For most people, eczema flares come and go.
Several factors team up to make it more common during winter. Cooler air, wind and a decrease in humidity can all dry out skin and the loss of moisture can cause your eczema to flare.
Often, people find that their eczema gets particularly bad on parts of the skin that they expose to the elements in winter, for example, their hands and face.
Eczema is individual and we all have different triggers. Most of us find summer (due to the heat) rather than winter worse, but there are others who are completely the opposite. Because eczema sufferers’ skin produces fewer fats and oils, it can’t protect effectively against bacteria and irritants. This means everyday substances such as soap, bubble bath and washing-up liquid can make skin irritated, cracked and inflamed.
A range of treatments and home remedies can tackle winter flare-ups of eczema or prevent rashes and itchiness.
Avoid Rapid Temperature changes. When the skin is experiencing big changes in temperature it starts to feel dry and itchy. In winter our skin keeps jumping back and forth between temperature extremes. Avoiding these abrupt temperature changes can reduce eczema flare ups.
Moisturise Moisturise Moisturise. Maintain the treatment plan your Dermatologist recommends. You should be washing with a moisture-rich soap free wash or it’s a good time to change to a sensitive skin bath and shower oil, and moisturise your skin at least twice a day. Look at using something heavy duty such as an ointment.
Always carry moisturiser and apply it liberally several times a day to protect the skin from cold, dry winter air.
Humidify dry air. You might need a humidifier inside your home, especially if you use forced-air heat during the winter. If you do use a humidifier, use distilled water and clean the machine’s parts regularly (at least every few days). Keep the house not too warm and not too cold, with humidity between 45 and 55 percent. This can stop the skin from cracking and becoming irritated. Sitting in front of fires or radiators are no-nos.
Drink plenty of water. Keeping your body hydrated can help keep your skin hydrated. Drink at least eight glasses of water per day. This will help moisturise your skin. Those eight glasses can include cups of tea, coffee, hot chocolate, or your other favorite warm winter beverage. Slice up lemons or other citrus fruits and add them to the water for a mild flavour.
Clean up the right way. Because heat can cause your skin to dry out, you should avoid taking very hot baths or showers in winter. Instead, use warm water, and try to bathe or shower less frequently. Add moisturising products to the bath or just use your moisturiser as a body wash. Avoid deodorant bars, antibacterial soaps, perfumed soaps, and skin care products containing alcohol. Limit time in the bath as well and only take baths that are 5 to 10 minutes long. Pat your skin dry and moisturise while your skin is still damp.
Take off wet items and keep the skin dry. Gloves, shoes, socks, hats, and outerwear all can get wet quickly from rain and snow. Always practice good hygiene after getting wet and don’t let eczema skin have contact with damp clothing if you can avoid it. Cold and damp can encourage fungal growth and make eczema worse.
Use topical steroids. 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 as sometimes you need to use a stronger strength to manage winter flares.
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.
Wear gloves outside. Protect your hands and wrists by wearing a variety of fabric gloves for different conditions.
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. If you do get sweaty, rinse, pat dry and moisturise. Layer so you can control your comfort level.
Dress in comfortable fabrics. Choose soft fabrics (even synthetic ones) or cotton clothing. It’s important to keep your temperature level even by wearing layers that can be added or removed as necessary.
Choose the correct bedding fabrics. Layer thin cotton blankets on your bed for temperature control and ensure bed linens are made from breathable fabrics. Snuggling under a heavy doona can contribute to overheating and overnight itchiness.
Avoid harsh detergents. Make sure to wash clothes, bedding and towels in a detergent that is specifically designed for sensitive skin, free of dyes and perfumes. Also avoid softeners unless they are hypoallergenic for sensitive skin.
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.
Control allergens. If you know that you tend to get an eczema rash around specific allergens or triggers, maybe it’s a food allergy or that dust mites or pet dander aggravate your skin, continue to take steps to manage the allergens.
Hand washing. Frequent hand washing in hot water can strip your skin of natural oils. Instead, use warm water and soap free wash or a moisturising lotion. Dry hands thoroughly and moisturise. Keep a pump moisturiser near your taps and try to moisturise your hands after every handwash.
Avoid Winter Bugs. Being unwell, such as having a common cold, can make eczema flare. Bacterial and viral infections can also make it worse. Look after yourself and try to avoid family and friends who are sick.
If you create a daily routine with these tips in mind, the itching, pain, and rash caused by eczema should improve this winter.
The information in this article was obtained from The National Eczema Society & The British Association of Dermatologists & healthline.com
This Information Sheet is provided as a service by the Eczema Association of New Zealand Inc to give up-to-date, practical help on certain types of eczema or a particular aspect of its treatment. These Information Sheets are part of our membership package.
It is not the policy of the Eczema Association of New Zealand Inc to recommend or endorse any product or treatment.It is part of the role of the Association to provide information on a wide range of products and treatments to keep those involved with eczema as fully informed as possible as to all options available. For medical advice, consult your health professional.