Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is one of the most common skin conditions around the world. It causes the skin to become dry, itchy, inflamed, and possibly painful.

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More than 31 million people in the United States have some form of eczema. 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.

Research suggests that there may, in some cases, 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 take a closer look at what the research suggests about how weight loss affects eczema symptoms. We also consider the effects of physical activity and diet on skin health.

As there seems 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 who are overweight or have obesity.

One small 2020 study involving 40 people with eczema found that those who participated in a weight loss program consisting of aerobic exercise and a calorie-restricted diet experienced a 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.

It is possible that the positive effects of weight loss on eczema symptoms may be connected more strongly 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 flareups. For instance, overheating can make eczema symptoms worse, and sweat can further dehydrate already dry skin.

People living in areas with high levels of pollution may also experience flareups 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 irritation from sweat, but these garments’ materials are often irritating to sensitive skin. Loose cotton clothing is 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, whereas others may experience more symptoms in cold weather. If the specific weather conditions that trigger symptoms occur, 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.

Both the amount and the types of foods that people eat can have an effect on eczema symptoms.

Some foods that trigger food allergies may cause eczema symptoms to worsen. These foods can vary among individuals, but some common ones 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 that a food allergy may be causing or exacerbating their eczema symptoms.

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

However, other studies have found that an anti-inflammatory diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, does not appear to have an effect on 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 eczema symptoms.

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

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