Is Sun Exposure Safe For My Baby’s Eczema?

Is it safe for babies with eczema to be exposed to the sun? How to make sure the sunscreen you choose doesn’t irritate baby’s skin? Here’s what parents need to know.

All children (and adults) need sunscreen to protect their skin from the sun’s harmful rays. But is sun exposure safe for baby’s eczema, even with sunscreen? And how can you make sure the sunscreen doesn’t irritate baby’s skin? Here’s what parents need to know --- plus, special precautions you’ll need to take if baby is younger than 6 months old.

Does Sun Exposure Cause Eczema Flares?

How the sun affects someone’s eczema varies. Some children’s eczema improves with exposure to the sun (this often happens with contact dermatitis).

But other children’s eczema gets worse in the sun. Also, stronger sunlight can quickly dry out the skin and heat up the body --- skin dryness and hotter temperatures can sometimes trigger flares and make eczema worse.

And sometimes, certain medications, chemicals, and plants can react with the sunlight to make the skin more sensitive, and cause eczema to flare.

So, if your little one’s eczema gets worse in the sun, talk to their dermatologist to determine whether something that you applied to baby’s skin (or something baby’s skin made contact with) could be the cause. If baby’s eczema consistently flares in the sun, it might be due to a medication, or something else that you regularly apply to their skin.

Rarely, some children have a type of eczema called “photosensitive eczema” (photosensitivity dermatitis). This type of eczema flares up considerably whenever their skin is exposed to ultraviolet light (or sunlight).

Protect Baby From The Sun’s Rays

Regardless of how the sun interacts with your baby’s eczema, it’s vital that you protect your little one’s skin from the sun’s harmful rays, because sunburns increase a baby’s risk for developing skin cancer later in life. Always keep all babies and young children out of direct sunlight, dress them in sun-protective clothing, and apply plenty of sunscreen if they’re old enough. This applies whether a baby has eczema or not.

Learn more about keeping your baby safe from the sun’s rays, and reduce their risk of developing skin cancer in the future, from the American Academy of Dermatology:

Now, let’s cover what you need to know about protecting your baby’s skin from the sun.

Babies Younger Than 6 Months: Strictly Limit Sun Exposure

If your baby is younger than 6 months old, their skin is especially sensitive to the rays of the sun, whether they have eczema or not. Their skin is also very sensitive to sunscreen ingredients.

So, strictly limit your baby’s sun exposure if your baby is under 6 months of age.

If you do take baby out in the sun, have them wear UPF or SPF protective clothing that covers as much of their skin as possible --- with a long sleeved top and long bottoms. Also, have them wear a hat with a wide brim.

As for sunscreen, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises that you should only apply very minimal sunscreen to babies under 6 months of age, because of how sensitive their skin is.

Apply very small amounts of baby-safe sunscreen (labeled as for babies, with an SPF of 30 or more) to baby’s face, backs of hands, and tops of feet. Cover the other parts of baby’s body with protective clothing instead.

Whenever possible, keep baby in the shade while they’re outside. Never expose baby to direct sunlight.

Babies Older Than 6 Months: Protect Baby’s Skin With Plenty Of Sunscreen

Any time your older baby, toddler, or child (older than 6 months) is out in the sun, at any time of year, they’ll need plenty of sunscreen to protect their skin. But for babies with eczema, selecting the right sunscreen can be complicated. You can’t just select any baby-safe sunscreen. You’ll need to make sure that the sunscreen you choose doesn’t irritate baby’s skin or cause their eczema to flare up.

Choosing The Right Sunscreen For Eczema

Follow these tips for choosing the right sunscreen to protect your baby --- and keep their eczema from flaring up:

  • Just like with moisturizers and cleansers, avoid fragrances, perfumes, dyes, and other ingredients that you know baby’s eczema is sensitive to. Be sure to read the label before you buy!
  • Avoid sunscreens with alcohol, as alcohol dries out the skin and may lead to more irritation.
  • Just like you should when selecting sunscreen for anyone, look for sunscreen that offers protection from both UVA and UVB rays. This will often be called “broad-spectrum protection” on a sunscreen label.
    • Also, select sunscreen with a SPF of at least 30.
  • Choose a baby-safe sunscreen with the National Eczema Association’s Seal of Acceptance.
    • These sunscreens are specially recommended for babies with eczema and sensitive skin.
    • Some baby sunscreens that have earned the Seal of Acceptance include AVEENO® Baby Natural Protection and Neutrogena® Pure & Free® Baby Sunscreen.
  • Choose a sunscreen with a mineral-based active ingredient, such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.
    • These ingredients are often less irritating to the skin than chemical-based active ingredients.
  • Test a small amount of sunscreen before you apply it to baby’s body, to make sure it doesn’t cause baby’s eczema to flare up.
    • Apply a pea-size amount to the crook of baby’s elbow, or to the inside of baby’s wrist.
    • Apply the “test sunscreen” about a half-hour after baby’s daily bath. Then, try not to wash the area for a day, until baby’s next bath.
    • Apply the “test sunscreen” to the same place every day for 5 days, and make sure baby doesn’t develop itchiness, flaking, rashes, or flares in the area.
    • If the sunscreen passes the test (doesn’t irritate baby’s skin), you can start applying it all over baby’s body.

Applying Sunscreen To Eczema Babies’ Skin

These sunscreen application tips will help you make sure baby stays safe in the sun, and help prevent eczema flare-ups:

  • Moisturize baby’s skin with eczema moisturizer half an hour before you plan to apply sunscreen (ideally, you should moisturize one hour before you plan to go outside.)
    • This way, you’ll make sure that the moisturizer doesn’t “dilute” the sunscreen and cause it to be less effective.
    • The moisturizer will help counteract the skin dryness that sun exposure can cause.
  • Remember that moisturizer isn’t a substitute for sunscreen. Without sunscreen applied, moisturizer could cause a “frying effect” and lead to harmful burning.
  • Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before you take baby outside, so the ingredients have time to bind to their skin for the best protection.
  • Apply sunscreen generously for the best effectiveness (if baby is 6 months old or older). Keep in mind that most people don’t apply enough sunscreen.
    • Apply sunscreen to all the exposed areas of baby’s skin. Don’t miss the forehead, nose, ears, neck, hands and feet.
    • Then, reapply sunscreen every 2 hours, as well as after swimming, towel drying, and sweating.
  • Don’t rub in sunscreen. This may make baby itchy. Instead, apply sunscreen like you apply baby’s moisturizer --- with smooth, downward strokes.
  • In addition to sunscreen, always dress baby in sun protective clothing (with a UPF or SPF of 50). Have baby wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect the top of their head.
  • Don’t apply sunscreen to open or infected skin. Instead, have baby wear protective clothing over those spots, or wrap those spots in bandages. This way, you won’t risk causing or worsening an infection.
  • Remember that sunscreen won’t fully protect baby from the sun’s rays. Dressing baby in protective clothing, and keeping baby in shadier areas, are just as important for sun protection.

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All health-related content on this website is for informational purposes only and does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the advice of your own pediatrician in connection with any questions regarding your baby’s health.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.  If your infant has severe eczema, check with your infant’s healthcare provider before feeding foods containing ground peanuts.