Ah, winter. ‘Tis the season for cozy sweaters, crackling fires, mugs of hot cocoa — and eczema flare-ups. Sigh.
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But winter doesn’t have to equal itchy-skin misery. If you or your child has eczema, take steps this winter to keep flare-ups at bay.
Why is eczema worse in cold weather?
There are different types of eczema, which affect people of all ages. The most common variety is known as atopic dermatitis.
Atopic dermatitis affects 1 in 10 Americans, causing patches of extremely dry, itchy, inflamed skin. Sometimes it can appear scaly or crusty. Whatever form it takes, the itchy rashes can drive you crazy and even keep you up all night scratching.
For most people, eczema flares come and go. Several factors team up to make it more common in the cooler months, says dermatologist John Anthony, MD. “Cold air, wind and a decrease in humidity can all dry out skin,” he says. “That loss of moisture can cause eczema to flare.”
Tips for preventing seasonal eczema in winter
Eczema can be tricky to prevent because it affects everyone differently, Dr. Anthony says. “There’s not one answer that works for every person.”
But these tips can help to ward off winter flares.
Use a humidifier
“When temperatures plunge, the relative humidity goes down,” Dr. Anthony says. “Using a humidifier in the house can help put moisture back into the air.”
“Many of my patients find their eczema isn’t so bad in summer. But when fall and winter arrive, they really have to double down on their moisturizing efforts,” Dr. Anthony says.
He recommends applying moisturizer right after you get out of the bath to lock in moisture when skin is still damp. “Petroleum jelly or heavier creams tend to work better than lighter lotions or gels,” he says.
Skip the scents
Fragrances in lotions or laundry detergents can irritate skin, leading to a flare. Bypass the aromatic options and choose fragrance-free varieties instead.
Turn down the heat
When the mercury dips outside, a steamy shower can feel like a treat. But it might make things worse. “Hot water can take protective oils out of the skin and cause inflammation,” he says. “It’s better to bathe in water that’s comfortably warm, but not hot.”
Protect exposed skin
Winter eczema on the hands is a common problem. In winter, eczema often crops up on the hands and face since they’re frequently exposed to cold, dry air. Cover up with gloves and scarves when you’re out in chilly, windy weather.
Consider your clothes
Exposure to cold air can cause a flare but dressing too warmly isn’t the answer. Bundling up in overly warm clothes can make you sweat. And damp, sweaty clothes sitting on your skin can also irritate eczema.
“You have to find a balance,” Dr. Anthony says. If you’re doing something active and expect to sweat, choose quick-drying fabrics. Lightweight, breathable cotton clothes can be helpful, but you might want to avoid thick cotton sweaters, which stay soggy if you sweat.
He also recommends avoiding wool since it’s often itchy and irritating to the skin. Scratching at your skin can cause open wounds that lead to infection, making things worse. “With eczema, do whatever you can to avoid itching,” he says.
Ask for help
You have a humidifier running, take lukewarm showers, wear moisture-wicking fabrics and slather on the moisturizer. And you still have out-of-control eczema? It’s enough to make you scream. One of the many frustrating things about the condition is you can do everything right and still get a flare.
“Everything you do to protect your skin is useful, but eczema can still break through,” Dr. Anthony says. “If that’s the case, talk to your primary care doctor, pediatrician or dermatologist. There are prescription therapies we can use to help get eczema under control.”