The cold, dark, windy and wet winter months can herald difficult times for people with eczema. The colder temperatures lead us to switch on the central heating, wear warmer clothes and develop coughs and colds. All of this conspires to make our skin dry and uncomfortable leading to exacerbations of eczema.
Eczema is a medical skin condition where your skin has a tendency to be dry. It is characterised by redness, swelling, itching and cracking of the skin. Unfortunately, moving between the cold outdoors and the hot and dry conditions inside can worsen eczema.
Below are a few tips to integrate into your routine to help keep your skin happy at this time of year.
1. MOISTURISE, MOISTURISE, MOISTURISE!
If you have eczema it’s so important to do everything you can to keep your skin moist. Even applying a thin layer of emollient before and after your shower will help to protect your skin from drying out. Try to apply a generous amount cream or lotion on your skin. If you have particularly dry skin, look for a thicker moisturiser, use a cream rather than a lotion and consider using an oil-based product intermittently. Oil effectively protects against moisture loss and ointments are especially beneficial in dry cold conditions. Try to carry your go to cream or ointment with you! Your skin could dry up anywhere, and you’ll thank yourself next time you’re prepared.
2. KEEP THE TEMPERATURE STEADY
One of the problems in the winter is the frequent transition between extremes of temperature. It’s a challenge but if you can keep your skin at a steady, constant temperature as far as possible it will help to avoid flares. For example use warm rather than hot water while bathing and take shorter showers and baths. Also try to peel off some of your layers of clothing as soon as you can when you go inside!
3. TRY TO HUMIDIFY
When we turn on the central heating or have a fire the air becomes dry the humidity level drops. Low humidity can dry out your skin further and a proportion of patients with eczema find a home humidifier helps to prevent their skin drying out too much. A home humidifier can be as simple a bowl of water in the corner of a room (don’t forget to change the water regularly to stop bacteria thriving). If you want to invest in a humidifier cool mist humidifiers are considered safest. You may find it very helpful in preventing when your skin is dry in the winter.
4. GOODBYE SOAP, HELLO pH 5.5
It’s best to avoid alkaline soaps and surfactant based cleansers as they can dry out your skin. Seek out a soap substitute with a pH of 5.5; it will be much kinder on your skin and won’t take you any more time to use. Consult with your dermatologist if you’re struggling to find the right one for you.
5. DRESS TO IMPRESS YOUR SKIN
Some materials like wool and nylon can really irritate skin and cause overheating with flares up your eczema. Dress in breathable materials, such as cotton, and avoid wearing too many thick layers (if you do, make sure it is an outfit where you can remove layers if you get warm). This applies to your bed too, make sure you have soft breathable linens, and no unnecessary layers to disrupt your sleep. Clothes will often become wet from the rain or snow, be sure to remove them as soon as you can, especially if directly in contact with areas of your skin affected by your eczema, such as your hat or socks.
6. HANDS NEED GLOVES
If your hands are affected by your eczema, protecting them from the cold air is crucial in this whole process. Wear gloves made from a gentle fabric for example, cotton, and keep them warm.
7. TAKE A BLEACH BATH
Bleach baths are known to help control eczema. Why? There is a bacteria called Staphylococcus Aureus (Staph for short) that colonises everyone’s skin no matter how much they wash! In people with eczema the coloniser Staph causes extra mischief by exacerbating skin dryness, redness and itch. Try half a cup of household 5% bleach to a full tub of water and soak for 10 mins to reduce the number of colonizers that might make your eczema flare. There are different recipes for bleach baths on the internet so you can experiment. Limit the baths to twice a week, don’t submerge your head in the bath and avoid getting the bleach in your eyes!
8. GIVE YOURSELF TIME TO RECOVER
Coughs and colds are inevitable at this time of year. Such infections are likely to precipitate flares of eczema. Flares will settle faster if you give yourself time to recover from the winter viruses that visit us all.
9. IF YOU ARE STRESSED, SO IS YOUR SKIN
If you have eczema you more than likely know that anxiety and stress are common triggers for eczema. Exacerbations of eczema then create more anxiety and stress, which may lead to more active eczema! Make time for the things that relieve your stress, make you feel relaxed and happy. It will all help your skin at the same time.
If your eczema is severe or if your skin shows signs of infection (weeping, pain, crusting) you should seek help from your GP or dermatologist. There is medication you can consider, steroid creams to treat your symptoms, and other alternative treatment options.