Winter always begins to feel drawn out around mid-January, especially in my household where the cold dry air causes skin issues, including eczema flare-ups.
Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a chronic condition where patches of skin become extremely dry, itchy and inflamed. Skin can look red, swollen and crusty, and can even ooze or bleed.
The causes of eczema are different for everyone, which means that treatments that work for some people won't necessarily apply to others. In some cases, a change of diet can lead to improvement, while others may require environmental changes. Some people take omega-3 and probiotic supplements to help support immune system health, and doctors can prescribe steroids and antihistamines to reduce inflammation and itching.
There are some simple things you can do to hopefully alleviate the symptoms of eczema and manage your flare-ups. Here are the top 10 ways to combat eczema this winter:
1. Epsom Salt Baths
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Epsom salt baths are easy to prepare and can provide a lot of comfort during severe eczema flare-ups. Epsom salts are made of magnesium sulfate, which has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. To prepare an Epsom salt bath, simply add 1 to 3 cups of Epsom salt to your warm bath water and dissolve. You can also add drops of tea tree oil or essential oils (such as lavender) to your bath water. Soak in the tub for 10 to 15 minutes to allow your skin to absorb the magnesium and gain the full benefits of your bath.
2. Use Gentle Soap
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Select an unscented soap that has few ingredients and is formulated for sensitive skin and eczema. Make sure to read all of the ingredients in the soap to ensure it doesn't contain any of your allergens, as nut oils and fruit extracts can be used. In my household, we skip the fancy expensive brands and use pure vegetable glycerin soap.
3. Use A Thick Moisturizing Barrier Cream
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Selecting a moisturizer is one of the more difficult decisions to make. Lotions can help lock water into skin, repair damaged skin, reduce dryness and itching, and provide a barrier for the skin. Some products are "lipid-replenishing" or contain ceramide, which is a type of fat that occurs naturally in the skin's outer layer. There are also products that contain ingredients to help soothe the skin, such as oatmeal and essential oils. There are many products marketed specifically to people with eczema and they can be pricey, so try asking for samples from your doctor or drugstore to decide which product works best for you before you purchase a full bottle.
4. Moisturize Immediately After Bathing
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Timing is just as important as selecting the right skin cream. The best time to apply moisturizing cream is right after a bath or shower. Just pat your skin dry, apply any medicated creams to the spots where they are needed, then apply your lotion all over your body before your skin has the time to dry out completely. This after-bath treatment helps trap the moisture that has gotten into your skin while bathing.
5. Continue To Moisturize
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Keep a travel-sized container of your moisturizer with you and apply lotion frequently to the areas where they are most needed, such as your hands, lips, and the crease of your arm or behind the knees. Apply moisturizer every time you wash your hands, and consider bringing your own travel-sized gentle hand soap to use when you are not at home, as the anti-bacterial hand soaps in public washrooms can be very harsh on your skin.
6. Stay Hydrated
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Keeping hydrated is one of the best ways to achieve healthy skin. Drink lots of water, and eat fruits and vegetables throughout the day. Reducing your caffeine and alcohol intake will also help.
7. Keep Your Home Humid
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Maintaining air humidity levels of at least 30 to 50 per cent is ideal for healthy skin. During the winter months you might need a humidifier inside your home to reach these optimal conditions, especially if you use forced-air heat. Some doctors may specifically recommend cool or a warm mist humidifier depending on your situation, but otherwise it's usually a matter of personal preference. Cool mist humidifiers are recommended in children's rooms as the steam from a warm mist humidifier could pose a safety hazard.
8. Wear Soft Natural Fabrics
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Cotton, bamboo and silk are the best fabrics for eczema, as they breathe easily and are soft, so they will not irritate the skin. Although wool is natural, it is best to avoid its stiff fibres that can irritate sensitive skin.
9. Use Mild Laundry Detergent
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Wearing loose breathable fabrics won't make a huge difference if your clothing is washed in detergent that contains perfumes and dyes that can irritate sensitive skin. Use mild laundry detergents and rinse your clothes twice to clear away all traces of detergent. Avoid fabric softeners, because the fragrances can cause itching and redness.
10. Keep Nails Short
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Cut your nails regularly and remove any potentially sharp edges with a nail file. Eczema is extremely itchy and it's hard to stay disciplined and avoid scratching. Short nails will minimize the damage that light scratching can do to your skin. It also helps minimize the impact of scratching during your sleep.
Pauline Osena is a food allergy advocate and founder of HypeFoodie.com, an online resource for allergy-friendly living. This former dairy junkie became an expert in allergy-friendly cuisine while figuring out how to feed her child with multiple food allergies. Pauline aims to inspire culinary adventures and experimentation with her series, "An Allergy-Friendly Makeover," and shares the valuable knowledge she has gained from her trials, errors and adventures in living with food allergies with "The Allergy-Friendly Top 10." Pauline's short-term goals include getting a full night's sleep and drinking her entire cup of coffee while hot.