Skin affected by eczema has a hard time retaining moisture. As a result, it becomes dry, which causes itchiness and discomfort. Winter is a tough season for eczema sufferers because cold air outside combined with indoor heating dries skin out even more.
Here are a few tips to incorporate into your routine and habits, to help you live more comfortably with eczema.
Cleanse your skin gently
If you have sensitive skin, it’s best to avoid regular soaps, as they are likely to cause irritation. Opt instead for a gentle soap or cleanser with the mention “eczema soap,” “for sensitive skin,” or “hypoallergenic” on the label.
According to the Canadian Dermatology Association, liquid soaps are preferable to bars of soap as they are less abrasive (they rub less against the skin) and are easier to rinse.
Take lukewarm baths…
When you soak for a few minutes in the bath (or shower) your skin absorbs water. Five to ten minutes is sufficient. The water temperature should be comfortably warm, but not hot.
You may wish to add colloidal oatmeal to your bathwater. Oatmeal has soothing properties that help relieve itching.
Do not add scented products like bath oils, which can irritate sensitive skin.
People with eczema should bathe or shower daily, but wash only those areas that really need washing, e.g., genitals, armpits, face, hands, and feet, to avoid irritating sensitive skin unnecessarily.
Avoid rubbing skin dry with a towel. Instead, pat skin gently until slightly damp.
… then apply moisturizer
Apply moisturizer immediately after bathing or showering in order to trap moisture in the skin. Reapply at least once again during the day (morning or evening, as per your usual routine).
Do not stop moisturizing your skin between flare-ups, as properly hydrated skin withstands irritants better, which will help reduce the intensity and frequency of eczema flare-ups.
If you suffer from hand eczema, apply moisturizer any time your hands get wet.
Choose the right moisturizer
Moisturizers act by creating a barrier that retains moisture in the skin, making it more supple and reducing itchiness.
The most effective moisturizers are ointments like petroleum jelly. Since they can leave an oily film on the surface of the skin, it can be more convenient to use them in the evening, when you can wait longer before getting dressed again.
Moisturizing creams are a good option in the morning, as they are absorbed faster. Oil-based creams are recommended, as they have greater moisturizing properties than water-based creams.
Lotions are not a good choice for relieving eczema as they have limited moisturizing properties.
Your pharmacist can help you choose the right product for your needs.
Avoid environments that dry out your skin
Dryness is the worst enemy for eczematous skin. In winter, when the air inside homes becomes very dry due to indoor heating, it is a good idea to use a humidifier in the bedroom, to maintain moisture levels at around 40%.
Opt for a humidifier that is easy to clean, and wash it regularly to avoid the growth of mold or bacteria in the water.
When you do outdoor activities in winter, apply moisturizing cream to your face to protect your skin against the drying effects of cold and wind.
Be aware of fabrics that come in contact with skin
The fibres in fabrics can rub against your skin and cause irritation, which is why it is recommended you choose soft, natural fabrics like cotton or silk as opposed to those with a rougher texture, like wool and nylon.
Sheets, blankets, and towels should also be made from soft, non-irritating materials.
Choose the right laundry detergents
Laundry detergents and fabric softeners are two of the most common causes of skin irritation that can trigger eczema flare-ups.
Opt for hypoallergenic, unscented laundry detergent, and avoid the use of fabric softeners (sheets or liquid).
Running your laundry through a second rinse cycle helps reduce the amount of soap residue on clothing.
Keep your fingernails short
During eczema flare-ups, the urge to scratch that red rash can be overwhelming, as the itchiness is often intense. Avoid scratching as it will only aggravate the situation by breaking the skin, which can lead to bleeding or infection.
People who suffer from eczema often scratch themselves without even realizing they’re doing it, for example, when they’re concentrating on a task, or while they’re sleeping. To reduce the impact of scratching, keep your fingernails short, and file them regularly to a smooth finish. You can also try wearing light cotton gloves at night.
Ask for advice
If, despite your best efforts, your eczema is affecting your quality of life, talk to your pharmacist or doctor about it. In some cases, a medicated cream may be needed to control your skin condition.