Eczema is an inflammatory skin disorder, characterised by patches of itchy, red and cracked skin. Will catching some rays help or hinder the skin condition?
Clinical immunologist Dr Daniel More states that there is increasing evidence that moderate sun exposure can alleviate symptoms of eczema.
Generally, research points towards vitamin D – created when rays of sunshine hit the skin – having something to do with it.
It’s thought that vitamin D helps “modulate immune function in the epidermis” – the outermost layer of skin.
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An increase in vitamin D levels lead to an increased production of an amino acid.
Specifically, cathelicidin is the amino acid which helps to trigger the body’s innate immune response.
Dr More adds: “People with eczema characteristically have low concentrations of cathelicidin in the skin.”
He explains that low levels of cathelicidin also contributes to an increased risk of bacterial, viral or fungal colonisations.
Even if these microorganisms don’t cause an infection, their increased presence may worsen eczema symptoms.
The NHS states the signs of infection to look out for in eczema-prone skin.
For instance, eczema could worsen and fluid may ooze from the skin.
Moreover, small yellowish-white spots may appear, or a yellow crust on the skin.
It’s not uncommon for the skin to become swollen and sore, and some people may experience feeling hot and shivery, as well as generally feeling unwell.
Dr More cites a 2017 study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
The research team found that exposure to UV light (from sunshine) causes the release of nitric oxide into the bloodstream.
Nitric oxide triggers an anti-inflammatory response by activating a T-cell.
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T-cells regulate the immune response and help to stop it from overreacting.
As eczema is theorised to, in part, be caused by an exaggerated immune response, an increase in T-cells hypothetically would reduce eczema symptoms.
The mounting evidence supporting the benefits of some exposure to sunlight for eczema has led to one treatment option.
Light therapy, also known as phototherapy or ultraviolet light treatment, uses a device to expose skin to controlled bursts of UVB or UVA rays.
This treatment is offered by dermatologists, and is offered when topical steroids and immunomodulators don’t work successfully.
Dr More suggests: “Natural sunlight is considered safe for people with eczema when exposure is limited to 10 to 30 minutes several times per week.”
He adds: “People with darker skin may need more to see any relief of eczema symptoms.”
However, Dr More warns that excessive sun exposure may cause more harm than good, and can exacerbate eczema symptoms.
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