Extreme or changing weather can trigger eczema (atopic dermatitis) flares. While everyone’s eczema is different, many find that hot or cold temperatures, high humidity, and blistering wind cause discomfort and aggravate their eczema symptoms. “I can’t take this weather,” wrote one MyEczemaTeam member. “My eczema is really irritating me. I can’t stop scratching.”
Learning what triggers your eczema symptoms can help you prepare for harsh weather. Taking steps to protect your skin against the elements can help prevent weather-related flares before they occur.
Eczema is a skin condition that leads to an abnormal skin barrier that reduces the skin’s capability to cope with changing weather. With the skin barrier already compromised, its defenses against allergens, germs, and loss of moisture are weakened.
MyEczemaTeam members frequently discuss how the weather impacts their eczema symptoms. Many find that seasonal changes in weather lead to eczema flare-ups: “Struggling with the weather changes,” wrote one member. Another shared that they were experiencing “a lot of itching lately, probably due to this weather changing and allergies.” One simply wrote that “the hot and cold weather flares up my son’s eczema.”
For some, out-of-the-ordinary weather conditions cause severe symptom flares. “There are days I want to take my skin off, the itching is so bad,” shared a member. “This year has been the worst for me. Florida hasn’t received as much rain as we normally would during this time of year.”
Others find that weather is one of the few triggers they have to deal with. “After changing my diet, my flare-ups come down to change of weather, stress, or tiredness,” wrote one member.
The winter is known to cause eczema flare-ups. The season’s low temperatures and dry air can aggravate eczema symptoms, leading to dry, raw, cracked, itchy skin. As one member wrote, “My skin is very dry above my upper lips, and it goes to my nostrils too. Edmonton, Alberta, weather is so cold and dry, it makes my skin worse.” Another shared that their face gets irritated, flaky, and itchy. “It hurts. I hate the winter. It’s so extra dry,” they said.
There are several steps you can take to manage eczema flare-ups during the colder months. Talk to your dermatologist for recommendations based on your symptoms and the type of eczema you have.
You may find that you need to moisturize more frequently during the winter, especially before going outside. The level of moisture in the air plummets during the colder seasons. This causes the skin to lose moisture to the atmosphere, leading to dryness. Keeping your skin moisturized is an important step in preventing dry, itchy skin in cold conditions.
During the winter months, opt for thick, oil-based ointments (also known as emollients) like petroleum jelly. Thicker creams and ointments help prevent your skin from losing moisture to the atmosphere. Some moisturizers also help draw moisture from the deeper levels of the skin to the surface. To minimize possible irritation, look for moisturizers that do not contain fragrances or dyes.
One MyEczemaTeam member shared that frequent moisturizing helped with their symptoms: “I sat on the couch last winter with Vanicream next to me, applying so much I thought I would never feel better, but it paid off. My skin finally got better.”
If you aren’t sure which moisturizer is right for you, ask a dermatologist for recommendations.
It is tempting to take hot baths and showers when the weather gets cold. While they may feel nice in the short term, overly hot baths or showers can strip the skin of its natural oils and fats, disrupting its natural moisture balance. What’s more, excessive exposure to water can actually dry out the skin, which may worsen symptoms during flares.
Instead, bathe in lukewarm (not hot) water. You should also try to limit your bathing to 10 or 15 minutes to avoid worsening dry skin.
The best time to moisturize is when the skin is warm and moist. Using the “soak and seal” method during bathtimes can also help lock in moisture after baths or showers:
Keeping yourself protected from the elements is an important part of caring for eczema-prone skin. Aside from your usual clothes, you can wear gloves, scarves, and hats to help keep the cold, dry air out — and warmth and moisture in. Avoid wearing woolen fabrics; they tend to scratch, which may worsen itchiness, especially during a flare.
You may also want to try layering several articles of cotton clothing rather than wearing one heavy layer. This strategy will allow you to remove layers if you become too hot. The same goes for bedding: Use multiple layers that you can peel off or add as needed, as opposed to one thick duvet or quilt.
Winter’s lower temperatures create a dry (less humid) environment — even when the weather is wet. Indoor heating that blows in hot, dry air can also add to this dryness, sapping moisture from your skin and potentially aggravating your eczema.
Using humidifiers while indoors can help add much-needed moisture to your environment. Although there is no scientific evidence to support that humidifiers can help improve eczema, some people have reported that humidifiers have helped manage their symptoms. One MyEczemaTeam member wrote, “I bought a humidifier a year ago, and it has helped me a lot. I noticed the difference immediately. You can also put a drop of lavender in the humidifier — it helps you relax.” Make sure to properly clean any humidifiers according to their directions.
Maintain a comfortable environment by adjusting the thermostat to prevent overheating, and keep the air humid by using a humidifier or bowl of water in each room. Avoid letting a child warm their skin on fireplaces, heating vents, or radiators. This can cause their skin to experience drastic temperature changes, which can cause or worsen itchiness.
Although winter is a common time for eczema flares, many of those living with eczema find that their symptoms flare when the weather gets warm. “Weather warmed up, and my eczema flared up,” wrote one member. “Very itchy for a few days.” Another member found that as the temperature rose throughout the day, their symptoms worsened: “My day started off with no itching, then as my day progressed and it got hot outside, I felt the itching coming on.”
One member asked if any others find that their eczema flares up in the summer. Many confirmed that it does: “Absolutely,” replied one member. “Our skin hates the summer, unfortunately.” Another member responded that “many flare in summer due to heat and/or sweating.”
Summer flares can bring many different symptoms. “Eyes are very swollen from the hot weather,” described one member. “Skin feels overall tight and dry. Did not leave home today.” Many MyEczemaTeam members find that itchiness, in particular, worsens in the warmer months, especially affecting the hands.
One shared that they have “sore, irritated palms in hot weather.” Another wrote, “My hands are so itchy at the moment, and I am scratching like mad in the warm weather. Summer makes me so miserable.”
To make matters worse, some members report that both hot and cold weather affect their eczema symptoms. “It’s worse for me in the winter and also the summer,” wrote one member, “so I can’t win.”
There are some additional steps you can take alongside your usual skin care routine to help avoid uncomfortable flares during the warmer months.
As the National Eczema Association (NEA) notes, regulating your body temperature is important to help prevent flare-ups in the heat. As in the cooler months, it is best to opt for natural fibers like cotton and to dress in layers so you can remove one or two when you get too hot. The NEA also advises changing your clothes if you sweat through them to help prevent irritation.
Our sweat contains small amounts of chemicals that may trigger eczema symptoms, including copper, iron, zinc, lead, nickel, sodium, and chloride. This is why eczema often develops in the areas of the body where sweat tends to accumulate, like the backs of the knees and the insides of the elbows. The heat itself can also trigger eczema, as the dilation of the body’s vessels causes inflammatory cells to mobilize.
It may be best to avoid the outdoors when it’s hot out — especially in the early afternoon, when temperatures are highest. Stay in air-conditioned or shady areas when possible. If you’re on the go, you may want to carry a portable fan (as well as a bottle of ice water).
Taking a dip in the ocean isn’t just refreshing. According to the NEA, swimming in salty water may also be beneficial for eczema-prone skin. The combination of salt, ultraviolet (UV) rays, and vitamin D (as well as the stress relief that comes with spending a day at the beach) may help soothe or manage the symptoms of eczema. Remember to use sunscreen to avoid sun damage and skin cancer caused by UV damage.
It is important to note that salt water saps the skin’s natural moisture, so you should rinse off with fresh water as soon as possible after swimming in the ocean or other salty waters. The same is true after swimming in a chlorinated pool. To avoid irritating your skin, pat — not rub — your skin dry with a clean towel, then apply your favorite moisturizer.
As those with eczema know, many factors contribute to symptom flares. Here are some ways you and your dermatologist can work together to manage your symptoms in both hot and cold weather.
As one MyEczemaTeam member shared, eczema can flare all year long: “Try to find your triggers. Eczema takes days off only when it wants to. Use precaution at all times, especially when your skin is on the downside and feeling better. It’s a cyclic disease.”
Knowing what factors trigger your eczema symptoms is one of the first steps toward managing flares. It may be helpful to keep a symptom diary to track your unique symptoms, when they occur, and how severe they are. It is also a good idea to note other factors, including what you eat and drink and how you are feeling emotionally. Recording all this information can provide your dermatologist with valuable insights into what may be contributing to your eczema symptoms.
Seasonal allergies like pollen are a common trigger for MyEczemaTeam members. However, allergens can be present year-round — dust mites, for instance, are a common household allergen that don’t correspond with changes in weather.
If you notice that allergens are aggravating your eczema symptoms, talk to your health care provider about treatment options like antihistamines. These medications control the body’s response to allergens and can be particularly helpful in alleviating itchy skin.
Sun protection is an important part of caring for eczema-prone skin. While many of us reach for sunscreen in the summer months, it is also important to take precautions to avoid sunburn in the winter.
The NEA advises selecting a sunscreen free from irritants (like alcohol) to avoid irritation. You can look for the NEA Seal of Acceptance to ensure that sunscreens and other skin care products are safe for those with eczema and sensitive skin.
Once you’ve found the right sunscreen, apply it a minimum of 30 minutes before heading into the sun. It is also important to reapply sunscreen after swimming or intense sweating.
In addition to sunscreen, the following tips can help protect your skin from damaging UV rays:
A dermatologist is your best resource when it comes to weather-proofing yourself and protecting yourself from eczema flares. Share any concerns or changes in your symptoms with your dermatologist as soon as possible. They can work with you to identify your eczema triggers, develop a treatment plan, and find ways to relieve your symptoms when they arise.
Living with eczema is a year-round challenge. The good news is that you don’t have to go it alone. MyEczemaTeam is the social network for those with eczema and their loved ones. Here, more than 40,700 members from around the world come together to ask questions, offer support and advice, and connect with others who understand life with eczema.
How does the weather affect your eczema symptoms? Do you have any tips to prevent flares during the hot and cold months? Share your experience in the comments below, or by posting on MyEczemaTeam.