By Lilly-Rose Paraskevas, MD, GalTime Dermatologist
Eczema is a chronic and temperamental condition. It comes and goes and its course often depends on environmental exposures. The weather plays a big role. Some people's eczema gets worse in the summer as they sweat more, as sweat can irritate the skin. For most people with eczema, though, the cold, dry weather in turn dries out their skin, which causes their eczema to flare.
Eczema is essentially a barrier dysfunction of the skin; alleviating eczema means helping restore this barrier. Here are some tips to restore your skin's barrier:
1- Don't over-bathe.
Be aware that long, hot showers, although they can feel great, dry out the skin. This compromises its barrier function leading to scaly and itchy skin. Keep showers warm and short. Moisturizers should be applied after pat-drying. If you have been prescribed a topical medication by a dermatologist, apply that medication first, and then the moisturizer over the medication.
2- Choose your soap wisely.
The soap used when you shower can also make a big difference. The best soaps that are the least drying are Dove and Cedaphil. Try to avoid scrubbing and soaping your entire body, unless it is soiled and you need the mechanics of the soap to wash the dirt off. The areas that need to be soaped every time you shower are the armpits, groin, feet and any skin folds.
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No matter how severe a person's eczema, creams are essential to restore the barrier function of the skin. Eczematous skin has a decreased amount of ceramides, a component of the outermost layer of the skin that helps maintain this barrier. There are certain moisturizers that contain ceramides to aid in their replenishment; my favorite is Cerave. It's not greasy and heals skin beautifully.
My other favorite is Vaseline, petroleum jelly. It has no ceramides but has an incredible ability to sooth eczematous skin, especially when used on damp skin. It is so good at healing skin that it is commonly applied to surgical wounds to speed healing. Creams that restore the skin's barrier also can alleviate itching.
Because very dry winter air in turn dries out the skin, humidifying the home, if possible, can help relieve one of the stresses eczematous skin must face in the winter.
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Besides the cold weather, other factors can be at play. Emotional stress is a well-known cause of eczema flares. Stress causes a shift in immunity and this can make skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis worsen. In the fall, the return from summer vacation back to work or school can contribute to an eczema flare.
If you have eczema, be sure to schedule a visit to your dermatologist every fall to set your regimen that will help your skin through the winter. It is also an opportunity to get your annual skin cancer check as well, when your summer color has faded.
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