If you get the dry, itchy patches of skin known as eczema, you’ve probably noticed that they’re more likely to flare up as the weather gets cool. Here are some tips for preventing those flare-ups, and for managing when they do happen.
It’s important to remember that eczema is not contagious, so you don’t have to go out of your way to avoid other people. (There are other rashes in this world that are contagious, though, so if you have a rash and you’re not sure where it came from, get it looked at.) Eczema flare-ups occur when your skin is exposed to an irritant or allergen, and then your immune system overreacts. So preventing eczema involves avoiding triggers and taking care of your skin to minimise irritation.
When to moisturize to prevent eczema flare-ups
Dry skin can trigger eczema, and it can also be more susceptible to being irritated by other triggers. This can end up as a vicious cycle: Many people who are prone to eczema have dry skin, and the dry skin makes them more likely to develop eczema.
The National Eczema Association recommends applying moisturizer after you bathe and any time your skin feels dry or itchy.
Bathe often to prevent eczema flare-ups
You don’t want irritants on your skin any longer than necessary, so take a bath or shower every day. For the best skin-soothing effects, use lukewarm water and choose a gentle cleanser. Look for one that’s made for sensitive skin and that has a low pH (meaning it’s slightly acidic).
Sweat can be an eczema trigger, so make sure to shower after workouts as well. Some people even dial back the intensity of their workouts during an eczema flare-up to minimise the skin’s exposure to sweat.
Consider your eczema triggers
It’s worth figuring out what specific things tend to make your eczema flare up. This list will be different for everyone, but this list of common triggers might be useful as a starting point. Metals (for example, in jewellery) are one common culprit. Clothing made of wool or certain synthetic fabrics can be triggers, too.
Personal care products are a potential source of triggers, too. If you’ve been moisturizing religiously and your eczema seems to be getting worse, check what’s in your lotion. For example, I found out the hard way that I’m allergic to lanolin, which is in a lot of “soothing” creams meant for extremely dry skin.
I know it’s hard to do, but don’t scratch
Scratching an itchy patch of skin can break the skin open and make it more susceptible to infection. Infected skin can, in turn, be more itchy and inflamed, and susceptible to further triggers.
So, if it’s at all possible not to scratch, don’t. Wet wrapping the skin can be soothing. Bleach baths, with only as much chlorine as swimming pool water, are another way to manage the itch. (The chlorine can help if your skin is infected, but the National Eczema Association recommends consulting with your doctor before using a bleach bath for the first time.)
Consider asking about medication (and use it consistently)
If moisturizing and avoiding triggers aren’t enough to keep your eczema in check, consider asking your doctor about stronger options. There are medications that can help tame eczema flares, as well as other treatments like phototherapy.
If you are prescribed a medication, use it as directed, which often means applying it before a flare-up gets bad. Because irritation can lead to worse eczema and vice-versa, you’re best off stopping that cycle before it gets started.