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Does sun exposure help eczema (atopic dermatitis)?

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Updated April 30, 2014

Question: Does sun exposure help eczema (atopic dermatitis)?
Answer: Yes, it has long been known that judicious exposure to natural sunlight is helpful for the treatment of atopic dermatitis. In fact, for people with severe atopic dermatitis, some dermatologists recommend treatment with medical-grade ultraviolet light. People with atopic dermatitis, however, may be more prone to sunburn, especially when they are using topical steroids or Elidel/Protopic. Therefore, most people with eczema should be very cautious about too much exposure to the sun.

It isn’t completely clear why sun exposure helps atopic dermatitis, but a recent study suggests that vitamin D may be playing a role. Supplementation with oral vitamin D has been shown to increase the production of cathelicidin in the skin of people with atopic dermatitis. Cathelicidin is a skin protein that protects against skin infections from viruses, bacteria and fungi in healthy skin. People with atopic dermatitis have low amounts of cathelicidin in their skin. This may result in colonization and infection of the skin with bacteria, viruses and fungi, which is known to worsen eczema in people with atopic dermatitis.

This may explain why people with atopic dermatitis get better with moderate amounts of sun exposure. Natural sun exposure leads to production of vitamin D within the skin, which may help people with atopic dermatitis produce cathelicidin. People should check with their doctor before taking any vitamin D dietary supplements, and while cautious amounts of exposure to natural sunlight may be very healthy, tanning salons should be avoided.

Learn more about the treatment of atopic dermatitis.

Sources:

Hata TR, et al. Administration of Oral Vitamin D Induces Cathelicidin Production in Atopic Individuals. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2008; 122:829-31.

Atopic Dermatitis Practice Parameters. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2004;93:S1-21.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this site is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your physician for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

  1. About.com
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  3. Allergies
  4. Skin Allergies
  5. Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema)
  6. Sunlight Treatment for Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis)

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