Eczema is more than just an itch and can be especially pervasive during the winter months. The good news is that eczema flare-ups can be treated and prevented, as can the redness, rashes, and inflammation caused by this chronic condition. Here’s everything you need to know to prevent eczema symptoms from showing up.
What is eczema?
Also known as atopic dermatitis, eczema is one of the most common skin conditions around. Although it can affect people of all ages, babies and children under the age of 5 are most prone to the condition, namely because of their sensitive skin. Fortunately, symptoms tend to improve over time, although they can still be unpleasant.
During an eczema flare-up, red patches can show up anywhere on the body, including the hands, feet, thighs, ankles, cheeks, forehead, and neck. As anyone who has ever had eczema will tell you, the condition stings, itches, and is bothersome (especially at night)!
In addition to itching and red patches, eczema can cause other symptoms, such as the following:
- Dry, irritated, or weeping skin
- Dry scabs
- Scaling (e.g., the shedding of dead skin)
However, it should be noted that eczema is not contagious and you can’t contract the disease by touching the red patches on another person’s skin. So what triggers an eczema flare-up, then? Let’s investigate.
Causes and triggers of eczema
Although it can be difficult to determine what causes eczema exactly, we know that genetics and environment have a role to play. In other words, if either of your parents has ever experienced atopic dermatitis, there’s a good chance you will too.
Eczema flare-ups can also be caused by the following:
- Certain irritating fabrics, such as wool or synthetic materials
- Certain soaps, perfumes, or scented skin products
- Chlorinated pool water or seawater
- Certain atopic diseases, such as asthma
- Seasonal and food allergies
- Some laundry detergents
- Low humidity
- Excessive sweating
- Water that is too hot
- Major stress
One thing is certain: whatever eczema is caused by, your skin plays a key role in preventing this condition by acting as a barrier that protects the body from irritants, germs, and other foreign substances in your environment. To do its job, however, your skin needs to be intact, healthy, and well hydrated. In fact, this is your first course of action to prevent and treat eczema!
Moisturize your skin
Even if you’re not experiencing irritation, your skin still needs to be moisturized to keep eczema at bay. But first, let’s examine the difference between dehydrated skin (which lacks water) and dry skin (which lacks sebum). The products we use to treat dehydrated skin are not the same as those we use to treat dry skin.
To tell these two conditions apart, keep in mind that dry skin is characterized by a lack of oil on the face, whereas dehydrated skin is characterized by desquamation (a shedding of the outer layers of the skin) or a feeling of tightness and discomfort.
To prevent eczema and keep your skin hydrated, consider adopting the following habits:
- Drink plenty of water
- Use a mild cleanser
- Apply a hydrating moisturizer to your skin after you take a shower or bath
- Avoid oil-based moisturizers and lotions (dehydrated skin already has enough oil).
For intense relief, keep your favourite skin cream in the refrigerator. The cool feeling against your skin is extra soothing!
Identify and avoid possible triggers
Pollen, pet dander, mould, dust, dust mites, a poor diet . . . all of these can potentially trigger or exacerbate an eczema flare-up! It’s important to identify your eczema triggers so that you can avoid them whenever possible. Your pharmacist can help.
Take short, lukewarm showers or baths
Soaking in a hot bath can be extremely invigorating at the end of a cold winter day, but it’s not a good idea if you’re trying to prevent or treat eczema. The reason for this is simple. Bathing in water that’s too hot can destroy your skin’s lipid barrier, which is the top layer of your epidermis that allows your skin to stay hydrated.
In addition to decreasing the water temperature, we recommend adopting the following practices:
- Limit baths and showers to 10 minutes
- Rid your skin of any irritants, deposits, and/or allergens
- Use unscented hypoallergenic soap
Don’t forget to moisturize immediately after bathing!
Use a humidifier
Winter means dry weather, and dry weather often triggers to eczema flare-ups. As we’ve already mentioned, low humidity causes the skin to become dehydrated, which can lead to eczema. If it feels like your home may be too dry, consider using a humidifier in your bedroom, your children’s rooms, and any area where your family spends a lot of time.
Make sure to clean your humidifier filter frequently to remove any dust or mould that might promote asthma or allergies (and therefore eczema!).
Most importantly, avoid scratching
We know, we know . . . Eczema is itchy and you want to scratch. But listen. Even if scratching makes you feel momentarily better, you need to resist the urge to do it! Scratching does nothing to help, and it will even make things worse by exacerbating any damage or redness you’re experiencing. In fact, it will only make you feel itchier.
Scratching your eczema creates a vicious cycle of itch, scratch, rash. You feel itchy, you scratch, you get temporary relief, but the rashes only get worse. In other words, scratching does the opposite of what you’re looking to achieve.
Instead of scratching, it’s better to rub or pinch your skin.
Opt for 100% cotton clothing
Cotton is a comfortable fabric that lets the skin breathe and helps prevent irritated skin, which makes it a great choice if you’re prone to eczema flare-ups! In general, you should always choose light, breathable fabrics that don’t rub against or scratch your skin, especially when exercising or doing sports.
Conversely, many synthetic fabrics (spandex, polyester, chlorofibre) and materials such as wool, hemp, or linen are irritating to the skin and can cause eczema flare-ups.
Adopt stress management techniques
Eczema can often be treated and prevented by adopting better stress management techniques. It’s been shown that stress and anxiety can be harmful to the protective functions of your skin, which can lead to eczema, psoriasis, acne, and other skin problems.
Anything you do to reduce your stress levels can be helpful!
- Stay active
- Get enough sleep
- Adopt healthy eating habits
- Prioritize your tasks and delegate when needed
- Stay positive
Excessive heating decreases humidity levels, which dehydrates the skin and causes eczema flare-ups. Overheating can also make you sweat, which irritates the skin even more. Therefore, you should avoid turning the heat up too high in your home during the winter months. Instead, make sure to keep your room on the cool side at night and use light bedding, preferably made of cotton.
Choose facial and body care products carefully
Cosmetics, soaps, hair products, perfumes, scented lotions, and shaving creams can all contain ingredients that irritate the skin and promote eczema flare-ups. Therefore, before using them regularly, we recommend that you patch test these products by applying them to a small area of your skin and waiting 24 hours. This is a great way to check whether the product will cause you to have a skin reaction.
And of course, your pharmacist is always available to help you make an informed decision!
Your eczema toolbox
No more scratching and eczema flare-ups! Head to your nearest Brunet location. Our team will help you make the best choice.