing minerals sit on it and instead act as a barrier.
The mineral formulations often work better for children with eczema because the active ingredients aren’t absorbed, so they have less opportunity to irritate.
In addition, the mineral formulation reflects the light rather than converting it into heat, so they are often much more comfortable for children whose eczema is aggravated by heat.
The vast majority of sunscreens for children have either chemical or combination formulations, but it is possible to find mineral-only sunscreens.
For school-age children, mineral sunscreens also have the advantage that they don’t need to be reapplied as frequently (because the mineral particles don’t break down in the same way as the chemical-based alternatives).
This means that you can apply them at the beginning of the school day and be reasonably confident that your child will stay protected.
However, there is no one product-fits-all solution to sun care for children with eczema. Ingredient labels on products will help you to avoid substances to which your child has a known sensitivity, but you should always be careful and make sure that you test any new sunscreen in advance.
Dab a test area on the forearm before applying it to the whole body, just in case it causes a reaction or stings.
And, if possible, do this once a day for five days because sensitisation can take time to develop.
It is also recommended that you patch test creams you have used in the past since the formulation, or indeed your child’s skin, may have changed.
How to apply sunscreen on eczema prone skin
- Try to apply emollient at least 30 minutes before you gently dab on any sunscreen. This will minimise the drying effect of the sun without diluting the sunscreen.
- Avoid going out in the sun immediately after applying emollient as any oily residue can make the skin more susceptible to burning.
- Avoid thick and greasy sunscreen because too much oil can feel uncomfortable and itchy. Sunscreen with a creamier, thinner texture usually works well for eczema children because it is easy to rub in and doesn’t leave too much excess oil on the skin.
- Avoid fragranced sunscreen for eczema children because the fragrance’s additives can be irritating
- If you can, avoid applying sunscreen anywhere it could get mixed in with sand. Having a sand/sunscreen mix rubbed in to delicate, eczema-prone skin can really hurt! Consider investing in a UV sun-suit or wet suit for your eczema child if you’re planning a beach holiday.
- If you are using a chemical or combination sunscreen for the first time – keep an eye on your child’s skin for any reactions to new chemicals forming as the light-absorbing chemicals break down.
- Try not to rub too hard when applying cream as this will trigger itching
- Remember that sunscreens are not designed to allow your child to spend unlimited time in the sun but to provide protection when they are exposed to sunlight.
Check out the label for ingredients
As with so many cosmetic products, the ingredients list can be mind boggling. You’ll be Googling each all night long and could still be none the wiser.
However, here is a handy list of high and low risk sunscreen ingredients to help you.
Of course, nothing related to eczema is straightforward and even the low risk ingredients could be an irritant to delicate eczema-prone skins.
Jae Rance, the mother of two eczema kids and founder of ScratchSleeves – children’s eczema clothing manufacturer, has listed details of ingredients to look out when buying your child’s sunscreen on her blog here.
Jae Rance explains that even the low risk chemicals can cause problems, but if you steer clear of the higher risk ingredients you’ve got a good chance of avoiding sunscreens that could irritate your eczema child’s skin.
Low risk sunscreen ingredients
- Titanium dioxide
- Zinc oxide
- Avobenzone, also known as 4-tert-butyl-4′-methoxy-dibenzoylmethane or Parsol 1789
- Cinnamates (cinoxate, octinoxate and anything ending in ‘-cinnamate’)
Common sunscreen ingredients that can aggravate eczema
- Benzophenones also known as oxybenzone, Eusolex 4360, methanone, Uvinal M40, diphenylketone and any other chemical name ending with ‘-benzophenone’
- Parabens – listed as methylparaben (E218), ethylparaben (E214), propylparaben (E216), butylparaben or heptylparaben (E209) and any other chemical name ending in -paraben.
- MCI/MI (methylchloroisothiazolinone/methylisothiazolinone) – EU has announced its intention to restrict their use and many cosmetics companies are already reformulating their products to reduce or exclude them.
- Methyldibromoglutaronitrile has been shown to cause allergic reactions, especially in eczema sufferers.
Want more tips on dealing with your child’s eczema? ScratchSleeves’ blog and the NHS website is a really good place to start.