Eczema: it’s not just a winter skincare woe.
For most people with eczema, the summer brings about a new level of discomfort. The overwhelming feeling of unstoppable heat coupled with itchy and inflamed skin isn’t exactly a great feeling. As someone with eczema, I know exactly how to treat my flare-ups in the winter, but I realized I’m ill-equipped once summer rolls around. I feel like I can definitely be doing more than just hydrating and keeping up with moisturizing, right?
I headed straight to Dr. Claire Chang, board-certified cosmetic dermatologists from Union Square Laser Dermatology in Manhattan for her recommendations. According to Dr. Chang, while eczema is in fact worse in the winter due to the dry air, heat, and sweat can also be major triggers for flare-ups. Read on for a crash course on eczema and how you can handle yours now that the weather is hot, hot, HOT!
What is eczema and where does it occur?
Dry, itchy, inflamed, scaly…all words to describe how eczema looks and feels. While all eczema possesses these qualities, there are tons of different types, as I learned from Dr. Chang.
Atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, papular eczema, dyshidrotic eczema; the list goes on. However, the most common form of eczema is atopic dermatitis. Dr. Chang told Very Good Light that atopic dermatitis goes hand in hand with seasonal allergies and asthma (hello. It’s me.) and is caused by genetic factors, which include defects in one’s skin barrier and many different environmental factors.
Eczema can occur just about anywhere. However, Dr. Chang says eczema does have a predisposition for certain areas and flourishes within those environments. Eczema flare-ups are most common around the eyes and anywhere where there is a crease in the skin. Most adults who suffer from eczema will note their breakout areas to be on the creases of their elbows, knees, neck, and on the hands, while flare-ups around the face are more commonly seen in children. Especially in the summer months when it’s hot and sticky, sweat and dirt become trapped in the creases of the skin, leading to itchy and irritated eczema spots requiring some extra TLC.
What are eczema triggers?
Much like people have triggers for their acne breakouts, there are lots of triggers for eczema flare-ups too. While you may have certain spots that are never 100% clear of eczema, there are times when redness or dryness subsides or relaxes a bit. However, once exposed to a trigger, those patches can easily become bothered and worsen due to itching and inflammation.
Common triggers for atopic dermatitis include dry skin, seasonal allergens like pollen and dust mites, fragrances (skincare, shampoo, soap, laundry detergent, etc), stress, heat, and sweat.
Given heat and sweat are two of the most triggering irritants for an eczema sufferer, the summer brings about a high level of discomfort. “Many patients report a ‘prickly heat’ or ‘severe itch’ when they get too hot or sweat excessively,” says Dr. Chang.
How to prevent summer eczema flare-ups
Dr. Chang says that eczema may improve for many patients in the summertime, but some may experience their eczema worsening due to intense itching. Heat and excessive sweating leads to intense itching, which can escalate to broken and inflamed skin.
Avoiding overheating is an eczema sufferer’s number one goal. By avoiding the heat and staying in cool temperatures, you’re minimizing the chances of sweating and becoming itchy due to discomfort.
Dr. Chang says it is best to wear loose clothing to allow for good air circulation to the skin. If you’re exercising, avoid tight-fitting clothing then as well to avoid irritation to the skin. After exercising, showering, and changing your clothes as soon as possible is best to avoid prolonged contact with sweat.
The importance of moisturizing
It can be easy to skip moisturizing in the summer. Sometimes we’re lazy, but often it’s because we don’t want to be a slippery, sweaty, lotion-y mess. No one should be skipping on the moisturizer, but if you have eczema, it’s especially important to stay moisturized. Individuals with eczema are prone to dry skin, and because of this, have a weak skin barrier overall.
Dr. Chang recommends using a moisturizer that contains ceramides. Ceramides are lipids that help build your skin barrier and help your skin to retain moisture. As we know, compromised skin barriers are something eczema patients suffer from. Cerave Moisturizing Cream for normal to dry skin ($14.49) and Aveeno Skin Relief Moisture Repair Cream ($12.99) are Dr. Chang’s top picks.
Mineral or chemical SPF?
Obviously, no one should ever skimp on the SPF. It’s arguably the most important step in your skincare routine throughout life. And it’s summer, so you better be lathering it up! If you have eczema, your sunscreen choice is very important.
Dr. Chang recommends patients with eczema use a mineral sunscreen over a chemical sunscreen. “Mineral sunscreens sit on the surface of the skin and act as a barrier to UV rays thanks to zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, while chemical sunscreens are absorbed into the skin. Eczema patients tend to have higher skin sensitivity and chemical sunscreens have a higher risk of allergic and irritant skin reactions,” says Dr. Chang. Her favorite mineral sunscreens are EltaMD UV Elements Tinted Broad-Spectrum SPF 44 ($35.50) and EltaMD UV Physical Broad-Spectrum SPF 41 ($33)
– Be good to your eczema this summer and know your triggers!
– Avoid overheating and excessive sweating
– Shower often to cleanse your skin of irritants like sweat and allergens
– Make sure to use a body moisturizer, ideally one with ceramides
– Opt for a mineral sunscreen over a chemical sunscreen