Why does my eczema flare-up in winter?



Skin Health Advisor
@AVogelUK
Ask Felicity


29 August 2017

Why is eczema worse in winter?

Winter is a strange time of year – on one hand, you’ve got to contend with darker days, miserable weather and bouts of the flu, and on the other, you have twinkly fairy lights, hot chocolate and seasonal goodwill. As a season, it’s a bit of a mixed bag but when it comes to your eczema symptoms, you may struggle to find a silver lining.

There are a number of factors that can affect eczema and winter, unfortunately, can definitely bring out the worst when it comes to your skin, from dry air to central heating to those iconic  Christmas jumpers. They can all have a less than happy effect on your dry, irritated skin.

Cold air: There’s no denying that dry air can irritate your skin, stripping away essential oils that help to keep your epidermis hydrated. In those with healthy skin, this can sometimes lead to dryness but in sufferers of eczema, the effects can be much more severe resulting in a full-on breakout that may last the majority of the season. This can be exacerbated as you will frequently move from a cold environment into one that may be a little too much on the warm side.

Central heating: Of course, most of you probably view your central heating system as a godsend during the cold winter months but it undeniably has an impact of your skin. You move from one environment that’s saturated with cold dry air into another that’s equally as polluted with dry air. Not to mention that central heating can desensitise you to the weather, making the cold more of a shock to the system when you do have to venture outdoors.

Clothing: Who doesn’t love a warm, woolly jumper during winter? As it turns out, probably your skin! The harsh nature of some materials, such as wool and synthetic fabrics, can easily irritate your skin but unfortunately, they’re almost unavoidable during the winter months. After all, if you’re shivering every time you step outside, loose cotton clothes probably don’t sound like much of an alternative.

Stress: While winter can be a magical time of year, it’s undeniably stressful. You have to worry about saving up for presents, beating the crowds in your local supermarket and managing your household over the festive period. That can be difficult and naturally you will feel a little more anxious in the run up to Christmas or Hanukah, but this stress can have a knock-off effect on your skin, stimulating a flare-up.

Hot baths: When winter comes the thought of a long hot bath might sound quite appealing but this excess heat can dry out your skin too! It’s also doesn’t help that after bathing, you will probably rub yourself dry with a towel, irritating your delicate skin even more.

Diet: During the warmer summer months, salads and fruit seem appealing but when the weather starts to cool down, most of us crave something a bit more substantial – stews, roast dinners, casseroles etc. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this but some foods can have a negative impact on your skin condition – milk, wheat, fish and eggs are amongst the worse, so it’s always important to keep an eye on your diet.

What does winter eczema look like?

Outbreaks of eczema during the winter months will be very similar in appearance to other flare-ups. You will notice that your skin becomes drier and more prone to flaking. A red rash may appear and your skin will be more susceptible to itching – sometimes winter eczema is known as the ‘winter itch’!

The location of your breakout may vary, although sometimes it will be more localised around your hands and arms – again think of those warm woolly gloves and itchy Christmas jumpers! However, just as with a normal flare-up, this isn’t always the case and your eczema may emerge in other, unexpected places.

Does winter eczema go away?

This is an important question; will your winter flare-up continue into spring? Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer as everyone is different. Some people may notice that  their symptoms start to calm down as the dry weather leaves while others may have to wait considerably longer before they notice any difference.

The most important thing you can do is work on treating your symptoms and adjusting your lifestyle habits. This should give you the best chance possible to soothe your symptoms and perhaps even dodge the winter itch completely.

How to treat winter eczema

There are a number of steps you can take to ease your symptoms during the winter months, but all of them rely on you being able to identify your triggers and reduce your exposure to them. Doing nothing is definitely not the answer which is why I’ve compiled a small list of steps you can take to treat your winter eczema.

1 – Moisturise

As you’re probably aware, hot baths, dry air and harsh soaps can upset your skin and stimulate a flare-up. It’s important you moisturise daily to prevent your skin from drying out and the moisturiser you choose can play a vital role. 

My advice would be to go for an organic emollient – most high- street moisturisers are loaded with chemicals that may only escalate your symptoms instead of alleviating them. Make sure you apply it before and after you shower, and keep some on you when you’re out and about too!

Our soothing neem cream is recommended for very dry skin and those prone to eczema. It’s extremely nourishing and may help to ease any irritation and redness, keeping your skin hydrated and conditioned. Prepared from a tincture of neem leaf, this remedy only uses active plant extracts and is 100% suitable for vegetarians!

2 – Consider your clothing

Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t wrap up during the winter months – quite the opposite. Exposing your skin to the dry, cold air will only inflame your symptoms so I’m all in favour of hats, gloves and scarves. However, what you do need to consider is the material.

Cotton is always the best option but I can appreciate it if you find it difficult to wear nothing but cotton. That’s why I’d instead focus on avoiding the real irritants – polyester, nylon and wool should definitely not inhabit your wardrobe! Also make sure you have adequate bedding – don’t skimp on the cotton sheets here and make sure you’re not piling on too many covers during the winter months.

3 - Don’t let things get too warm!

This can go for your shower, your central heating and your bedding – don’t immediately dial up the heat! If you’re taking a shower or a bath, don’t opt for hot water; instead make sure that the temperature is lukewarm. This should prevent your skin from drying out too much!

When it comes to your central heating, things can get a bit trickier. Obviously, I’m not going to tell you to turn down the heating and freeze but do aim for some moderation. Don’t turn your home into a sauna and try to avoid standing too close to any radiators or fires. Not only can this prevent your skin from drying out, it can also prevent your skin from overheating.

4 – Invest in a humidifier

Following up from my last point, a humidifier might be a good idea if you are trying to avoid the drying effect of your central heating. This is because humidifiers work to pump more moisture back into the air and they can even be hooked up to your heating system!
Just be sure to watch out and make sure you’re not encouraging any fungal growth – don’t be afraid to get a steady flow of fresh air through your home!

5 – Think about your diet

The winter season is generally considered a time to indulge in heavy, stodgy, sugary foods. However, as you may be aware, your diet can have an impact on your symptoms so it’s important you consider what you eat very carefully. Don’t drink too much alcohol as this can dehydrate you and upset your skin.

Instead, focus on drinking plenty of water and replacing any refined sugars with fruit and vegetables. Foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help so it might be worthwhile focusing on getting plenty of them into your diet – oily fish, flaxseeds, eggs and soybeans. Replace your afternoon cup of coffee with green tea and try to keep your diet as balanced as possible to avoid any inflammation.

It might also be worthwhile looking at your intake of vitamin D. There is some evidence to suggest that adults and children with eczema do have lower levels of vitamin D1 so taking a supplement during the darker winter months may have some advantages.

6 – Reduce your stress levels

Getting organised for the festive season can be extremely stressful but it’s important that you try to look after yourself and your mental wellbeing. Not only does stress make you vulnerable to inflammatory chemicals such as cortisol and adrenaline, it can also take a serious toll on your sleep patterns, mood and immunity.

Preparation is key, so don’t be afraid to start getting ready early. Online shopping means that you don’t have to fight with the crowds and you can order presents in advance, taking the stress out of any deadlines. Don’t leave things to the last minute and make sure you have a clear plan of action. Don’t be afraid to take some time out for yourself and focus on deep breathing techniques that can enable you to cope with stress in difficult situations.

7 – Go organic with your make-up

Earlier I mentioned the importance of choosing an organic, natural moisturiser but this isn’t exclusively limited to one product in your skincare routine. From Christmas night’s out to New Year’s Eve, there will be countless occasions where you feel the need to put on make-up or get glammed up.

While there’s nothing wrong with this, many beauty products do contain harmful chemicals and artificial nasties that may dry out your skin or block your pores. That’s why you should try and choose a natural alternative – organic make-up products generally contain fewer chemicals and will be less likely to irritate your skin. For more ideas, check out Jan de Vries’s great range of natural make-up!

1https://www.vitamindcouncil.org/health-conditions/eczema/

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