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Does Sun Exposure Make Skin Conditions Better or Worse?

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

During the summer, most people get a lot more sun exposure than they do in other seasons. If you’ve got a chronic skin condition, you might be wondering whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Will the extra time spent enjoying the sun help or hurt your skin?



Some People Get Better with Sun Exposure


Some sun exposure can be beneficial for people with chronic skin conditions. In fact, one study found that about 60% of people with eczema got better when they were on a summer vacation and exposed to sunlight daily. Nearly half of these actually reported that their disease was entirely gone during their vacations, while the rest found that their symptoms got a lot better.


This isn’t an isolated finding. In fact, reports of the positive effects of sun exposure on chronic skin conditions led to the development of phototherapy. This form of treatment involves exposing the affected area of the skin to a bright UV light for a short period of time. It’s been found to be effective for a number of chronic skin conditions, including eczema, psoriasis, vitiligo, and acne. If you find that your symptoms get better in summer, it might be worth discussing phototherapy with your doctor.


…But Others Get Worse


Although sun exposure can be beneficial for people with chronic skin conditions, there are also those who don’t see a benefit. In that study I mentioned earlier, while 60% of people saw a benefit from being in the sun, there are still 40% whose skin didn’t benefit.


In fact, for some people, their condition worsens with sun exposure. This is known as photosensitivity, and it can occur in a lot of different skin conditions, including rosacea, eczema, and psoriasis. It’s not entirely clear why some people find that their skin gets better in the sun, some find that it gets worse, and others see no obvious effect.


There are even some rare cases where eczema is directly caused by UV light. For these people, avoiding the sun as completely as possible is the only way to avoid major skin flares.


It’s also hard to separate the effects of sun exposure from the effects of exposure to sunscreen. A lot of sunscreens contain ingredients that can be very irritating and could lead to a flare-up. It’s possible that some of the people who think the sun makes their condition worse are actually experiencing the effects of irritation from harmful sunscreen ingredients. Next week, we’ll talk about how to choose a sunscreen that won’t irritate your skin.


Don’t Overdo It


If you’re among those whose skin gets better when exposed to the sun, you might benefit from a little bit of sun exposure. But it’s still important not to overdo it. Chronically high sun exposure is linked to skin cancer, and it also breaks down the structural proteins in the skin, leading to visible aging and more fragile skin.


The maximum safe amount is about 10 to 30 minutes of sun exposure in the middle of the day. You could safely go a bit longer if it’s early in the morning or later in the evening, because the sun isn’t as strong at those times. If you’ve got paler skin, then you should stick to shorter exposures. Those with darker skin can safely stay a bit longer in the sun.


Does Sun Exposure Benefit Your Skin?


To figure out whether sun exposure is beneficial for you, you can start by thinking through your past experiences. You could even look back through old photos, to see whether your skin seems to be clearer during the summer or when you’re on a vacation in a sunny place. You might also want to try getting a little sun exposure this summer, to see whether it helps or hurts your skin. If it helps, then you can consider building a little sun exposure into your daily routine to help keep your skin as healthy as possible.


Figuring out the best plan for your skin can be a challenge. To get some support from me and from others who are on a similar journey as you, I invite you to consider joining us inside Mind Gut Skin Academy. Head over here to learn more, or to join the waitlist for when the brand new version of the program opens (soon!).


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