The prospect of a shower or bath can feel overwhelming for people with eczema. Members of MyEczemaTeam often face discomfort from bathing, dry skin, and adverse reactions to soaps and shampoos. “I need a shower, but I’m dreading it, as I know it will hurt,” one member commented.
In some cases, bathing is just as challenging emotionally as it is physically for people who have eczema — particularly when they have a severe form of the condition, also referred to as atopic dermatitis (AD). “I just took a shower, which was really hard for me mentally and physically,” a member wrote. “I probably have PTSD from showers I’ve had in the past when my skin was at its worst. It’s better now, but I hesitate a lot and wait till the last minute until I have to take one.”
Fortunately, there are ways to help make bathing more comfortable and to use it as a tool in your eczema treatment program. By employing a strategic bathing strategy, you might even be able to improve your eczema symptoms. Always talk to your dermatologist and the rest of your health care team before making any changes to your skin care routine to ensure the changes won't exacerbate your eczema symptoms or cause a flare-up.
Researchers haven’t come to a consensus on whether you should follow any particular bathing schedule to best manage your eczema symptoms. One study of 28 children with AD found that participants’ symptoms were not significantly different whether they bathed daily or just twice a week. More important, the study indicated, was the need to properly hydrate the skin.
However, another study of 63 children with AD found that those who took soak-and-seal baths twice a day for two weeks experienced better outcomes than those who took soak-and-seal baths just twice a week.
During a soak-and-seal bath, you’ll fill a tub with lukewarm water and soak for five to 10 minutes. Avoid scrubbing with sponges or washcloths during the soak. After getting out of the tub, pat your skin dry, and then apply moisturizer directly over your slightly damp skin. After you moisturize your entire body, wait another few minutes before getting dressed so the moisturizer has an opportunity to penetrate your skin. Moisturizer is most effective when applied to warm, damp skin.
Water temperature is a key factor for minimizing skin discomfort. Hot water in showers or baths can dry out the skin and lead to increased irritation or pain, as well as potential eczema flare-ups. Lukewarm baths or showers are recommended for people with eczema.
MyEczemaTeam members also recommend lukewarm water for adults and children with eczema. “I would draw up a bath with lukewarm water. I say lukewarm because warm/hot water causes eczema to itch more,” one mom suggested to another wondering how to help her daughter. Another member commented, “I use lukewarm water with glycerin bar soap. I have learned that shorter showers are better. Just pat your skin dry or just air dry. Then I put on eczema cream afterwards.”
Another advantage to using lukewarm water is that it can allow your skin to absorb moisture more effectively.
Irritation from soaps, lotions, and hair products can be a source of significant discomfort for people with eczema. Choosing cleansers without fragrances, allergens, or dyes is a good starting point. The National Eczema Association provides a directory of recommended products. Your dermatologist can also share suggestions based on your specific needs. Most cleansers appropriate for atopic dermatitis will be called hydrating or gentle cleansers, rather than “soap.” It’s always recommended to test new soaps or lotions on a small patch of skin before applying them all over the body to ensure they don't irritate your skin.
Read more about the best soaps for eczema.
Eczema-friendly shampoo and conditioner can be harder to find than soap. People with eczema on the scalp will likely need special shampoos and conditioners. The National Eczema Association offers a few options, and your doctor can also provide suggestions.
Some MyEczemaTeam members say they are able to use standard shampoos and conditioners as long as they keep them on their hair and away from their bodies. One member suggested, “Wash your hair after bathing. Flip your head over in the shower so the soap and conditioner don’t run down your body.”
Read more about the best shampoos if you have eczema on the scalp.
Your dermatologist might recommend additives in your bathwater, depending on the type of eczema you have and your symptoms. Fragrance-free oils, baking soda, and oatmeal are among the additional soaking elements some physicians may recommend to alleviate eczema symptoms.
“We have been taking oatmeal and baking soda baths — it has helped a lot,” one MyEczemaTeam member wrote. “I use Balneum bath oil,” another said. “It's nongreasy and keeps my skin moisturized. Bathe in it daily after my working days. Relieves itch and anxieties when I soak.”
In some cases, your physician may recommend a bleach bath, which may be particularly useful when the severity of atopic dermatitis is extreme or interferes with daily life.
Thoroughly moisturizing the skin after a shower or bath can help prevent dryness and irritation. This key step ensures your skin is protected against future flare-ups.
Moisturizers not only return moisture to the skin, but they also create a skin barrier that can prevent irritants from affecting your skin. You should apply a moisturizer within three minutes after bathing to help seal in the moisture your skin has absorbed during your bath or shower. Moisturizers that contain ceramides will help restore the normal skin barrier. Lotions are thinner than creams, and ointments are the thickest moisturizers.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health recommends home skin therapy that includes lubricating or moisturizing skin two or three times each day with products that do not have alcohol, dyes, fragrances, or irritating chemicals. Read more about moisturizers for eczema.
MyEczemaTeam is the social network for people with eczema and their loved ones. On MyEczemaTeam, more than 35,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with eczema.
Have you had success with specific bathing regimens that have helped your eczema? Comment below to share your story, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.