How To Treat Winter Eczema Flare Ups
If you’re one of the 32 million Americans who have eczema, you know that winter makes dealing with the affliction its own special project. The skin condition impacts children and adults alike and can crop up just about anywhere on the body. Eczema specifically refers to skin that has a damaged barrer, in addition to hydration loss and inflammation. In mild cases, there is just a bit of redness or flaking. In more severe instances, the skin can thicken, be significantly red, and peel. At its worst, it can put the skin at risk for superficial infections.
The good news is that eczema is not contagious and flare ups usually come and go. Below, we caught up with top dermatologists and a star aesthetician to get their best tips and product recommendations for dealing with eczema in the winter months.
What Causes Eczema
Eczema is believed to develop due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors, and there is more than one type. While almost anyone can have dry skin, atopic dermatitis is genetic in etiology, says board certified dermatologist Rita Linkner, MD, of Spring Street Dermatology in New York City. “This means that if your parents had eczema, you would be likely to develop it,” she explains. “Childhood eczema is very common. In adults, eczema usually affects the hands.”
Board certified dermatologist Sejal Shah, MD, of Manhattan’s SmarterSkin Dermatology says that atopic dermatitis is linked to an overactive immune system, while contact dermatitis is, as the name implies, caused by direct contact with an irritant (think: beauty products, jewelry, even plants). “Other factors such as dry skin, sweat, irritating skincare products, certain fabrics, excessive temperature extremes, and household products like cleaning products and detergents can exacerbate these types of eczema,” Dr. Shah says.
Most common in the winter months is xerotic eczema, which develops as a result of excessively dry skin and often impacts people in cold, dry conditions. Dr. Shah says other types of eczema include nummular and stasis.
How to Treat Eczema
Dr. Linkner says that eczema flare ups imply the body isn’t doing a good enough job manufacturing the lipids that keep the skin’s barrier intact. The good news is that humectifying topicals can help reestablish the barrier. Celebrity aesthetician and eponymous brand founder Renée Rouleau agrees, saying that “while there is not technically a known cure, you can definitely help improve the appearance of eczema by strengthening the skin’s barrier.”
1. Keep Showers Short
Dr. Shah says that, in addition to moisturizing, it’s important to avoid triggers. She recommends using a humidifier if the environment is dry, bathing with lukewarm water, keeping showers short, and using a sulfate-free gentle cleanser. Dr. Linker agrees that showers should be “all business, no pleasure.” “Quick, cool-water showers are best for not stripping the skin,” she explains. For a noruishing, suds-free wash try Skinfix Eczema+ Foaming Oil Body Wash.
2. Hydrate From Head to Toe
As for moisturizing, Dr. Linkner recommends applying Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream post-shower and using Aquaphor on the cuticles and lips. Dr. Shah likes Vanicream Moisturizing Skin Cream and Avene XeraCalm A.D Lipid-Replenishing Cream.
If you're looking for a facial moisturizer with a tight ingredient list (think: 10 or less!), we're fans of the Chanel La Solution 10. For one that is just as good on the face as it is on the body but doesn't irritate sensitive, eczema-prone skin, we like First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream Intense Hydration.
For facial eczema sufferers who still want to wear makeup, Dr. Linkner likes the Armani Maestro collection, as it doesn’t have many preservatives or allergen-prime ingredients. Dr. Shah is partial to cosmetics from VMV Hypoallergenics.
3. Look for Products With These Ingredients
“Moisturizers will be beneficial for repairing your skin’s moisture barrier when it’s damaged, but it’s important that you look for specific ingredients that mimic the natural lipids found in your skin,” Rouleau shares. “Just because a moisturizer feels rich and greasy on the skin doesn’t necessarily mean that it will offer repair.”
To repair a damaged moisture barrier, Rouleau likes a range of ingredients including carrot, evening primrose, sweet almond, jojoba, and cranberry oils, ceramides, squalane, non-exfoliating linoleic and linolenic acids, and shea butter. While these ingredients may call to mind products with heavy, occlusive textures, Rouleau says that the components can be blended into lightweight formulas that don’t clog pores. “It simply depends on the percentages used and the oil-to-water ratio within the formula,” she explains.
Her Sheer Moisture Lotion is “excellent for repairing the barrier for those with oily, combination and breakout-prone skin” because “it’s very lightweight,” she says. Her Phytolipid Comfort Creme, meanwhile, is formulated for those who want a richer texture. For something in the middle, her Hydraboost Rescue Creme offers a good balance.
Dr. Linkner says eczema-prone patients should look for ingredient lists containing lipids, cholesterol, and colloidal oatmeal, as they are all humectifying (read: moisture preserving) actives. Dr. Shah recommends products with ceramides, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, glycerin, chamomile, shea butter, and plant oils that soothe and hydrate the skin, while helping to repair the skin barrier.
4. Avoid Products With These Ingredients
Just as there are good-for-you actives to stock up on, there are ingredients the eczema afflicted should avoid. Dr. Linkner says to steer clear of anything that strips the skin, like vitamin A or vitamin C, while Rouleau says that sulfates — specifically, sodium lauryl sulfate — are harmful to the skin when used in high concentrations. She says that it can cause eczema to flare up and severely damage the skin’s protective barrier resulting in extreme water and moisture loss.
Additionally, Dr. Shah says to be cautious about fragrances, formaldehyde (and formaldehyde-releasing ingredients), dyes, phthalates, parabens, and alcohol. Oh, and just because something is ‘clean’ or ‘natural’ doesn’t mean it’s right for sensitive skin. “Use caution with essential oils and botanical ingredients as they can be potentially irritating,” she notes.
As with any eczema flare up, treating the condition in the winter requires patience, care, and the right combination of skincare ingredients. Finding products that both hydrate the skin and heal its damaged barrier can keep eczema in check, as can taking shorter showers and investing in a humidifier to counteract the season’s cold, arid air.