Cold air, harsh winds, and indoor heating can wreak havoc on your skin if you have eczema. Symptoms usually get worse this time of year, and you may notice more frequent flare-ups than you experienced during the summer.
Sometimes called the “winter itch,” winter eczema causes not only dry skin, but more flaking and itching. You may wish you could shed your skin and take on a new one!
Fortunately, there are things you can do to help your skin to cope with the harsh environmental conditions.
10 Ways to Treat Winter Eczema
1. Avoid long, hot baths and showers.
That hot water feels wonderful in the winter, but it’s not good for your dry skin, especially if you spend significant time in it. Hot water washes away your skin’s natural oils, leaving you dryer after you emerge and making flare-ups worse. Try to stick to lukewarm water most of the time.
2. Get the humidifiers going.
Dry air sucks moisture out of your skin, making your eczema worse. Even if it’s snowing outside, the humidity is probably lower than it is in the summer in most locations, as colder air brings lower humidity. To help counteract this effect, place a humidifier in your bedroom and in other rooms where you spend a significant amount of time. By adding moisture to the air, you help prevent the air from stealing that moisture from your skin.
3. Moisture moisture moisture.
You may have put on moisturizing lotions or creams once a day in the summer, but now you need to step it up, significantly. In fact, if your skin is suffering, you’d be wise to pack moisturizer with you wherever you go, and apply regularly throughout the day.
It’s equally important that you choose the right moisturizer. Most over-the-counter products contain petrolatum and alcohols that can actually make dry skin worse. Look for products with natural oils and butters that will penetrate skin and actually add moisture. Our Calming Moisture and Body Repair Lotion are great options!
4. Dress in layers.
That heavy sweater may feel great while you’re out in the snow, but then when you go into the restaurant or office it can quickly get too warm. Overheating and sweating are two of the most common triggers for itching, so choose options that you can put on and take off as needed to avoid getting too warm.
5. Check your clothing for itchy fibers.
While you’re piling on your clothing layers, check the fibers, too, as some can trigger itching more than others. Wool is a common itch-trigger, so if it bothers you, choose other options. Loose threads and rough seams can have the same effect. Some people are allergic to leather gloves, so consider getting some silk liners to make them more comfortable. Cotton is usually the most comfortable option.
Whatever fabrics you wear, make sure you’re washing them in a gentle detergent. Harsh detergents that aren’t designed for sensitive skin are loaded with dyes and perfumes that can irritate and cause itching. Look for those made specifically to be gentle and fragrance-free, and avoid softeners. Choose chemical-free dryer sheets instead.
6. Keep temperatures constant as much as possible.
You may have noticed that when you get out of bed in the morning, your skin itches. Or when you go from the cold outdoors into a warm indoor area, you itch. Changes in temperature can trigger itching, so it’s best to keep temperatures constant.
Set your thermostat at an even level in all rooms of your house. Add layers of blankets to your bed so you can peel them off as needed. Avoid sitting right in front of fireplaces or radiators. Think “even temperature” wherever you go.
7. Eat and drink to hydrate.
You may have eaten a lot of fruits and vegetables in the summer, but in the winter we tend to gravitate to “comfort foods” like casseroles and stews. You can help hydrate your skin from the inside out by drinking at least eight glasses of water a day, and eating more leafy greens and other hydrating foods like apples, tomatoes, kiwis, celery, radishes, peppers, berries, and melons to your daily diet.
8. Get fish on your plate more often.
Salmon, mackerel, sardines, and other types of fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help tame inflammation and prevent eczema flare-ups. Several studies have linked these fatty acids with improvements in the skin dryness and inflammation.
In one study, measures of eczema improved by about 23 percent over eight weeks after consuming omega-3 fatty acid supplements. Other good sources include flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, oysters, and anchovies.
9. Reduce stress.
Research has found a link between stress and eczema flare-ups. According to the National Eczema Association, when we experience a stressful situation, “the body goes into fight-or-flight mode and responds by increasing production of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. But when the body produces too much cortisol, it can suppress the immune system and cause an inflammatory response in the skin. People living with skin diseases like eczema are particularly susceptible to this inflammatory response.”
It’s near impossible to avoid stress entirely, so try to work some stress-relieving activities into your daily routine. Good options include exercise, time with friends and loved ones, journaling, meditating, yoga, engaging in enjoyable hobbies, spending time with a beloved pet, and craft work.
10. Choose safe products.
Your moisturizer isn’t the only product you want to make sure has natural and safe ingredients. Check your other skin care products, too, and your makeup, as they can all contain preservatives, fragrances, and other chemicals that can make your eczema worse.
There are many brands of natural and organic body washes, hair products, and makeup products available now on the market. If you notice itching and you’re not sure why, check out the ingredient lists on the products you’re using. If you see a bunch of words you can’t pronounce or don’t understand, consider swapping those out for more natural alternatives.
How do you manage eczema in winter?
Barcelos RC, et al., “Oral supplementation with fish oil reduces dryness and pruritis in the acetone-induced dry skin rat model,” J Dermatol Sci., September 2015; 79(3):298-304.
Stephen Daniells, “Omega-3 DHA shows promise against eczema,” NutraIngredients, June 1, 2008, https://www.nutraingredients.com/Article/2008/06/02/Omega-3-DHA-shows-promise-against-eczema.