Winter means warm meals, cozy blankets, and another log on the fire. But it also means a dry, overheated home, which can significantly aggravate eczema symptoms. Heater air affects humidity levels, which in turn disrupts the skin's hydration balance. According to Jeffrey Fromowitz, MD, "One of the most significant flaring features is dry skin; this can occur during winter months when the heat is on and the air is low in humidity. Moisturizing your skin regularly as a proactive measure can be effective in reducing the outbreak of eczema." Check out these other need-to-know eczema facts.
This highly hazardous chemical is actually more common than you'd think. According to the National Eczema Association, "Formaldehyde is in many places including household disinfectants, vaccines, glues and adhesives, cigarette smoke, and embalming fluid. Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are in personal care products such as cosmetics, and may trigger some individuals who are allergic to formaldehyde." If you've been experiencing unexplainable flare-ups lately, scan all nearby products to reduce potential exposure. (Watch out for these six toxic ingredients that you might be using every day.)
Any extreme temperatures—hot or cold—or sudden weather changes can dehydrate your skin, leaving it cracked and agitated. According to Bobby Buka, MD, "The cause of eczema is a missing protein called filaggrin, which is the glue that ties skin cells together. Without filaggrin, the skin cells are loosely joined, and much-needed moisture more readily evaporates from the skin. When the temperature is either too hot or too cold, it throws off the homeostasis of eczema patients whose skin barrier is already impaired." The main aim should be to maintain an even skin temperature and apply moisturizer as a barrier.
While a nice hot shower or bath may feel great, it's not doing your skin any favors. Prolonged exposure to hot water can strip the skin of natural oils, causing angry and inflamed patches. In fact, Dr. Buka suggests that people with any type of atopic dermatitis limit their water exposure to ten minutes or less; also, try to settle for cool or lukewarm water. After you bathe, apply moisturizer to your damp, towel-dried skin to help lock in hydration. (Here's the healthiest temperature for your shower, according to science.)
The food-and-eczema connection is a bit murky, but there are a few obvious no-nos, says Dr. Buka. "Avoid foods you are allergic to, and it's a good idea to stay away from food and drinks high in sugar. Sugar has been directly linked to eczema flare-ups thanks to its role in insulin levels and inflammation," he explains. Because inflammation is such a strong trigger for eczema, Dr. Buka strongly encourages patients to adopt a diet rich in fiber—it helps tamp down inflammation.
Unfortunately, most detergents will irritate your eczema: A residue builds up in your clothes, towels, and linens over time, according to Jennifer Roberge, founder of The Eczema Company. "This means clothing, towels, and bedding washed in detergent can expose the skin to an unfavorable alkaline environment all day and all night long." Try using detergents designed for sensitive skin, and consider running laundry through a second rinse cycle to remove any soapy residue.
Dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse MD, FAAD recommends strongly that you avoid soaps with any fragrance. "The label should say 'fragrance-free,' not 'unscented.' Unscented products use a masking fragrance to get rid of the scent. For soaps and skin care products, look for ones that reinforce a normal skin pH to help maintain a healthy, intact skin barrier." If you're looking for a pleasant scent, check out these essential oils and natural fragrances.
When you're tense, your stress hormones trigger inflammation that can irritate your skin. According to Hal Weitzbuch, MD, MS, FAAD, founder of JuveTress, "Stress alters our body's natural innate steroid levels, which affect our immune system and how it reacts. In general, higher stress levels correlates with worsening eczema." Avoiding stress isn't always possible, but you can learn to manage your response: Check out these 37 ways to relieve stress fast.
Ingredients in sunscreen—oxy and avobenzone—can aggravate your skin and lead to excessive itching. According to Victoria A. Cirillo-Hyland, MD, "If this is the case, stay cool in the shade. Always wear physical sunscreens, like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which tend to be less irritating than chemical sunscreens." (Here are the top sunscreens dermatologists actually use.)
"Friction is your enemy when you have dry, irritated skin," says Adria Ali, founder of Everyday Essence and Skin Therapy. "The rough textures can be like sandpaper to the surface of your skin. To stop the cycle of irritation, avoid abrasive clothing such as wool, mohair, and polyester." Choose clothes made with a loose weave and breathable fibers to avoid flare-ups. On the plus side, you now have an excuse not to wear that scratchy sweater you got for Christmas.