The National Eczema Association reports that a little over 10 percent of Americans have some form of eczema. It affects all ethnicities close to equally, but Native Americans tend to suffer from it slightly more than other groups. The Black population sees eczema at a rate of 10 percent. While we may think of eczema as something that mostly affects babies and toddlers, the same report from The National Eczema Association shows that one in four adults who have it saw their onset of symptoms in adulthood.
Living with eczema can be very frustrating. Its symptoms range from uncomfortable to unsightly, such as redness, flakiness, itchiness, and peeling. It’s found most commonly on the arms and behind the knees, but eczema can occur all over the body. Many who suffer from this condition know the feeling of having a day ruined because of an outbreak. Just when you are ready to show off your arms in a sun dress, eczema strikes and you cover up with sleeves. A day that was supposed to be fun is destroyed by itchiness. While there are prescriptions medications to address the symptoms of eczema, Cleveland Clinic reports that it cannot be cured. So those who suffer from it might benefit from knowing about these common items and activities that can make eczema worse.
These common cosmetic ingredients
While those without eczema can rely on the acne-fighting ingredients found in many common skin products and cosmetics, those with eczema sadly cannot. Glycolic acid, salicylic acid, and retinol – which are commonly found in acne-fighting products – are known for drying out the skin and making eczema worse. Glycolic acid is also commonly found in toners and certain serums. When it comes to battling eczema, moisturizing ingredients are key such as shea butter, jojoba oil, coconut butter, and avocado oil. Also beware of items containing fragrances. While these make you smell nice, they also aggravate eczema. Unscented products are best for those with eczema.
The sun and sunscreen
If you suffer from eczema, a beach or pool day can be a tricky thing for you. The sun in and of itself can irritate eczema as the combination of overheating and sweating can make the condition act up. But here’s the real kicker: most sunscreens on the market also irritate eczema. The National Eczema Society states that of the two primary types of sunscreens available – chemical absorbers and mineral-based reflectors – mineral-based reflectors tend to irritate eczema the least. However, you still need to make sure that even this type of sunscreen doesn’t contain the cosmetic irritants listed previously, such as fragrance.
Sweat is not an eczema sufferer’s friend. Sweat is your body’s mechanism for cooling down. When you’re hot, your skin releases moisture that evaporates, causing you to cool down. However, The National Eczema Association explains that that process dries out the skin and makes eczema worse. For this reason, synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon, and rayon are problematic. They do not allow the skin to breathe, which causes you to sweat. If you have eczema, it’s best to stick to natural fabrics like cotton or linen and, when possible, loose-fitting garments that allow the skin to breathe. These are the most comfortable on hot days, too, so it’s a win-win.
Many of the ingredients that make laundry detergent super powerful and smelling nice are also problematic for your skin. If your clothes come out of the wash smelling like spring rain or tropical flowers, you’re probably about to suffer an eczema flare-up because those are fragrances. If you have eczema, your best bet is actually to choose laundry detergent formulated for babies. This is typically unscented and designed to be gentle on the skin. When you buy new clothes, remember to put these through the wash using your gentle detergent before wearing them, as the manufacturer may have used scented detergent previously.
Certain foods – maybe
Research from the National Health Service (NHS) says there is no evidence that any food generally makes eczema worse. However, eating a food to which you are allergic can make eczema symptoms act up. Wheat, soy, dairy, and tree nuts seem to be big culprits. Again, if you don’t have a known allergy to these, there shouldn’t be a problem. If you do have such an allergy, you’re likely already very careful to avoid those foods, but know that if you do eat them, eczema may be one more thing you deal with. The research from NHS did, however, state that having eczema at a young age could increase one’s chances of developing food allergies.
If you needed one more reason to manage stress, here it is: it can make eczema worse. The National Eczema Association reports that prolonged stress can cause an eczema flare-up. When your body is in a state of stress, it releases the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol, when pumped out continuously, leaves the body in a state of perpetual inflammation, which naturally makes eczema worse. It’s why you might notice someone going through a difficult period in life frantically scratching at their arms – their eczema is acting up. In addition to the many other reasons (digestive issues, mental health, sleep, etc.) to manage stress, eczema is another.
Eczema sufferers should bathe or shower in lukewarm water. Hot water does several things to the skin that eczema doesn’t like. First, it makes you sweat. You don’t notice it because you’re literally covered with water, but the heat does make you sweat, which we already know dries out the skin. But hot water can also strip the skin of naturally moisturizing oils, leaving the skin even drier. Avoid hot showers and baths, and as a precaution, apply a natural moisturizer (i.e. no fragrances or other irritants) after showers and baths, in case the water did dry out the skin.
Dust and environmental allergens
There are a lot of reasons to want to keep a dust-free home. Dust is tough on the lungs as well as the skin. The National Eczema Society explains that it’s not dust mites but rather their droppings to which people can be allergic. If you are allergic to these and have eczema, you’ll see a flare-up in a dusty home. Other allergens in the home such as pollen or pet dander can also make eczema flare up. Unfortunately, the process of cleaning these away can cause the particles to land on the skin or get in the lungs, which is why it’s important to wear long rubber gloves and possibly a mask when dusting your home.