Cold weather can complicate all types of skin issues. One of the most common conditions aggravated when outdoor temperatures turn cold is eczema.
What Is Eczema?
Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a skin condition with patches of rough, itchy, or irritated skin. Small, raised bumps, which may leak fluid and crust over when scratched, may also be present. The term eczema is derived from the Greek word that means bubble up or boil.
In most cases, eczema isn't a year-round, everyday condition. It flares and subsides depending on each patient's skin. Although the exact cause of eczema is unknown, researchers believe a combination of genes and triggers are involved for most types of eczema. Dry skin, irritants, stress, climate, infection, allergens, and hormonal changes can contribute flares.
Cold Weather and Eczema
Dry air combined with indoor heating systems can dry out the skin. Eczema flares because the skin can’t stay moist on its own. Flare-ups can also be caused by stripping the skin with harsh soaps and chemicals or taking hot baths/showers. This is more likely to occur during the cold winter months.
There are a few things you can do to combat eczema flare-ups as the temperatures drop. First and foremost, moisturize. Find a good moisturizer recommended by your doctor (you want to make sure there aren’t any harsh chemicals or scents in it that can further dry out or irritate your skin), and apply it at least once a day and every time your skin feels dry. There are also prescription medications and topical steroids that can be applied, if the eczema is especially aggressive, to help keep your skin from becoming further irritated. Sometimes, once the skin is very inflamed, only medicine will calm things down.
Because heat can dry out skin, avoid taking hot baths in winter. Instead, use warm water, and try to bathe or shower less frequently. Use a mild, non-scented soap that does not over-strip the skin. After bath, patting the skin dry instead of rubbing with a towel will leave a little moisture on the skin. Immediately apply moisturizer. Counteract hot, dry air from an indoor heater with a humidifier to add moisture back into the air.
Finally, I cannot stress enough the importance of staying hydrated with non-scented cream or lotion. To keep eczema from making you itchy and miserable, protect your skin barrier, and be gentle to your skin. It protects your entire body.
If you have painful patches on your skin or irritation that won’t go away, make sure you schedule an appointment with your dermatologist or primary care physician.
Dr. Kimberly Mullinax is a board-certified dermatologist at Kelsey-Seybold’s Pearland Clinic. She treats skin conditions for all ages from infants to seniors. Warts, molluscum, abscesses, ingrown nails, skin cancers, and other conditions are surgically treated right in the exam room. She diagnoses and prescribes treatments for chronic dermatologic problems such as eczema, psoriasis, lupus, lichen planus, and other immune disorders.