Sweat is a common trigger for people with eczema. It can dry out the skin, and various substances in sweat may irritate skin with eczema and worsen symptoms.
In people without eczema, sweat has natural moisturizing properties. However, sweat can irritate and dry out sensitive skin in those with eczema, worsening itching.
Sweat can leave a residue of substances that can dry out the skin and trigger an eczema flare-up for some people.
In this article, we look at the link between eczema and sweat, tips for managing sweating with eczema, and other treatments for eczema.
According to the National Eczema Association (NEA), sweat is a common irritant in people with eczema.
Sweat helps control body temperature — as it evaporates, it cools the skin. It also contains properties that naturally moisturize the skin.
Hot temperatures can also worsen eczema symptoms by encouraging the dilation of blood vessels to help the body cool down, triggering inflammation and leading to itching.
Individuals with AD have significantly lower levels of certain substances in their sweat, meaning it contains less natural moisturizing and antimicrobial properties. This may mean an increase in drier skin after sweating and a higher likelihood of skin infections.
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People with eczema may know certain triggers that cause an eczema flare-up. These may be different for each individual.
Along with sweat, other common triggers for eczema flare-ups can include:
- dry skin, which can make the skin feel tight, rough, or scaly
- irritants, such as ingredients in everyday products, including dish soap, laundry detergent, body washes, or natural ingredients in foods or drinks
- emotional stress, which may cause an eczema flare-up or worsen symptoms
- external allergens such as pollens, fragrances, dust, dust mites, and molds
Several related conditions affect sweat production and may irritate the skin. They include the below.
Heat rash, also known as sweat rash, prickly heat, or miliaria, is a rash that develops due to the blockage and inflammation of the sweat glands. It can occur due to:
- a hot and humid environment
- underdeveloped sweat ducts in a newborn baby
- intense physical activity or exercise
- synthetic clothing or nonporous dressings against the skin
- being bedridden with waterproof mattress coverings
Taking steps to cool the skin and reduce sweating and irritation can help treat heat rash. People with miliaria can also try to remain in cool environments and avoid humidity. In some cases, doctors can recommend topical steroids to decrease the itching.
Hyperhidrosis is a condition where people sweat excessively. They may sweat heavily in certain areas of the body, or the condition can affect the whole body. This sweating even occurs when they are not exerting themselves.
Hyperhidrosis can impair a person’s quality of life and cause emotional distress. People with the condition may notice:
- sweat-soaked clothes
- wet, soft skin, which may peel in some places
- difficulty carrying out everyday activities due to excessive sweating
- frequent skin infections
Treatment for hyperhidrosis may include high-strength antiperspirants, prescription medication, or botulinum toxin injections.
It is almost impossible to avoid sweating. However, there are many ways to minimize skin irritation and avoid worsening eczema. Below are some tips for managing eczema at times when sweating is likely.
To help manage sweating due to exercise, a person can follow this advice:
- If exercising indoors, choose an environment with good ventilation or air conditioning.
- Moisturize the skin before exercising.
- Shower straight after exercising, use clean towels, and then moisturize straight after drying.
- Avoid hot water, as this can dry the skin.
- If exercising outdoors, aim for the early morning or evening, when it is cooler.
- Take frequent breaks when exercising to cool down.
- Use a cool compress on the skin to decrease the itching and heat.
- Avoid peak hours of sunshine, stay in areas of shade, and always wear sunscreen.
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
- If taps are not available nearby, bring extra bottles of water to rinse off sweat, then pat dry with a clean towel.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing in breathable materials such as cotton.
- Avoid spandex or wool, as these can irritate the skin.
- If intense workouts are causing flare-ups, try gentler exercise, such as walking and pilates, until the skin calms down.
However, people with eczema should not give up on exercise to avoid sweating. Exercise has multiple benefits, such as:
- keeping the muscles, bones, and heart strong
- boosting energy levels
- supporting the immune system
- improving memory and brain health
- reducing stress, anxiety, and depression
- aiding weight loss or maintaining a moderate body mass index
- helping to improve sleep
In hot weather
The NEA offers the following tips for controlling eczema in hot weather:
- Carry a handheld fan to help cool the body down.
- Have plenty of water to hand to stay hydrated and wash sweat off the body.
- After rinsing the body with water, pat the skin dry and reapply moisturizer and sunscreen.
- Swimming in the sea may be beneficial due to the combination of salt and UV light, but salt can be drying if it stays on the skin, so wash it off straight afterward.
- Rinse off or shower after being in chlorinated water.
- Avoid eczema triggers where possible, including removing any pollen from clothing or skin after being outdoors.
- Take any medications as necessary, such as antihistamines.
Eating a nutritious, balanced diet may play a part in managing eczema symptoms. People may want to reduce their intake of saturated fats and excess sugars and include a range of anti-inflammatory foods, such as:
- dark green vegetables
- foods high in omega-3, such as oily fish, walnuts, and olive oil
- green tea
- dark chocolate
There are many ways to treat eczema, including prescription medications. To manage their condition at home, a person can take the
- using a thick emollient, such as an ointment, two to three times each day and after bathing to protect the skin from drying out
- taking short, lukewarm showers or baths for 5–10 minutes
- applying a topical steroid or anti-inflammatory cream onto affected areas during flare-ups
Sweat can dry the skin, and it contains substances that may trigger eczema flare-ups in some people.
To help manage sweating and eczema, individuals can rinse sweat or any irritating substances off the skin as soon as possible.
Exercising in cooler environments and staying in the shade during hot weather may help reduce sweating and irritation. After rinsing off sweat, people can apply a thick moisturizer and sunscreen.