Multiple studies on sunbed usage across the world have been undertaken over the past few years, and one of the most interesting and consistent findings is that those with skin conditions such as eczema use tanning beds more than those without skin concerns.
This leads to the question, ‘are sunbeds good for eczema?’.
Eczema & Phototherapy
A rapidly emerging treatment for psoriasis is known as phototherapy. Now available on the NHS, it involves exposing the skin to UVB light to help reduce the appearance of the disease’s classic symptom of scaly-looking skin. The promising results of this treatment suggests that phototherapy may also have a positive effect on symptoms of eczema.
And there’s no shortage of research to support this theory. Studies have already found a direct link between both UVA and UVB light exposure and disease activity in eczema patients. While the results were greatest with exposure to UVB light, both types successfully reduced disease activity to a degree that symptoms were minimised.
This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to anyone suffering with eczema. Many often find that symptoms such as itchiness, dryness, and skin cracking reduce significantly during the summer months, or when holidaying in a sunny destination.
Exploring the UV-Eczema Link
So how exactly does UV light help reduce the symptoms of eczema? According to the NHS, it all comes down to UV’s ability to minimise inflammation. Eczema flare ups are widely understood to be the result of an ‘over the top’ immune response to common triggers such as hayfever, food allergies, harmless substances like soaps, stress, and hormonal changes, creating inflammation. Suppressing the immune system to prevent or reduce the occurrence of these inflammatory reactions is believed to be the key.
Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition, with the National Eczema Association noting that, in those with eczema, inflammatory cells and markers can be found not only in the affected inflamed skin, but also in unaffected surrounding skin, and even in the blood.
Environmental factors such as levels of natural light have long been understood to play a role in inflammatory disease. But what exactly is it about UV light that can help?
Interestingly, some researchers believe that it’s not the light itself that helps, but the Vitamin D that the body naturally produces following exposure to UV light. This idea is backed up by studies which have found that the immune-suppressing activity of UV light can be replicated with Vitamin D supplementation, suggesting that the effects are at least partially due to greater levels of Vitamin D, rather than the UV light itself.
Do Sunbeds Have the Same Effect?
While it is clear that UV light can benefit eczema sufferers, the question still remains: are sunbeds good for eczema? And the answer appears to be - in moderation - yes.
With studies finding that UVB sunbeds can produce Vitamin D in humans, regardless of whether the inflammation-reducing effects of sunlight are due to the UV rays or the increase in Vitamin D, there seems to be no reason why a sunbed wouldn’t produce similar results. And more and more research is being published that shares this belief.
In fact, one study concludes that sunbeds ‘represent a more convenient means to obtain UV exposure when office phototherapy is not feasible’. The researchers found that 3x weekly at-home tanning sessions were just as effective at managing the symptoms of eczema present on the hands as 2x weekly phototherapy treatments.
Sunbeds: Miracle Cure for Eczema?
It is clear that sunbeds can present a very effective way to reduce the symptoms of eczema. However, they’re not a miracle cure. Sunbeds won’t work for everyone, and some studies have found that a small number of people see a flare up after a session.
Those with very severe eczema may also be unable to use the sunbed as often as they need to keep their symptoms under control, especially if they have very light skin. More information about safe tanning times for different skin types can be found here.
Sunbeds are best used as a supplementary treatment alongside any prescribed medications such as emollients and topical corticosteroids, and in conjunction with good self care and daily practices, such as avoiding scratching and known triggers.