With cold winter weather comes cosy blankets, comforting soups, warm drinks, nights in and a slower pace of living. For eczema sufferers, it can also mean persistent dry, inflamed and itchy skin. Eczema flare-ups are common in the winter months because the air is more dry than usual. When combined with indoor heating, having extra hot baths and showers and piling on the clothing layers, it can be a recipe for disaster. In people with eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis), the skin is less able to retain moisture, which causes it to dry out more easily. The skin barrier is compromised, leaving it more open to allergens and irritants and these can trigger the body to release chemicals that make the skin itchy.1 When eczema is exacerbated, it can cause discomfort, disrupt sleep and affect day to day life.
Just because it’s winter, it doesn’t mean you need to endure the irritation and itch. There are a number of strategies you can try to help minimise and manage your symptoms.
- Keep moisturised – Keeping your skin well moisturised is one of the most important things you can do to help control your eczema and protect the skin barrier, especially in the colder months. Apply moisturiser morning and night and within minutes of bathing or showering to lock in moisture. Look for thick fragrance-free creams and ointments specific for eczema-prone and itchy skin, as these tend to be longer lasting & can help with typical symptoms. Natural ingredients like oats, aloe vera, calendula, shea butter, coconut oil and manuka honey can also be useful for soothing the skin. If your hands are particularly prone to flare-ups, keep a thick hand cream in your handbag to apply each time you wash your hands.
- Avoid irritating soaps and fragrances – When your skin is sensitive, you want to avoid body products like soap and scented cleansers, which can strip the skin of natural oils and potentially aggravate your symptoms. Look for fragrance-free body washes that are eczema-friendly. This goes for laundry detergents as well. Seek out products formulated for sensitive skin and steer clear of highly fragranced softeners which may contain irritants.
- Refrain from long, hot showers and baths – As tempting as it may be to have long hot showers and luxurious baths through the winter months, these can dry out the skin and exacerbate eczema symptoms. Keep baths and showers short and in warm water only. Gently pat your skin dry rather than rubbing and apply moisturiser while your skin is damp. If you can’t resist a winter bath, try soaking in oats, which can soothe and moisturise inflamed skin.2 These soaks can be particularly beneficial for kids, so feel free to throw in a few toys to keep them in for longer. Place a cup of oats into an old stocking, muslin bag or cheesecloth and allow them to steep in the warm bath water.
- Try to maintain an even skin temperature – Sudden temperature changes can provide additional challenges for eczema sufferers and trigger itching (eg. Entering a warm house on a cold day, or vice versa). Dress in lighter layers rather than one or two heavy ones, as they can be removed if you get too hot or uncomfortable. Likewise, layers on the bed are better than one thick doona as they can be peeled off to adjust to your body temperature.
- Wear non-irritating fabrics – When the weather gets colder, you might need scarves, gloves, beanies and tights to stay warm. However, make sure these aren’t made from prickly or irritating fabrics like polyester, nylon and coarse wool. 100% cotton, silk, bamboo, lyocell/tencel and fine merino wool might be better choices to help regulate temperature, allow the skin to breathe and avoid irritating sensitive skin.
- Humidify your home - Indoor heating and dry winter air can extract moisture from the skin and trigger symptoms of eczema. Some people may find using a humidifier to be helpful by adding moisture to the air. An inexpensive option is to put a bowl of water on an elevated surface in each room. The water should be changed regularly to avoid breeding bacteria.
- Consider a specialised eczema probiotic with vitamin D – Eczema can be linked to low vitamin D levels, which is especially relevant in the winter months when days are shorter and sun exposure is limited. There is also growing evidence that probiotics play an important role in skin health. Inner Health has a range of probiotics to support healthy skin, including Inner Health Skin Shield which works to relieve and reduce the occurrence of eczema, reduce skin irritation and support skin regeneration and repair. For eczema-prone children, consider Inner Health Eczema Shield to help relieve symptoms of mild eczema such as itching, reduce the occurrence of eczema symptoms and support skin health and repair. Both products are formulated with evidence-based probiotic strains Lactobacillus rhamnosus (LGG®) and Bifidobacterium animalis ssp lactis (BB-12®) combined with microencapsulated vitamin D.
- ASCIA, June 2023, Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis) – fast facts, viewed 25 July 2023, < https://www.allergy.org.au/patients/fast-facts/eczema-atopic-dermatitis>
- Cerio R et al, 2010, ‘Mechanism of action and clinical benefits of colloidal oatmeal for dermatologic practice’. J Drugs Dermatol, vol 9, no 9, pp1116-1120