The cold of winter combined with the heating of homes dries out our skin. Gor many people, this constant change in temperature means a resurgence of eczema. This inflammation of the skin, which is sometimes intensely itchy, can cause a severe reaction and irritability in family members who have it. To learn more about eczema and ways to adapt your habits and routines to better cope with it, here are some recommendations.
How to recognize eczema
Eczematous skin has difficulty retaining moisture. When it gets dry, it gets irritated, causing red patches and itching that may get worse. It is an autoimmune disease—a dysfunction of the immune system - so it cannot be passed on from person to person. It is also called “atopic dermatitis.”
Eczema: from childhood to adulthood
Atopic eczema is the most common form of eczema. According to the Canadian Dermatology Association, 17% of Canadians will have it at some point in their life. The onset of symptoms often occurs in the very first months of life, when the skin fails to protect itself from its environment. This type of eczema affects many children before the age of five. Fortunately, flare-ups become less frequent and subside over the years, and generally disappear during puberty. The earlier eczema is treated in toddlers, the better chance of preventing it from continuing over time. In some cases, however, atopic dermatitis persists into adulthood. Even though it is not contagious, eczema can be inherited and triggered by an outside factor, such as the sun, pollution or stress.
Some people are affected by contact eczema, an inflammation caused by direct contact with an irritant or chemicals like soaps, detergents, perfumes, solvents, nickel, etc. More fragile skin has difficulty protecting itself from external stimuli.
This disease is more difficult for younger people to manage because it is challenging to prevent them from scratching. And because the scratching worsens the situation, it quickly becomes an infinite loop. Symptoms typically seen in children are the same as in adults - dry, rough skin, red patches, more commonly in the joints, chest, back, hands and cheeks. When the eczema becomes infected, you will see yellowish lesions or scabs. Itching can also cause trouble sleeping and irritability. In adults, eczema attacks can affect morale, sleep and the ability to perform daily activities.
How to relieve eczema
There is no definitive cure for eczema, so prevention is essential. Since it is essentially an issue of dry skin, the best approaches are gentle cleansing and hydration, to help the skin store as much moisture as possible. There are several simple solutions that will improve the condition of your skin or that of your child.
Bathe in lukewarm water
First, be aware that water that is too hot dries out the skin. Limit the duration of the bath to 10 minutes at most. Despite its moisturizing effect, water also removes the skin’s natural oils.
You can add colloidal oatmeal to the bath a few minutes before soaking in it. Oats have the property of softening the skin and reducing itching. People with eczema should bathe or shower every day, but only wash the areas that really need it so as not to unnecessarily irritate the skin.
Use a mild, fragrance-free soap
Since the skin is sensitive, it is better to choose a mild soap intended for eczema, sensitive skin or is hypoallergenic. The Canadian Dermatology Association recommends liquid cleansers instead of products offered as bar soaps because they are less abrasive and easier to rinse off. As soon as you get out of the bath, rub unscented moisturizer on the body.
Avoid friction and synthetic fibres
Avoid rubbing the skin with a bath towel, for example, and choose clothing made of soft fabrics, such as fine cotton. Avoid wool and synthetic fibres. Sheets, blankets and towels should also be made of soft, natural fabrics.
Choose the right laundry products
Opt for a fragrance-free laundry detergent and avoid fabric softeners, as they tend to irritate the skin.
Maintain the right humidity level in your environment
Maintain the proper humidity level in your home. Dry environments are great places to rekindle eczema. During the winter, due to heating, the air in homes becomes dry. It can be helpful to run a humidifier to keep the humidity around 40%. It is also very important to clean the device regularly to avoid the proliferation of fungi or bacteria in the water.
Moisturize when going outside
When you go outside, apply a moisturizer to your face to protect it from the cold and wind.
If you have difficulty avoiding scratching, dress in long clothing so you don’t have access to itchy patches. This tip is very useful for children. Not seeing it helps to prevent or decrease the urge to scratch.
Keep fingernails short to prevent creating lesions that could bleed or become infected. For babies, mittens are useful, especially during periods of sleep. Some adults prefer to wear small gloves overnight, as many often scratch themselves without realizing it.
In some more critical cases, a doctor may prescribe a medicated cortisone cream. It helps reduce inflammation of the skin. It is important to follow the dosage carefully since this product thins the skin and whitish spots may appear when in the sun.
Hydration, hydration, hydration
Since hydration remains a major factor in reducing the symptoms of the disease, you should focus on finding the right cream that will meet your skin's needs. Once you've chosen the product, always have it close at hand, whether at home, the office, the daycare, in the car, at grandparents' homes, etc. If you find that you or your child is scratching a lot at a specific time of the day, consider moisturizing the skin a little beforehand to reduce the risk of itching.
Some products available bear the Eczema Society of Canada (ESC) Seal of Acceptance1
Our selection of products
CETAPHIL RESTORADERM – NOURISHING BODY WASH
Clinically proven to help soothe the itching and irritation caused by dryness. Featuring Miracare® cleansing technology, the soap-free foaming action gently cleanses and delivers nourishing oils that enhance the skin's ability to retain moisture.
AVEENO BABY – ECZEMA THERAPY NIGHTTIME BALM
Relieves your baby's itchy skin before bedtime with the soothing power of colloidal oatmeal. This unique balm intensely hydrates the skin and strengthens the skin's natural moisture barrier.
GLAXAL BASE – MOISTURIZING CREAM
Glaxal Base Moisturizing Cream effectively relieves and protects against dryness, cracking and chapping associated with certain skin conditions, including eczema. The cream adds a protective layer to the skin's surface, which reduces water loss, dramatically increases moisture content, and helps replenish and maintain the skin's moisture barrier.
DUCAY SENSINOL – PHYSIO-PROTECTIVE TREATMENT SHAMPOO
This gentle and soothing shampoo calms the most sensitive scalps. Its hypoallergenic formula soothes itching as of the first use and brings immediate comfort.
LA ROCHE POSAY LIPIKAR BALM AP+
A formula that rebalances the skin microbiome, soothes the skin and reduces scratching. It nourishes the skin and restores the skin barrier. It is formulated for babies, children, and adults with very dry skin, prone to eczema or allergies.
EUCERIN ECZEMA RELIEF – FLARE-UP TREATMENT
Oatmeal cream formula to soothe itching, containing Ceramide 3 and Licochalcoma A*, which relieve irritation of dry skin. It provides a soft and refreshing sensation and is suitable for babies (from 3 months), children and adults.
BABY DOVE – TIP TO TOE RICH MOISTURE WASH
A hypoallergenic, tear-free, unscented baby wash and shampoo that helps leave the skin hydrated, soft and smooth.
BABY DOVE – WIPES
Created to cleanse and protect, baby wipes help keep your baby's delicate skin clean and soft.
Eczema is a skin disease that varies in intensity from person to person and in any case, expert advice is welcome. If the frequency or intensity of eczema attacks increases, do not hesitate to take pictures and then consult a pharmacist. You will be able to show pictures of the itchy patches if they are less visible during your consult, and you can ask for advice on products available over the counter.
1- Products bearing the Seal of Acceptance, including personal care products and laundry products, may contain potential irritants at levels considered negligible for most people. Some people with eczema may still not tolerate certain products or ingredients. In rare cases, people may be allergic to specific ingredients that are well tolerated by others. The ESC recommends choosing products according to your healthcare provider’s recommendations.
The Eczema Society of Canada (ESC) Seal of Acceptance does not constitute medical advice and is based on scientific data that existed at the time it was granted.