In places where winters are cold, the air — both outdoors and indoors — zaps your skin of moisture. When you quickly move from the warm air of your home to outside, or vice versa, water evaporates from your skin, drying it even more. When you have eczema, this can mean flare ups, with dry patches of thickened, inflamed skin, and chronic itchiness.
There isn’t a cure for eczema, but there are effective treatments and at-home remedies that you can use to help reduce the itchiness and discomfort. Here are 10 tips to help get you through the winter.
Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. And when you are done, moisturize some more. During the winter months you should be using a thick cream or emollient on your skin. These will not only help to moisture your skin but also will help protect it from the cold air and wind when outdoors. When choosing a moisturizer, be sure to check the label. You want to stay clear of fragrances and other additives that can irritate your skin. The fewer ingredients listed on the bottle, the better. For best results, moisturize after a warm bath or shower.
Use over-the-counter products for itch relief. Some people find that taking an antihistamine can help relieve itching. This does not help the dry patches of skin, but if you are having trouble sleeping because of the itch, this medication might help.
Protect your hands when outdoors. When you have eczema on your hands, you could experience cracks in the skin, peeling, and even blisters. Wear gloves every day during the winter months. Not only do gloves protect your hands, they help retain moisture. Look for a soft, leather glove and avoid those containing wool as it can irritate your skin.
Use a humidifier indoors. For areas of the country where you must use a heating system to stay warm, be sure to pair it up with a humidifier. With some heating systems, you can have a whole house humidifier installed that will automatically keep moisture in the air. With other systems, you will need a standalone humidifier. Run a humidifier in each room where you spend extended time, such as the living room, kitchen, and bedroom.
Skip the long, hot showers, and baths. It does feel wonderful to soak or stand in steaming hot water, especially when it is cold outside. But when you use hot water, it tends to evaporate quickly from your skin, leaving it dry. Instead, take short, warm baths or showers.
Check your soaps and cleansers. Avoid the antibacterial soaps and scrubs. Opt for a face and body cleanser that is soap free to help reduce dryness. Check labels before buying to avoid fragrances and other additives that can irritate your skin. Besides body and facial soaps, check your laundry detergent to make sure it is fragrance-free and mild.
Change wet clothes immediately. If you get stuck in the rain, have been shoveling snow or playing outdoors in the snow, make sure to change to dry clothes as soon as you go inside. Wet or damp clothes increase evaporation, which can irritate your skin when the clothing rubs against it.
Wear sunscreen. Even though the sun in winter is not as strong or as hot as it is during the summer months, you can still get a sunburn. This is common if you are shoveling snow on a sunny day, as the sun reflects off the snow. It might seem strange to apply sunscreen when the temperatures are freezing, but it helps to protect you now and in the future.
Use breathable fabrics. Certain fabrics, such as wool and nylon, can be irritating against your skin, but they also can cause you to overheat, which might cause a flare-up. Dress in soft cotton clothing. Use layers when dressing and remove the top layers when indoors to avoid being too hot. Look for 100 percent cotton sheets, blankets, and towels to avoid irritation and allow the fabric to breathe so you don’t overheat while sleeping.
See your dermatologist. Over the counter and at-home remedies can help, but if your eczema doesn’t improve or worsens, talk to your dermatologist. Prescription medications, including topical steroids, can help relieve the itch. You should notice improvement within two weeks of using topical steroids. If you don’t, contact your doctor to discuss other options.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of Idiot's Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot's Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love and Essential Guide to Asperger's Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.