Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that causes dry, itchy, red, oozing, swelling, and inflamed or irritated skin. While it's most common in young children, it can occur at any age.
People who suffer from severe eczema may find their condition to impact their lifestyle negatively. Trigger factors are numerous, and the symptoms may worsen at any time.
While people with dermatitis and sensitive skin often consider the beach a hostile environment, it can also be healing! So, let's zoom in on the pros and cons of the ocean when you have eczema and learn a few tips for making the most of your summer days!
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Eczema at the Beach: Salt, Sand, and Sun
While an ocean dip can be great for eczema and may be healing for atopic skin types, it can also be a nightmare.
When you're in the middle of a dermatitis flare-up, spending a day at the beach can cause burning or stinging symptoms to aggravate to the point they get unbearable. The beach is all about water, sun, and sand.
Let’s see how each of these three elements can impact your eczema, whether in a good or a bad way.
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Is salt or ocean water good for eczema?
Yes. Seawater or salt water from the ocean is good for eczema. It provides some incredible benefits for your skin. Sea water is packed with minerals like magnesium, calcium, and potassium that soothe the skin and act as natural moisturizers and antiseptics.
This studyfrom the International Journal of Dermatology even found that bathing or swimming in magnesium-rich sea salt "reduces inflammation in atopic dry skin."
Swimming in the ocean can uniquely heal dermatitis, help keep eczema skin soother and less inflamed, and may prevent future flare-ups.
Can saltwater make eczema worse?
But salt water can also make eczema symptoms worse. So while it may help improve your skin condition in the long run, seawater can be painful, especially if you have a flare-up.
Salts in ocean water can really sting if your skin is already broken and irritated. In that case, an excellent solution to keep reaping the healing benefits of seawater is to apply a thick layer of vaseline on your skin before jumping in the water.
Is sand good for eczema?
While parents enjoy lying down on a hot sandy beach, kids are usually extremely enthusiastic about playing in the sand. However, sand can be aggressive and negatively affect skin with eczema or atopic dermatitis. It can cause skin abrasion and trigger eczema. Besides, it sometimes contains trapped moisture or bacteria.
A 2015 study from China found that exposure to dust sand may cause atopic dermatitis-like symptoms.
Ultimately, most people find sand irritating and scratching. But it may also have a well-appreciated exfoliating and peeling effect on dry or dead skin, which can help keep your skin soother and healthier.
Is the sun bad for eczema?
Once again, there's no universal answer here. While some people find that sunlight helps improve their dermatitis skin condition, others see their symptoms worsening drastically in the sun.
An intense sun may cause sunburn, leading to skin inflammation that can trigger an eczema flare. The excess sweating may also contribute to worsening eczema symptoms.
On the other hand, some studies found that a sunlight vitamin D deficiency may be associated with atopic eczema.
Nothing is ever all right or all wrong. You’ll also have to see for yourself if exposure to sunlight impacts your eczema negatively or positively.
Whether living with eczema or not, everyone should protect their skin from the sun, especially during summer and at the beach. The main issue for people with atopic dermatitis is to find a sunscreen that suits their sensitive skin. Mineral-based fragrance-free sunscreens containing titanium, zinc oxide, or dioxide are usually a success, but it may take some trial and error to find the one that works best for you.
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Tips For a Beach Day With Eczema & Dermatitis
Because of all the possible trigger factors that it implies, the beach can be a hostile environment for people with eczema. But it does not mean you or your kids can't enjoy your summer days! The key is to be well prepared. Here's a series of tips for enjoying the beach with atopic dermatitis and avoiding the worst eczema triggers:
- Apply a thick layer of moisturizer or skin emollient
- Avoid too much sun (bring an umbrella, sun shelter, sun tent, or stay in the shade as much as possible)
- Wear a long-sleeved swimming shirt or UV-blocking clothes
- Wear a sunhat
- Wash your swimsuit before and after wearing it
- Don’t stay too long in your wet swimsuit (bring dry spare clothes)
- Consider wearing swimming googles and a swim cap
- Find a sunscreen that does not irritate your skin.
- Rinse the sand off your skin before reapplying sunscreen
- Always rinse with fresh water after swimming in salt water
- Bring a yoga mat or a beach mat to avoid too much sand
- Take ice packs to apply or inflamed skin
- Park the car in the shade
- Take a shower as soon as you get home
- Moisturize your skin after the shower
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Share your tips with us below! What's your must-have for beach days with eczema?
 Proksch, E., Nissen, H.-P., Bremgartner, M. and Urquhart, C. (2005), bathing in a magnesium-rich Dead Sea salt solution improves skin barrier function, enhances skin hydration, and reduces inflammation in atopic dry skin. International Journal of Dermatology, 44: 151-157. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-4632.2005.02079.x
 Takeshita, S., Tokunaga, T., Tanabe, Y. et al. Asian sand dust aggregate causes atopic dermatitis-like symptoms in Nc/Nga mice. All Asth Clin Immun 11, 3 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13223-015-0068-y
 Palmer DJ. Vitamin D and the Development of Atopic Eczema. J Clin Med. 2015 May 20;4(5):1036-50. doi: 10.3390/jcm4051036. PMID: 26239464; PMCID: PMC4470215. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4470215/