Eczema is a condition some of us have had in childhood when our skin was young and more delicate. Yet, as the skin builds its natural barrier and resilience, many of us grow out of eczema. Unfortunately, it is a condition that can reappear later in life and, if it’s going to reappear, it’s very likely to be in winter.
Winter eczema is very common and found in people of all ages. It is caused primarily by the dry winter air and our skin facing more extreme changes in temperature. Some will experience only mild symptoms whereas others might suffer more.
Those who experience eczema will probably tell you that resisting itching is the biggest challenge. Fortunately, I have some great tips and advice on relieving itching, how to prevent winter eczema, managing the symptoms of winter eczema and the best treatments for eczema too.
What Is Eczema?
Eczema is a term used for a variety of skin conditions that cause the skin to become dry and itchy. This can present as rough patches, dry areas and even cracks in the skin. Inflammation is also a common symptom and causes redness in lighter skin tones and brown, purple or ashen tones in darker skin. Eczema can also be caused or exacerbated by allergies.
How To Prevent Winter Eczema
Prevention is always my first course of action and there is much that can be done to reduce the possibility of eczema returning in the winter months. Unfortunately, it may show up regardless of prevention measures but getting into the following habits will at least lessen the symptoms:
Wrap Up In Winter (but not too warm)
Skin exposed to the elements tends to suffer the most from Eczema flare-ups. The cold and wind can be harsh on the skin, particularly on our face and hands. So, one of the best things you can do is to cover it up.
A full balaclava may be tempting right now, given how bitter the weather is, but a hat, scarf and gloves should be sufficient. Go for something soft to be kind to your skin and yourself. Cotton is a far more skin-friendly fabric than wool, polyester and nylon which can overheat the skin and therefore trigger irritation. If you do have a preference for wool though, opt for merino wool which is free of harsh chemicals and gentle on the skin. Remember, wrapping up to protect your skin is about covering it not heating it because you don't want to allow your skin to get too hot or to sweat.
Easy On The Temperature Changes
I’m actually quite a fan of winter. I don’t mind the cold but I do love a warm home, a hot bath or a hot shower. Like many people, I return home from a brisk, awakening, chilly winter walk and am very tempted to stand with my back against the radiator sipping on a hot cup of tea. This may be very hygge and much in line with my wellbeing needs but it’s not great for the skin. Eczema tends to flare up in winter because modern living means we experience the cold of the outdoors and then the warmth indoors and the blessed gift of hot water. It’s not so much the cold weather that irritates the skin, but the constant, and sometimes dramatic, temperature changes.
You can ease this by slowing down a little. When you come in from outside, give your body time to adjust to the warmth. Turn the heating right down whilst you are out and raise it again when you get home. This means your skin is heating with the home rather than being plunged straight into a completely different environment. You should also shed layers more gradually as you warm up and resist the temptation to clutch your hands around a hot mug of tea.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll also enjoy a bath hot enough to cook rice in and a shower that paints red lines across your skin. Hot water turns our skin red though as a warning sign. One that should be considered, particularly by those prone to eczema. Water that is too warm can strip skin of its natural oils. It is your natural oils that are responsible for the skin barrier that eczema attempts to penetrate. So it’s also wise to skip saunas and steam rooms too - sorry. You should also ensure your skin is warm before you take a shower or bath because the cooler your skin is, the more that warm water will aggravate it.
Eliminate The Irritants
Sufferers of eczema tend to also be prone to allergies. This means your skin may be more sensitive to certain products and materials. This can include lotions, soaps and perfumes. As always, natural products are best for avoiding harsh chemicals. However, it is still possible for a natural ingredient to be a trigger for eczema so pay attention to the products you’re using and their effects on your skin. Unfortunately, the results are rarely instant. You could begin to itch or the skin may dry out some time after having used a particular product. So the best way to tell is to only ever change one product at a time. This way it is a process of illumination. Equally though, you need to give your skin a little time to adjust to new products and there is a difference between an allergic reaction and purging, the latter of which is not necessarily a bad sign when trying a new product on your skin. Read more about How To Tell If My Skin Is Purging.
Other irritants can include fabrics. As mentioned, some synthetic fibres and wool can exacerbate eczema symptoms. This is because they tend to overheat the skin. Breathable cotton is a better alternative and vegan-friendly fabrics, such as hemp and bamboo, are also known to be gentler on the skin.
Eczema dries out the skin. It then becomes itchy and the skin’s barrier breaks down making it more sensitive to conditions, products and materials. Therefore, one of the best things you can do to relieve or prevent winter eczema is to keep your skin moist. Oil-based moisturisers are ideal because they lock in the skin’s natural oils helping it to keep itself hydrated and defended from irritants.
Water, particularly warm water, can also dry out the skin, which is why we often apply moisturiser after a shower or bath. However, if you’re doing the washing up or an activity where your hands are in water for a time then you may rub a little oil onto your skin. This will form a protective waterproof barrier over your skin and reduce dryness.
How To Treat Winter Eczema
Eczema can require medical treatment if the symptoms are severe. This includes:
- If itching is regularly causing the skin to crack
- If the symptoms are affecting your sleep
- If you suspect you may have developed a skin infection
- If you have tried other methods of easing eczema and it is continuing to harm your health and wellbeing
A doctor may prescribe a medicated cream and should also be able to confirm the type of skin condition you have.
Otherwise, everything you are doing to prevent eczema will also help to reduce and relieve the symptoms, helping your skin to recover. When suffering from eczema though you may wish to avoid changing your skincare or skincare routine too much. Although you'll probably need to increase the amount you moisturise and, when you first experience symptoms, you should consider moving to an oil-based moisturiser, if you aren’t already using one.
Do you suffer from eczema and are unsure of which face cream or skincare products you should be using? Pop me a message letting me know which products you use now, as well as some thoughts on your skin’s appearance, texture and needs, and I’d be happy to share some bespoke skincare advice with you.