Often, people find that their eczema or dermatitis gets particularly bad on parts of the skin that they expose to the elements in winter, for example, their hands and face.
A range of treatments and home remedies can tackle winter flare-ups of eczema or prevent rashes and itchiness.
Read on for 10 tips for preventing eczema during winter, plus how to help babies and children with eczema flare-ups.
Ten tips for preventing eczema flares in winter
To minimize eczema outbreaks and soothe irritated skin during the winter, people can try the following methods:
1. Avoid rapid temperature changes
Eczema flare-ups are common during winter months.
When the skin is experiencing big changes in temperature, it starts to dry and feel itchy.
In winter, our skin keeps jumping back and forth between temperature extremes. This cycle of moving from the cold air outside to the warm and dry air indoors can make the skin dry and cracked.
People can reduce eczema flare-ups by avoiding abrupt changes in temperature. Wear gloves, scarves, and hats when outside to stop the skin from getting cold.
Transition slowly between temperatures by using the following strategies:
- Try not to let your skin get cold. People can maintain a more even body temperature by staying inside when possible. Wrap up well when going outside.
- Protect sensitive areas from rapid temperature changes. If you tend to get eczema on your hands, wear gloves every time you go outside.
- Avoid hot water when you are cold. When you come in from the cold, it may be tempting to wash your hands in very warm water, but the quick change in temperature can irritate the skin. Wait until you have warmed up before using warm water.
- Avoid hot showers. After a hot shower, the body cools down quickly again. You can avoid changing the skin's temperature too often by not having hot showers when you bathe every day, and always moisturize right after washing.
2. Moisturize often
Moisturizing is an important part of skincare for eczema, and this is especially true in the winter months. People's skin may need a heavier moisturizer, such as shea butter, during winter months.
Always carry moisturizer and apply it liberally several times a day to protect the skin from cold, dry winter air.
When shopping for moisturizers, look out for ones approved by the National Eczema Association. Oil-based moisturizers and emollients are especially useful.
3. Use mild skincare products
During the changing temperatures of winter, the skin becomes more sensitive. This means that skincare products that do not usually irritate the skin can start to cause problems, such as contact dermatitis.
Soaps and detergent can contain harsh chemicals or fragrances that may irritate sensitive skin. Switch to natural or unscented skincare products to reduce irritation.
People should also avoid washing the hands, face, or body excessively during winter, as water can dry out skin by stripping away its natural, protective oils.
4. Get some vitamin D
People's skin naturally creates vitamin D when they expose it to sunlight. The sun comes out less often during winter, so it can be more difficult to get the vitamin D that our skin needs to repair itself.
A review of studies from 2016 suggests that vitamin D supplements can significantly improve the symptoms of eczema or atopic dermatitis.
While the sun is less hot in winter, people may still need to use sunscreen. Sunburn can make eczema worse as it further dries out already dry skin.
5. Use a humidifier
The air becomes much drier in winter, both inside and outside the house. This can cause skin irritation, leading to painful, cracked skin.
Along with moisturizing the skin regularly, people can use a humidifier inside the house to add moisture to the air. This can help to stop the skin from cracking and becoming irritated.
6. Keep the skin dry
After spending time outside in the snow or rain, remove wet clothes right away, as the cold and damp environment can make eczema worse.
Always practice good hygiene after getting wet. Cold, damp environments can encourage fungal growth.
7. Use prescription ointments
Studies suggest vitamin D supplements are beneficial for eczema symptoms.
A doctor or dermatologist can prescribe a variety of creams, medications, and ointments to treat eczema.
Even if people do not need them for the rest of the year, it may be worthwhile keeping hold of prescription medications to use when winter comes.
The National Eczema Association recommend the following treatments for eczema:
- hydrocortisone steroid creams to relieve itchiness
- topical calcineurin inhibitors, which are medicated ointments
- phototherapy, or light therapy, to reduce inflammation
- over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription antihistamines
- OTC or prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
8. Natural remedies
Research about natural treatments for eczema is still underway. Researchers have tested the effects of natural supplements, such as evening primrose oil, borage oil, and Chinese herbal medicines. However, it is not yet clear how effective these are for treating eczema.
The National Eczema Association suggest that some people may find relief in the following:
- sunflower seed oil on the skin
- coconut oil on the skin
- acupuncture or acupressure
- vitamin D
9. Wear layers
Layering is an important tool for avoiding winter flare-ups of eczema. Wearing layers can allow people to respond to changing temperatures easily. It also means they can keep their skin at an evenly warm temperature, and allowing the skin to breathe when needed.
Along with the cold, sweat can also irritate eczema, so people should avoid getting too hot during winter.
When bundling up, choose natural fabrics. Harsh fabrics, including wool, are commonly used in winter clothes, and they may irritate your skin further.
10. Eat eczema-friendly foods
On the other hand, foods that contain prebiotics may help to reduce eczema symptoms, when taken together.
People can talk to a doctor to find out if any food allergies may be causing eczema flare-ups, especially if their diet changes between seasons.
Treating eczema in children and babies
Warm clothing will protect a baby's skin outside during winter.
Babies and children may also experience eczema flare-ups in winter. To help protect them, caregivers can use the following methods:
- Cover their skin when going outside. Babies and children have especially sensitive skin, so make sure they are wearing warm clothes, including gloves and a scarf.
- Remove layers when inside. Children should take off their gloves, scarves, and boots when inside the house to avoid overheating and sweating.
- Dress them in soft fabrics. Young children and babies may not be able to tell their caregivers when fabrics are too rough or too warm for them. Choose soft, non-irritating and breathable clothes especially during winter, such as cotton or silk inside of rough materials, such as wool.
- Apply sunscreen. Even during winter, people should apply sunscreen to children and babies when they expose their skin to sunlight.
- Moisturize their skin frequently. This is best done using an oil-based moisturizer. Always check with a doctor to make sure the creams are suitable for babies or children.
- Stop them from scratching. Encourage them not to scratch even if they feel itchy, and keep their fingernails short to prevent them from harming their skin.
Staying warm, layering, adding moisture to both skin and air, and avoiding irritating products will help eczema in the winter.
Teaching children the importance of staying warm, and using layers correctly to avoid the hot-cold cycle will help eczema symptoms.
For more suggestions on how to manage eczema in winter, people may wish to take a look at the National Eczema Association's "member's tips" for avoiding flare-ups during winter.