Eczema and Outdoor Fun: How to Keep Flares at Bay

by Rachel Zohn Health Writer

Hiking, camping, skiing, and other outdoor adventures sometimes feel daunting due to the abundance of potential allergens that can trigger rashes and irritation. But you shouldn’t let your eczema impede you from taking part in activities you love. Dr. Howard Brooks, a dermatologist with SKIN Cosmetic Dermatology of Georgetown in Washington, D.C., shared simple tips with HealthCentral that can help keep your eczema under control so you can stay active and enjoy the world around you.

Tourist woman wearing a sun hat.

Remember to take time for self-care

Even in the midst of fun outdoor activities, it’s important to maintain your normal routine of self-care, including moisturizing and hydrating your skin. Stay on guard as to which ingredients are in the products you use. Remember to wear lightweight, sun-safe clothes to protect against UV rays and to change out of wet or sweaty garments or swimsuits as soon as you can to avoid irritation. Drink plenty of water. But most of all, enjoy yourself and have fun!

Man applying sunscreen at the beach.

Fragrance free sunscreen for sensitive skin

Eczema-prone skin can be more vulnerable to sun damage, so it’s vital to slather on moisturizer or sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater. Take care to use fragrance-free products made for sensitive skin. Sunscreen labeled for babies or children often are safer as they typically have fewer irritating ingredients, Dr. Brooks said.

Woman reading ingredients label on a bottle of lotion in a store.

What to look for in a sunscreen

Look for a sunscreen that uses a physical block like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide as these are usually less irritating to skin. Other “good” ingredients to look for include ceramides and cholesterol esters. The National Eczema Society also has a list of sunscreens that have received its Seal of Acceptance.

A woman applying lotion onto her hands.

Test out products ahead of time

Plan ahead for an outdoor outing: test any new products you plan to use ahead of time, such as a sunblock, moisturizer or bug spray. Apply a small pea sized amount to your wrist or the inside of your elbow. Let it stay on your skin for 24-48 hours and watch for any reaction such as redness, rash or itchiness.

Stack of clean washcloths.

Quick, targeted showers are best

Skip the hot shower in favor of a quick rinse with a focus on cleaning private areas and the face, Dr. Brooks said. If you are camping and showers aren’t available, don’t fret! Skipping a shower is OK. You can try using sensitive skin wipes to freshen up, or a soft washcloth and bottled water for a sponge bath in a pinch. And always moisturize when you’re done.

Couple drinking coffee while sitting in a tent.

Tents, sleeping bags and itchy skin

Tents are known for being stuffy and not always well ventilated, which can make for a sweaty and itchy night’s sleep. Some newer tents have built-in fans to keep air circulating but another simple fix is to get a battery operated portable fan. You can use this while sleeping or to help cool down during the day. And when it comes to sleeping bags, make sure you add a breathable and washable cotton liner (and, wear lightweight clothes to sleep in).

Woman spraying her legs with bug spray outside of a tent.

Keeping bugs at bay

Bug bites, and the itchiness they can cause, can wreak havoc on eczema-prone skin, but many insect repellents also cause irritation. What to do? Take these steps:

  • Use just enough spray repellent to cover clothing and exposed skin.
  • Only use on healthy skin. Avoid broken or irritated skin.
  • Wash repellent off when you come inside at night.
Woman underneath a mosquito net.

Alternatives that may help keep insects away

Some people have found that wearing wrist or ankle bands infused with DEET causes fewer problems than spray repellant. You can try using DEET-free products but be aware that these may have varying levels of effectiveness. If products irritate your skin too much, try wearing breathable long sleeve shirts and pants with socks during the day and use a mosquito net at night while you sleep.

Man swimming in the ocean.

Take a healing dip in the ocean

If you are spending a day at the beach, make sure to take a dip in the ocean, Dr. Brooks said. While the sun and the sand may be irritating, the magnesium found in sea water has been shown to have healing properties for eczema-prone skin. So dive in and enjoy, just cover up when you get out. And if you can’t get to the ocean, an Epsom salt bath can also help.

Couple sitting on a dock at a lake.

Beware of broken skin and warm lake water

If your skin is broken or severely irritated, you may want to reconsider swimming or wading in a warm stream or lake water. Some bacteria can flourish in warmer water, and if your skin is cracked or flaring, it may be more susceptible to a skin infection, Dr. Brooks said.

Man skiing down a snowy slope.

Cooler temps can also cause flares

When temperatures drop, you may plan beautiful autumn hikes or organize a trip to hit the slopes with the first snowfall. But cooler weather also brings dry air that can suck the moisture out of already parched skin.

Remember to:

  • Wear soft, breathable fabrics like cotton or silk
  • Dress in layers that can be easily removed during strenuous activity
  • Moisturize and apply an SPF 30 or greater to exposed skin
  • Take off any wet items, such as socks, hats or gloves when you come inside
Rachel Zohn
Meet Our Writer
Rachel Zohn

Rachel Zohn is a mom, a wife, and a freelance writer who is striving to find the best way to juggle it all and maintain a sense of humor. She is a former newspaper reporter with a deep interest in writing about all things related to health, wellness and the human body. She enjoys writing about various health topics, including skin conditions such as eczema, different types of cancer and seasonal allergies.