Atopic skin in the sun: some guidelines
Skin with an atopic tendency is characterised by extreme dryness and a significant hyperreactivity to environmental agents of all types (dust, mites, allergens, weather, UV rays). The main cause behind this tendency is an alteration in the skin’s barrier function, leaving it unable to retain water and thus more irritable and sensitive to external agents. This results in the skin being extremely dry, prone to outbreaks typical of atopic dermatitis and intense itchiness.
Those who suffer from atopic dermatitis tend to find it exacerbated by cold, dry weather in winter, while it benefits from the warm and humid conditions typical of the summer season. In most cases, there is a clear improvement in the skin’s condition and relief from itching when it is exposed to the sun by the sea.
This may seem rather surprising, given that summer brings with it various stimuli which irritate atopic skin — UV rays, salt, wind, sweat, rubbing — yet, despite these factors, 70-80% of atopic individuals experience an improvement in their condition during this period.
The improvement brought about by the sun is, on the one hand, due to the skin thickening and the barrier function improving as a result; on the other hand, the UV rays help atopic skin to defend itself more effectively against Staphylococcus aureus, an opportunistic bacteria which can worsen dermatological outbreaks in cases of an imbalanced microbiome, as well as encouraging superinfections.
However, these advantages are not grounds for careless exposure to the sun, particularly given that atopic dermatitis is especially prevalent in children.
It is important to choose a suncare product which offers high or very high protection on a broad spectrum, and which is suitable in terms of its texture and specific characteristics. Therefore, very water-resistant creamy and emollient solutions are the best, in order to reduce the burning sensation in the skin upon contact with seawater, with a non-sticky consistency to prevent sand from clinging to the skin.
So, even if your phototype indicates you should opt for a sun cream with a medium or low protection factor, for skin with an atopic tendency it is best to use products with a high or very high SPF which are capable of offering broad-spectrum protection, against both UVB and UVA rays.
Broad-spectrum sun protection requires the combined use of UVA and UVB filters, ingredients regulated by the European Union. This means that a certain number of filters are authorised in sun protection products, and only in specific concentrations (for reference: Regulation (EC) No.1223/2009, Annex VI).
Sun filters are substances which filter or block UVA or UVB radiation through a mechanism which may involve absorption, as is the case with organic filters, or reflection/diffusion, typical of mineral filters (Titanium dioxide).
All the authorised filters are safe for use. However, when it comes to skin with an atopic tendency, sun protection products formulated exclusively with mineral filters can dry out the skin and may be unpleasant to apply, given their thick consistency and the difficulty of spreading them.
In general, a person’s phototype is the same all over their body, so the same product should be fine for every part of it exposed to the sun. However, it should be remembered that some parts of the body are not usually exposed to the sun, or are more delicate for various reasons. Therefore, it is advisable to use a sunscreen with a higher SPF for the nose, lips and ears, for example, all the better if it comes in a stick for ease of use and is — of course — water-resistant.
Given that skin with an atopic tendency is hyperreactive, another important thing to remember is to opt for sun protection products free of substances which are particularly likely to cause intolerances and allergies, such as fragrances and some preservatives.
Acne-prone or atopic skin can also enjoy the benefits of the sun, bearing in mind that the skin’s well-being depends not only on adequate sun protection, but also a few vital considerations in applying it and in sunbathing safely.