The dry, scaly, cracking skin. It itches. It hurts.
And honestly, sometimes it’s embarrassing.
It’s also not your fault.
There are eczema triggers that you may not even be aware of – but once you know them, you can avoid them.
And maybe you can even stop eczema flare ups before they begin.
Dry Skin or Eczema?
If eczema is more than dry skin, what exactly makes it different?
Before we can answer that, it helps to understand that the word eczema is most commonly used one of two ways.
It can be used to describe any kind of generic, itchy rash – or it can be used to describe atopic dermatitis, a very specific skin condition identified by thick, red, itchy skin that may crust or weep.
There are also several kinds of eczema, all of which have triggers beyond just dry skin.
But the key is that eczema is an itchy rash and it requires more than just lotion to clear up.
Whereas dry skin may be flaky or cracked, but doesn’t include a rash and usually clears up with moisturizers.
Knowing what you’re dealing with not only helps with treatment, but it helps with avoiding common eczema triggers!
Be Aware of These Ten
I’m going to do something I don’t usually do and start with the bad news.
The bad news is that you aren’t going to be able to avoid all ten of these triggers.
However, the good news is that once you know about them, you can minimize their impact when you can’t avoid them.
All that being said, let’s at least start with one you can avoid:
1. Wearing the wrong clothes. For some people, rough fabrics or synthetic materials can trigger eczema. Be sure to choose clothes that don’t irritate or rub – especially on current outbreaks – and breathe well.
2. Soaps and detergents. Along those lines, make sure you aren’t triggering your eczema by using the wrong soap. That goes for your hair and body, too! Products designed for babies tend to be good choices to avoid a flare up. Look for fragrance-free options, as well.
3. Sweat/Exercise. Unfortunately, while exercise is good for you, the sweat it produces can be an eczema trigger. Still, that doesn’t mean you should stop working out. Just make sure to stay hydrated, take time to dry off occasionally, and shower soon after you’re done with your workout. Be sure to use a nonreactive lotion when you get out of the shower, too.
4. Getting too hot. Heat and humidity are linked to eczema. Whenever you’re sweating, even just a little, it can trigger an eczema flare up. And sunburns are definitely a trigger. So stay in the shade, protect against the sun, and don’t skimp on the air conditioning. Just don’t …
5. Get too cold. Just like getting too hot can be an eczema trigger, so can getting too cold. See, as the temperatures drop, the air tends to dry out. When the air dries out, your skin dries out – and your eczema flares up. Invest in a humidifier for the winter months, and find a moisturizer that you can depend on.
6. A long, hot soak. Sadly, a hot bath at the end of a long day may sound good, but you should probably avoid it if you’ve got eczema. This eczema trigger can irritate in two ways. The hot water itself tends to be drying – but then the oils and bubbles you add to the tub can also cause a flare up. If you need to take a bath for another medical condition, keep them as short as possible, use gentle products, dry off carefully, and remember to use plenty of lotion when you’re out!
7. Dust. Here’s another reason to keep your house tidy – dust can be an eczema trigger. While you aren’t going to be able to avoid dust entirely, you can minimize it in your home. Be sure to clean the house and wash linens at least once a week. If you’re especially triggered by dust, you may want to consider removing carpets and going with hardwood or another smooth floor.
8. Irritants. This isn’t just detergents and soaps. Think about your perfume, cologne, and other beauty products. What shaving cream do you use? Or dry cleaned clothing? And don’t forget about cleaning supplies. Even fragrance-free products can be eczema triggers if they are full of chemicals. Pay close attention to what you use immediately before and during a flare up. You may find a pattern.
9. Allergens. Different from irritants, these triggers may cause flare ups and other allergic reactions, as well. Pet dander, pollen, anything that you’re allergic to could also be aggravating your eczema. If you aren’t having enough success avoiding them or treating them on your own, talk to a professional who specializes in allergies for options.
10. Hormonal fluctuations. This is the ultimate eczema trigger you can’t avoid. Hormones can play a part in your eczema outbreaks, especially in women. If you notice flare ups are worse at certain times of the month, or have increased since entering menopause, it’s worth mentioning to your doctor.
What About Food?
While one might expect certain foods to trigger eczema, the results are mixed.
Some reports are that food can absolutely be an eczema trigger, especially in children.
Other reports are that food allergies, no matter how severe, may cause other skin conditions but they don’t trigger eczema in people older than about 3 or 4.
It gets murkier because fewer than 1 in 10 children under that age have a food allergy that causes eczema – but of the ones that do, the foods that cause the flare up tend to be predictable: dairy, nuts and seeds, soy, eggs, and wheat.
So it’s easy to jump from those foods are triggering eczema in small children with food allergies to those foods are triggers, period.
If you think food may be triggering your eczema, talk to your doctor. Keep a food journal tracking what you’re eating and how bad your flare ups are.
Once you and your doctor find a pattern, you can move forward in a safe and healthy way.
No, you can’t avoid every eczema trigger – but you can eliminate many of them and mitigate others.
So don’t let your eczema keep you from living your life to the fullest. You can take on these eczema triggers and WIN!