9 Top Tips for Traveling With Eczema—Minus Any Flares!
Unless you’re one of those “throw everything in your bag 10 minutes before leaving” types, every trip requires advance prep. Traveling with eczema? It's prep on steroids: a little more oomph and (maybe) a bigger suitcase. From products to clothing to bedding and more, our no-stress survival guide will help you pre-plan and pack right to ensure, as much as possible, a flare-free trip.
Create a Packing List
It might sound silly, but seriously—grab your laptop, do some research, and type it up! Ashley Wall, a freelance writer who has eczema, always checks out the details (air conditioning, accessibility to laundry) of the place she’ll be staying. What you bring may change depending on whether it's a hotel, hostel, or Air B&B — access to a washer and dryer, for example, means you won’t have to overpack. As Wall does, also be sure to scope out your destination’s forecast in advance. Every person responds differently to climates, says Francesca J. Fusco, M.D., an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. Your eczema may be fine in cold weather, while others do better in warm temps.
We’ve all hoarded hotel minis at one point (because: cute). But when you have eczema, hotel products are typically off-limits. “They may be highly fragranced, which can lead to skin irritation and flare-ups and do more harm than good,” says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Even shampoo and conditioner could cause inflammation if they drip down onto your skin. Always bring your own skin-care products, including cleansers, moisturizers, and any special treatments, like an over-the-counter cortisone cream. Wall travels with an “arsenal of moisturizers” from light to heavy, so she will have exactly what she needs no matter what.
Flying has a bad (yet earned) rep for making skin dry. With eczema, this additional parching can cause further aggravation. Apply an extra layer of moisturizer on your face and body before leaving for the airport. Then, says Dr. Fusco, “I have patients with eczema pack a mini spray bottle of water and go to the bathroom mid-flight, spritz their skin, and apply moisturizer immediately after.” She also suggests spiking your (drinking) water bottle with a powder that contains vitamin C, like Emergen-C, to boost your immune system while traveling.
Bring Your Own Sheets
Don’t rely on hotel or rental-home sheets to be gentle enough for your skin. Many people with eczema are sensitive to fragrance, which is typically found in commercial detergents used at hotels. Plus, there’s the fabric factor — you want lightweight sheets that help absorb moisture and sweat, which means materials like cotton, silk, bamboo, or jersey, says Marisa Garshick, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City. So, as annoying and bulky as it may be, it’s best to bring your own sheets and pillowcases. If Wall can’t fit hers into her suitcase, she packs pajamas with long sleeves and pants to cover as much skin as possible.
Control the Indoor Air
By adding moisture into the air, and thus into your skin, a humidifier is a helpful friend for the eczema-prone. But traveling with a full-size version isn’t always an option (did we mention packing your own sheets and products?). Dr. Fusco recommends a small model (like this Homedics one) that uses an inverted water bottle—which, despite its size, still hydrates well. Alternately, you can fill the tub with steaming water or run a hot shower for a few minutes to add moisture to the air.
Be Ready for Chilly Temps
Cold weather may put a strain on already sensitive skin by drying it out, says Dr. Zeichner. Wall packs clothing that is warm but comfortable, including cotton pajamas and thermals to layer underneath her regular clothes. Some typical “warm” fabrics can be irritating because they trap heat and feel rough on the skin, including flannel, wool, fleece, and polyester. Wool is one of the biggest culprits—it can lead to itchiness and serious discomfort.
Don't Sweat It
And we do mean that literally. If you’re headed to a toasty, sunny place—hashtag jealous—make sure to pack lightweight, loose-fitting clothes that allow your skin to stay cool, says Dr. Garshick. Cotton is a safe bet, as it’s soft and generally non-irritating. Synthetic fabrics (like nylon, rayon, spandex, and polyester) should stay at home. Even if these materials tout “moisture wicking” capabilities, they can actually lock in heat and sweat, pissing off your skin. Prevent additional inflammation from sweat by taking lukewarm (instead of hot) showers and slathering lotion on damp skin right after. Thicker ointments in this climate — sometimes, they can trap heat on an area that has been sweating. Read: not comfortable.
Use Proper Protection
Everyone should be sunscreen-ing daily (hello!), particularly those with eczema, for whom UV rays can worsen inflammation. Dr. Garshick recommends choosing sunscreens with physical blockers, like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, as they are less likely than chemical sunscreens (avobenzone, for example) to cause skin distress. If you miss a spot or forget to reapply and get a sunburn, avoid skin “soothing” products with fragrance—they can bother and dry out skin even more. To help heal the burn, use a basic body wash, like Dove Deep Moisture Nourishing Body Wash ($8.99), followed by a gentle moisturizing cream, such as CeraVe Moisturizing Cream ($11.19). And, of course, stay out of the sun as much as possible until your skin has healed.