Winter Skin Tips
Depending on where you live and what time of year it is, the temperature and weather your skin are exposed to will vary significantly. Generally speaking, human beings enjoy being at a consistent ambient room temperature of 20-22 degrees Celsius, as this range allows us to maintain our core body temperature without any additional stress. When temperatures get significantly above or below these values, our skin is at risk of experiencing environmental damage and injury. For people with eczema, these risk factors are dramatically increased, as they already have pre-existing impaired integrity of the outer layers of their skin.
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.
Here are some ways to counter winter’s effects on your eczema symptoms:
- Moisturise Moisturise Moisturise. Acting as a protective layer for dry and irritated skin, moisturisers can provide the additional support your skin needs to begin the healing process. For people living with eczema, sticking to a regular moisturising routine is essential to keep their skin from getting so dry that it cracks. Ask your Dermatologist for suggestions to make sure you’re using the best product for your skin.
- Keep your home ambient temperature at a comfortable level When you come home from a busy day, having a space that is set to a comfortable temperature can help to reduce the risk of a flare-up. Setting your home temperature to hover around 20-22 degrees Celsius can help to reduce profound temperature jumps and prevent unneeded stress on your fragile skin.
- 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. Topical steroids are usually recommended for use twice a day, to be applied when the skin is slightly moist – right after cleansing.
- Protect your skin from the 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 a topical 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 gloves. Buy a variety of gloves in different fabrics for different weather conditions.
- Take off wet items. Gloves, shoes, socks, hats, and outerwear all can get wet quickly from rain. Don’t let eczema skin be 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 moisturise as soon as possible.
- Dress in comfortable fabrics. Fabrics such as wool can be very irritating to eczematous skin. Choose soft fabrics (even synthetic ones) or cotton clothing. It’s important to keep your temperature level by wearing layers that can be added or removed as necessary.
- Avoid harsh detergents. Make sure to launder clothes 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.
- Clean up the right way. Frequent bathing or hot showers or baths can strip your skin of natural oils. Avoid deodorant bars, antibacterial soaps, perfumed soaps, and skin care products containing alcohol. Instead, use warm water and soap free wash or hypoallergenic bath oil, or just use your moisturiser as a body wash. Limit your showers or baths to no more than 10 minutes, pat dry, and moisturise while your skin is still damp.
- Avoid Winter Bugs. Being unwell, such as having a common cold, can make eczema flare. Bacterial and viral infections can also make it worse. For instance, the bug Staphylococcus will make skin yellow, crusty and inflamed while having a cold sore virus can cause a sudden painful flare-up.
- Buy a humidifier. During the cold winter months, the air both inside and outside becomes exceptionally dry. Capable of drying out the outer layer of our skin, this dry weather can cause significant discomfort and irritation for someone living with eczema. Because of this, it is highly recommended that eczema patients use a humidifier in their homes (especially where they sleep) to add some extra moisture into their air and skin. Research has shown that regular use of humidifiers during dry times of the year has had an overall positive impact on eczema flare-ups.
- Avoid scalding hot showers. As tempting as it may be to draw yourself a super-hot shower or bath when it is cold outside, this extreme temperature may actually be causing more damage to your skin. Hot water, especially hot water from a shower that is hitting your body at a high velocity, can actually cause significant damage to the outer layer of your skin. For those living with eczema, this heat can cause significant skin drying, which in turn leads to more irritation and itching.
Symptoms from winter skin conditions are often self-limiting and resolve on their own with adequate protection from the cold. But if symptoms do not resolve, you should see a licensed Dermatologist, as cold-induced rashes may be a sign of a more concerning underlying health condition.
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.