The middle of the summer is a popular period for coastal getaways, family reunions, picnics, and barbecues.
Eczema sufferers may find that this season is more associated with uncomfortable skin flare-ups than with enjoyment in the sun.
Why can summertime be a period when eczema flares up more frequently for some people? Eczema affects everyone differently, and how it affects you throughout the summer might depend on a variety of factors, including geographical and environmental changes.
Experts emphasize being attentive about managing flares as with any chronic condition, particularly if you intend to spend time in the sun on hot, dry days.
Why eczema flare-ups might occur on warm, bright days
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 have an influence on people of all ages, from babies to seniors 65 and beyond. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, one in ten Americans has it.
For those who reside in more humid regions, eczema may not be as bad throughout the summer. This is because, according to Dr. Teo Soleymani, clinical lecturer in health sciences for dermatologic surgery at UCLA Health, “eczema-prone skin can actually offer some much needed moisture” as a result of warmer temperatures and increased humidity.
He said that “extremely hot and dry areas” are where the issue arises.
According to Soleymani, summer in these regions “may often exacerbate the problem, as the dry heat dehydrates the skin, frequently producing flares.” Additionally, as summer approaches and people spend more time outdoors, sunburns and excessive sun exposure are time-tested indicators that summer has arrived.
He continued, “Sunburns are bad for eczema patients since they not only exacerbate the already fragile skin barrier but also cause an acute aggravation of inflammation in the skin as the body attempts to recover itself from sun-induced damages.”
Soleymani claimed that as a result, eczema flare-ups frequently happen following sunburns and stay longer than usual as your skin tries to recover itself.
Eczema is not just a problem in the summer, according to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Annabelle Garcia of Sonterra Dermatology in San Antonio, Texas. Flares occur “very much year-round” for those with moderate to severe eczema, she told Healthline.
Dry skin can exacerbate symptoms in the winter, while “other irritants” like sweating and prolonged sun exposure are prevalent in the summer.
“Sunscreen creams and lotions can irritate the skin quite a bit. Eczema sufferers typically experience symptoms all year long because of seasonal and temperature changes as well as airborne allergens, she continued. So, the things that cause eczema in each person vary slightly. Certainly, persons with this illness may find the summer to be challenging.
According to Garcia, those extended beach days can cause issues for those who have eczema. Sand, sea water, and chlorinated pool water can “be rather drying” for the skin in addition to the irritants in some sunscreens. Excessive perspiration during hot days spent tanning or engaging in sports or outdoor activities can potentially be a trigger.
These are typical items that we sometimes overlook as everyday irritants to atopic dermatitis sufferers, according to Garcia.
Although the ordinary person’s skin offers some natural protection from these irritants, Garcia claimed that those who suffer from moderate to severe eczema have a weakened skin barrier, leaving them more vulnerable to the summer sun and sand.
The effects of eczema on summer
“Arsalan K.,” who requested that his full name not be used, has essentially always lived with eczema.
He told Healthline that when he was six years old, he began to experience more “annoying” than “pleasant” symptoms including slight redness and irritation.
Usually, these flashes would go away and not interfere with his normal activities. When he was between the ages of 11 and 12, he began to see the problem “manifesting itself in more painful ways,” including “redness, discoloration, and big patches of swollen, cracked, occasionally bleeding skin.”
Tennis and athletics were important components of Arsalan’s upbringing and young adulthood; he was a personal trainer at one point. However, when his eczema symptoms worsened in his late teens and early 20s, he found that it was limiting his ability to participate in the activities he enjoyed.
He claimed that when exercising outside, he had to plan his activities to stay cool in the sun so he wouldn’t be out in the heat for too long and run the danger of having a serious flare-up.
Arsalan, who along with Garcia is publicly sharing his story through “The Now Me,” a public awareness campaign from Sanofi and Regeneron, stated, “I wasn’t able to go out and do that type of activity.” To sort of solve this problem, “I would have to do that workout at extremely awkward periods of the day, which would end up being quite inconvenient.”
Beyond changing the way he socialized and exercised in bright, open areas, Arsalan claimed he also had to consider what clothes he was wearing because some textiles irritated 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.”
How to handle eczema flares over the summer
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.
In terms of quality of life, she continued, “the majority of my patients with moderate-to-severe eczema have a relatively normal existence.” Without a doubt, there are therapy choices available, and you should consult a doctor. Board-certified dermatologists are often in charge of treating these individuals. These patients are equipped with the means to live better, healthier lives with higher quality of life.
There are treatment alternatives available to help you manage flares, preserve your skin, and enjoy the great weather and sun-drenched days with friends and family. While it can take a little more planning to enjoy summer activities than your friends who don’t have eczema.