Some scientific evidence suggests a connection between excess weight and eczema. Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, causes the skin to become dry, itchy, inflamed, and possibly painful.

Eczema affects a large number of adults in the United States each year. It can affect anyone regardless of race, ethnicity, and sex, but it may present differently in each individual. In people with light skin, the affected areas may appear red, but on dark skin, eczema can cause darker brown, purple, or gray patches.

There is evidence to suggest that there may be a link between eczema and excess body weight. Although the exact nature of the relationship between eczema and weight remains unclear, experts have proposed several factors that may play a role, including:

  • genetics
  • changes to the gut microbiome
  • diet and lifestyle
  • chronic inflammation
  • skin barrier dysfunction

Certain types of biologic treatment for severe eczema may also contribute to weight gain.

In this article, we examine what the research suggests about how weight loss affects eczema symptoms. We also consider the effects of physical activity and diet on skin health.

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As there appears to be a link between excess body weight and eczema, some experts have suggested that losing weight may help improve symptoms of eczema in individuals with overweight or obesity.

One small 2020 study involved 40 people with eczema, with 28 participating in a weight loss program consisting of aerobic exercise or a calorie-restricted diet. The researchers found that these 28 individuals generally experienced significant improvement in eczema symptoms. However, whether this effect was due directly to weight loss or another factor remains unclear.

Research suggests that the likelihood of developing eczema may positively correlate with increasing body mass index (BMI). However, it shows that there is not necessarily an association between the severity of eczema symptoms and weight or BMI.

The flaws of BMI

BMI is a calculation of a person’s body fat based on their height and weight. However, studies suggest it is a poor indicator of a person’s body fat percentage.

It can be misleading because the measure does not account for overall body composition. The BMI measurement overlooks bone density, muscle mass, and other considerations.

For additional information, talk with your doctor about other body fat assessment methods.

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It is possible that the positive effects of weight loss on eczema symptoms may have stronger links to other benefits of losing weight rather than the weight loss itself. For instance, a person may experience reduced stress due to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Although regular exercise may offer a variety of health benefits, there are important points for people with eczema to consider to avoid flare-ups. For instance, overheating can worsen eczema symptoms, and sweat can further dehydrate already dry skin.

People living in areas with high levels of pollution may also experience flare-ups in eczema symptoms after exercising outdoors.

Proactively preparing for and responding to these potential triggers can help people with eczema get the most out of their exercise experience. Tips for doing this include:

  • Staying hydrated: Drinking plenty of water before, during, and after physical activity can replace the water the body loses when sweating, which can help prevent the skin from drying out.
  • Moisturizing: Applying a moisturizer before and after exercise can also help prevent the skin from drying out. It is best to choose a light moisturizer that the skin can absorb quickly and to avoid heavy creams that can trap sweat.
  • Choosing the right exercise attire: Moisture-wicking clothing might seem like a good option to help prevent sweat irritation, but these garments’ materials often irritate sensitive skin. Loose cotton clothing may be a better option for eczema-prone skin.
  • Taking care of the skin during exercise: A person can do this by drying excess sweat and taking frequent breaks to avoid overheating. They can also apply cold compression wraps, which can help cool the skin and reduce itching. Exercising in a cool, ventilated space, where possible, is also less likely to trigger symptoms.
  • Keeping an eye on the weather: Humidity can be a trigger for eczema symptoms in some people, while others may experience more symptoms in cold weather. If the specific weather conditions trigger symptoms, it is advisable to opt for an indoor workout instead or take a rest day.
  • Avoiding hot showers after exercising: Hot water can be harsh on the skin, so it is best to take a quick, warm shower and use products that are safe for sensitive skin.

The amount and types of foods people eat can affect eczema symptoms.

Some foods that trigger food allergies may cause eczema symptoms to worsen. These foods can vary among individuals, but some common foods that have an association with eczema symptoms include:

  • dairy products
  • peanuts
  • eggs

Diagnosing food allergies can be challenging. Commercial allergy tests may be unreliable, and elimination diets are not always useful. For these reasons, the American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends that people speak with a healthcare professional if they suspect a food allergy may be causing or worsening their eczema symptoms.

The evidence supporting certain types of diets to relieve eczema symptoms is inconclusive. A study from 2001 reported that 2 months of a vegetarian diet can help reduce inflammation and improve eczema symptoms.

However, other newer studies have found that an anti-inflammatory diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, does not appear to affect the severity or occurrence of eczema symptoms.

Research suggests that losing excess body weight may help improve eczema symptoms. Regular physical activity can provide additional health benefits, such as stress relief, which may also improve symptoms.

When trying to lose weight, being proactive in caring for the skin is important. A person needs to try to stay hydrated when exercising, moisturize regularly, and consider how different activities and environments affect their symptoms.

Anyone who suspects that their diet may be contributing to eczema symptoms can speak with a healthcare professional about how they can improve their overall health and well-being.