Acne-prone and atopic skin in the sun

How to choose the right form of sun protection if your skin has specific needs.

Acne-prone skin and atopic skin both require special protection from the sun’s rays.

Skin with dermatological conditions needs special care when it is exposed to the sun. Acne-prone skin and skin with an atopic tendency need suncare products with specific characteristics to meet their special requirements, to avoid exacerbating their already delicate conditions.
Here's how to take care of these skin types in the sun.

Acne-prone skin in the sun: some guidelines

Although acne breakouts may seem to clear up with sunshine, this improvement is only temporary, and indeed improper exposure to the sun can actually make things worse.

The sun "dries out" the skin, making it appear less oily, and also has the effect of limiting bacterial growth. Moreover, imperfections are disguised beneath a tan, so that the effect appears to be a positive one.
In reality, however, ultraviolet rays and UVB rays in particular, which are most prevalent in summer, exacerbate the inflammatory processes at the root of acne, which often reappears more conspicuously than ever the following autumn.

This is in addition to the fact that exposure to the sun’s rays triggers various defence mechanisms in the skin, including not only the formation of melanin, but also a thickening of the skin — hyperkeratinisation — which is a known factor in the formation of comedones, which are liable to become inflamed and transform into bumps and pustules.

In cases of acne-prone seborrhoeic skin, you don’t have to miss out on sunbathing but it is important to use sun creams with a very high sun protection factor, i.e. SPF 50+. This is because of the need to counter the pro-inflammatory action of the UVB rays as much as possible, regardless of your phototype.

What’s more, sun protection products for acne-prone skin are formulated to combat keratinisation and regulate sebum production. They are also tested to be non-comedogenic, meaning they do not tend to cause blackheads.

If you’d like to learn more about acne-prone skin and how to treat it, read our articles:
Acne: what it is and how you can fight it 

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 factorfor 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.