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4 Ways To Discover Your Eczema Triggers

Posted on March 14, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D.
Article written by
Joan Grossman

Understanding your eczema triggers can help you gain greater control over your symptoms. It’s not always easy to identify what causes your skin to flare. Below are four actions you can take to see if some common triggers — stress, weather, diet, and skin irritants — are affecting your skin.

Fill out the pledge at the end of this article to commit to the actions you’re going to take. Leave a comment at the bottom of the page to encourage others to join you in taking the pledge.

The exact cause of eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, is not fully understood. Research shows eczema is likely caused by an overactive immune system, genetic factors that prevent the skin barrier from retaining moisture, and triggers such as environmental irritants and emotional stress.

Triggers are not always easy to identify because an eczema flare may occur some time after exposure. Common eczema triggers include:

  • Allergens, like pollen, mold, and dust mites
  • Animals and pet dander
  • Food allergies
  • Soaps, lotions, or cleaning products with fragrances and dyes
  • Irritating chemicals found in household products or workplaces
  • Colds or flu
  • Cold, dry air
  • Fabrics, like polyester or wool
  • Negative emotions and stress

Triggers can cause flare-ups and inflammation, with symptoms such as dry and itchy skin that can become painful and discolored. People with eczema are at greater risk for skin infections, asthma, allergies, depression, and anxiety.

Discovering your triggers can help prevent symptoms and improve your quality of life. Here are four ways you can identify your eczema triggers and take action to manage your condition proactively.

Action Step 1: De-Stress

Studies show that psychological stress, anxiety, depression, and other negative emotions are associated with eczema flares. Research points to complex interactions between the brain and skin that are affected by stress hormones, inflammation, and the nervous system.

“Does anyone elses eczema flare up when theyre agitated or upset?” asked a MyEczemaTeam member. “Stress is a huge trigger for me!” another member answered.

Take note of how stress may be causing your eczema to react. You might want to keep a journal and write down incidents of stress or negative emotions. See if your eczema flare-ups coincide with stressful situations. If you are a parent of a child or teenager with eczema, pay attention to their moods and help them manage their stress.

Here are some steps you can take to manage stress:

  • Talk about your feelings to a loved one, close friend, or mental health counselor.
  • Aim for a healthy balance between work, rest, and leisure time.
  • Try cognitive behavioral therapy or another type of psychotherapy.
  • Engage in replenishing activities, like walks in nature or outings with friends.
  • Learn relaxation exercises to help you relax your breathing and muscles.
  • Try meditation or other mindfulness practices to help you focus on the present moment and feelings of gratitude.

Talk to your health care team about referrals for psychotherapy or mindfulness training, and take action to reduce stress that may aggravate your eczema.

Action Step 2: Prepare for Hot or Cold Weather

Dry air, cold weather, humidity, and heat are triggers for many people with eczema. Some studies have shown that cold, dry weather can trigger eczema. Other studies have pointed to heat, humidity, and sun exposure as triggers for sensitive skin.

“The sun and the heat I cannot do because if I start sweating, my skin will itch badly,” said one MyEczemaTeam member. Another member wrote, “Change in weather and humidity makes mine bad.”

Keep track of when your eczema is more active and prepare for weather changes and other environmental factors that may trigger flares. If warm weather is a trigger for you, there are steps you can take to help prevent flare-ups:

  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Keep moisturizers cool in the refrigerator.
  • When you’re out, carry a small towel and water for rinsing off sweat.
  • Wear loose, lightweight clothing made from natural fabrics.
  • Swim or take a cold shower to cool down.
  • Ask your dermatologist about nonirritating sunscreen that contains zinc, rather than chemical sunscreens.

Here are some steps you can take if cold weather is a trigger for you:

  • Regulate temperatures indoors at 65 degrees Fahrenheit, and wear thin layers of clothing made with soft fabrics.
  • To keep air from getting dry when using central heating, use a humidifier or place a bowl of water near a heat source.
  • Even in cool weather, don’t forget to open the windows and let fresh air in. This deters dust mites and mold.
  • Avoid scratchy scarves and hats made from wool or other irritating fabrics.
  • Apply moisturizers frequently and take extra steps in your skin care routine to avoid dry, cracking skin.

Action Step 3: Try Different Foods

People with eczema have a higher risk for food allergies and food sensitivities that may trigger eczema flares. In a survey of 169 people with eczema, those who eliminated flour products, gluten, and nightshades (a class of vegetables that includes potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant) reported some improvement in eczema symptoms. Symptoms also improved when vegetables, organic food, and fish oil were added to the diet.

You can take action to eliminate foods from your diet that may trigger eczema, but do so carefully. Try keeping a food diary to see if flare-ups occur after eating any particular foods. Don’t make any big changes to your diet without medical advice, and talk to your doctor if you notice a pattern of flare-ups with certain foods. You may want to ask your doctor for a referral to an allergist.

With conditions that cause chronic inflammation, such as eczema, you may benefit from an anti-inflammatory diet that avoids saturated fats, highly processed foods, refined sugars, and refined flours. An anti-inflammatory diet includes:

  • Foods high in fiber, like fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains
  • Spices, like basil, oregano, ginger, and turmeric
  • Healthy fats, like extra-virgin olive oil, avocado, almonds, and anchovies
  • Green tea

“I have found my triggers, and I can now manage them very well,” wrote a MyEczemaTeam member. “I find drinking lots of water every day really helps. For me, sugar is a big trigger.” Another member wrote, “I’m back to being 100 percent gluten- and dairy-free. I currently have no flare-ups.”

Action Step 4: Avoid Skin Irritants

Soaps, laundry detergents, and other household cleaners may trigger contact dermatitis and flares. Make note of which soaps and cleaning products you use, and determine if your eczema is aggravated after using them.

You can take steps to avoid irritants in soaps and other cleaning products. Try the following tips:

  • Avoid soaps, moisturizing products, and detergents with fragrance or dyes, which may contain chemical irritants.
  • Look for products with labels that say “hypoallergenic” or “for sensitive skin.”
  • Try an alternative to soap, such as a mild oil-based cleanser and water.
  • Rinse laundry twice to remove detergent residue, and avoid fabric softeners and dryer sheets.
  • Wash sheets in hot water to kill irritating dust mites.
  • When using household cleaners, wear protective gloves with a cotton lining.
  • Try using alternative household cleaners like distilled vinegar and baking soda, which can be used for many cleaning purposes.

“I love goat milk soap. Best to make sure you know all the ingredients to make sure that there are no triggers in it,” said a MyEczemaTeam member.

Call to Action

Comment below to share which actions you selected, and also share your experience with your teammates on MyEczemaTeam. By sharing your action steps, you can gain support as you learn to manage your symptoms.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyEczemaTeam is the social network for people with eczema and their loved ones. On MyEczemaTeam, more than 43,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with eczema. Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D. is a dermatologist at the Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Joan Grossman is a freelance writer, filmmaker, and consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. Learn more about her here.

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