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Managing eczema in summertime

Girl scratching the itch on her arm with hand
Learn how to prevent and treat flare-ups while having warm-weather fun.

Itchy, uncomfortable eczema can be an unpredictable condition. For some people, the dry, indoor air of winter causes flare-ups. But for others, it’s warmer weather — and the sweating, outdoor allergens, and increased exposure to sunlight — that can ignite a bout of itching, rashes, and other symptoms.

This can make swim parties, picnics, and other kinds of outdoor fun challenging. Fortunately, you can take steps to ward off the worst of warm-weather effects on eczema.

“People who have this condition should absolutely be able to go to the beach, enjoy their vacation, and have a relaxing time,” says James Ralston, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in McKinney, Texas. “In fact, relaxing reduces stress, which can help reduce eczema. People with eczema just have to take certain precautions both before and after warm weather activities.”

Proactive protection

“Dry skin can contribute to an eczema flare-up,” says Azeen Sadeghian, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “If you’re prone to dry skin, shower in lukewarm water, and limit showers to no more than once a day and to 5-10 minutes.

“Use fragrance-free cleansers made for sensitive skin,” she continues. “You don’t need to soap up head to toe. Focus on areas that are visibly accumulating soil or oil, and on body odor sites.”

The best time to apply moisturizer is while your skin is still damp post-shower. “Dab yourself lightly with a towel, then lock in the moisture with a fragrance-free product,” Dr. Sadeghian says. “Creams or petroleum-based ointments tend to moisturize better than lotions.”

Dr. Sadeghian advises against putting essential oils or any kind of fragrance directly on skin. Use fragrance-free and dye-free laundry detergent as well. “In summer months, when you’re sweating, a little bit of laundry detergent tends to leach into the skin,” she says.

Loose, 100% cotton clothing will help control sweat, which can leave a salty residue when it dries and lead to itching. “In general, you want to regulate your body temperature as much as you can in the summer,” says Dr. Ralston. “Use shade and air conditioning to keep from getting overheated.”

When you do engage in physical activities that cause you to sweat, take a cool shower as soon as possible afterward to rinse the sweat off, he says. That advice also applies to swimming in a pool. “Some people bring containers of fresh water to rinse off with when showers aren’t available,” Dr. Ralston says.

As for sunscreen, Dr. Ralston prefers that his eczema patients use a physical, also called mineral, product containing zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. “They feel cooler on your skin and can be less irritating than chemical sunscreens,” he says.

Stopping the itch

If, despite your best efforts, eczema flares-up, there are a variety of treatments available. “If your eczema is mild, an over-the-counter, gentle, fragrance-free moisturizer, or hydrocortisone cream can help,” says Dr. Ralston. “If that doesn’t work, see a board-certified dermatologist who can help you with a skin care routine and a plan customized for your individual needs.”

A dermatologist may recommend allergy pills and/or prescribe topical corticosteroids or non-steroidal topical medications. “We can also prescribe oral medications that are geared toward calming the immune system down so skin is less inflamed,” says Dr. Sadeghian.

For especially persistent cases, phototherapy, which uses certain forms of ultraviolet light to treat eczema, may be effective. And not long ago, a biologic — a new, highly targeted type of medication made from living tissues — was approved for eczema.

“The most important thing for people with eczema to know is that they don’t need to suffer with it,” says Dr. Ralston. “There are good treatments and good strategies that can help you.”

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Last updated: 8/30/21