Ten Winter Tips to Reduce Eczema Flares in Adults and Children
Winter can be a difficult time for people that suffer from eczema. Between the dry air and the harsh temperatures, flares can become more frequent during this time of the year. Experts offer advice for adjusting your skin care treatment plan to reduce the severity of eczema flare-ups.
Eczema – or Atopic Dermatitis – is a long-term condition that involves scaly and itchy rashes due to a hypersensitivity reaction in the skin. It is suspected that people with eczema lack certain proteins, which leads to greater sensitivity. The disorder is most common in infants, beginning as early as age 2 to 6 months. Many people outgrow it by early adulthood.
In addition to allergic triggers (pollen, molds, and dust mites), contact with irritants, and stress, the cold dry air of winter can make eczema symptoms worse. And this can lead to significant health problems.
“With eczema, the skin can become very dry, itchy and crack, which lets in germs that can cause skin infections,” said Amanda Friedrichs, MD FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist. “With treatment, the protective barrier of the skin can be restored. Good skin care can go a long way in helping the skin heal and prevent infection.”
Identifying yours or your child’s personal eczema triggers and avoiding those as much as possible is an important first step to preventing flares. Other tips for caring for the skin in winter include:
• Moisturize daily. Vigilantly maintain the treatment regimen your dermatologist recommends. You should be washing with a moisture-rich soap (without any added fragrance) and moisturizing your skin at least once, but possibly twice a day, says Pamela Fletcher CNP with the department of dermatology at the University of Cincinnati. Thick creams or petroleum jelly (such as Vaseline or Aquaphor) are usually the best options for eczema skin care, but if that doesn’t work, you might need to use more expensive moisturizers containing ceramides, a component of the epidermis (outer layer) of the skin which provides a protective barrier. When the ceramide levels are low, skin has difficulty retaining moisture. Curel Skincare makes several products containing ceramides.
• Humidify dry air. You might need a humidifier inside your home, especially if you use forced-air heat during the winter. Use distilled water and clean the machine’s parts regularly. “You should keep the house not too warm and not too cold, with humidity between 45 and 55 percent,” recommends Fletcher.
• Protect your skin from winter sun. Use a sunscreen of at least 30 SPF on any skin that will be exposed when you go outside. Be sure to use sunscreen for sensitive skin, and check the label for any ingredients your skin may be sensitive to. Perfumes, lanolin and other ingredients can worsen eczema rashes.
• Wear gloves outside. Protect your hands and wrists by wearing gloves. Buy a variety of gloves in different fabrics for different weather conditions. If gloves, hats, socks or other winter-wear becomes wet from snow or rain, take them off as soon as possible. Don’t let eczema skin remain in contact with damp clothing if you can avoid it.
• Avoid sweating. You want to dress warmly when you are out and about to protect your skin, but at the same time, don’t overdress. Sweaty skin can trigger a flare-up of eczema symptoms. Try layering so you can control your comfort level. If you do get sweaty, rinse off, pat dry, and moisturize as soon as possible.
• Dress in comfortable fabrics. “Fabrics such as wool can be very irritating to eczematous skin,” says Fletcher. Choose soft fabrics (even synthetic ones) or cotton clothing. Wash new clothes before wearing to remove excess dyes and fabric finishers that can irritate the skin.
• Avoid harsh detergents. Make sure to launder clothes in a detergent that is specifically designed for sensitive skin, free of dyes and perfumes. Use only the recommended amount of detergent and just enough water for adequate rinsing. Also avoid softeners, other than chemical-free dryer sheets.
• Stay away from smoke. Whether it’s wood smoke from a fireplace (the heat of which is also drying to skin) or cigarette smoke at a holiday party, smoke may exacerbate eczema symptoms.
• Bathe in warm water. You may be tempted to use hot water for a bath or shower, especially when you come in from the cold. But hot water can dry out skin. Use warm water and limit tub time to only 5 or 10 minutes. Do not use bubble-bath and make sure cleansers are mild and fragrance-free. After bathing, gently pat the skin until partially dry and then moisturize.
• Use topical steroids, if prescribed. If you have a flare-up, use the steroid cream recommended by your dermatologist. If an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream isn’t helping enough, ask your dermatologist about switching to a prescription-strength formula. Topical steroids are usually recommended for use twice a day, to be applied when the skin is slightly moist — right after cleansing.
“Good skin care is a key part of gaining control of your child’s eczema,” said Dr. Friedrichs. “If skin care has not been a regular part of your child’s treatment, you should make an appointment for your child to see a board-certified dermatologist."
American Academy of Dermatology
PubMed Health, National Institutes of Health