Eczema affects up to 10% of the world’s population and is one of the commonest of skin problems. Characterized by dry, itchy skin which may also be flaky, red and/or cracked, seasonal changes may affect eczema severely.
Excess sweating in the summer months, for example, often cause flare-ups. Heat rashes can be nasty, itchy and uncomfortable. However, the kind of eczema I am concerned about here is the so-called ‘winter eczema’, in its severest form, known as asteototic eczema or ‘winter itch’.
Asteototic eczema mostly affects older people, is often on their limbs, and is also called, more vividly, erythema craquele. This is because the skin looks like ‘cracked porcelain’.
The cold, dry air sucks water from the skin causing it to peel and crack. The increased loss of skin cells creates more water and oil loss leading to even drier skin. Indoor heating, which dries the air, and dehydration from not drinking enough water make this kind of eczema worse.
According to Mel Sinclair, a registered nurse, who runs the website Eczemasite.com, wearing winter clothing can also dry and irritate the skin:
During winter, the air is often a lot dryer as the humidity drops. People also wear extra layers of clothing to keep warm; often clothing that is known to irritate the skin or does not allow good air circulation.
These factors can cause eczema to flare up where it has not been a major issue during the summer months. Hence, [these people] only have eczema in the winter.
Unfortunately wearing wool, the warmest natural material, can chafe and irritate the skin, but it is difficult to avoid this in the winter! Synthetic materials don’t allow the skin to breathe so it isn’t a good idea for people who suffer from skin conditions to wear them at all, let alone in winter.
I have found acrylic can be especially scratchy and irritating. Cotton is the best material because it is natural, light and allows the skin to breathe.
The hands can be especially affected by the freezing, dry air so it is a good idea to wear cotton or leather gloves when out in the cold. According to the article Winter Skin-Care Guidelines at Eczema Net,
Protecting hands from the cold air and low humidity plays an important role in preventing flare-ups.
Make sure the gloves are made from material that does not irritate your skin. Some patients find that wearing a cotton mitten next to the skin and a woolen mitten over the cotton one, keeps hands warm and dry.
Protecting the hands from detergents and hot water is also important, washing hands in hot water or detergent-filled water can make [winter eczema] worse, so wearing plastic or vinyl gloves is a good idea. However, it is important to change gloves regularly because of the build-up of sweat.
Other important suggestions which help the outbreak of winter eczema include using a humidifier; avoiding long, hot showers; constant moisturizing; and if all else fails going on a summer vacation to a warm and humid place!
A humidifier increases the humidity inside, lessening the dangers of dry, itchy skin caused by heating. According to the doctors at the Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago: “It is very important that the vaporizer or humidifier be cleaned well and frequently, since molds may grow and cause allergic manifestations.”
Showering at high temperatures leads to water loss in the body so it is better to take a warm bath or a short, warm shower. Patting the skin dry and using a soothing moisturizer afterwards is a good idea.
Some doctors suggest only using soap in the groin area and under the arms because it removes the natural oils on the skin’s surface. Deodorant soaps are especially likely to irritate the skin so it is best to use a very mild soap.
Using a moisturizer regularly – every day, at least – also helps soothe and lessen the dry skin associated with eczema. Doctors suggest avoiding moisturizers with fragrances and preservatives; use mild moisturizers instead.
Vaseline, Sorbelene, and Aqueous Cream are all helpful. Dr. Dijkstra at the Cleveland Health Clinic states: “I recommend buying a moisturizing cream that is cheap and comes in a big bottle,” he says, “because you should use a lot of it.”
Perhaps the advice that most people with eczema would like most, however, is to travel to a warm and humid place. According to Thomas Russell MD, clinical professor of dermatology at the Medical College of Wisconsin, “A few weeks in the Caribbean with lots of swimming and sunshine often seems to be helpful,” says Russell. “All that water and warmth is the best treatment for many people.”
“But don’t overdo it in the sun,” says Web MD’s John Casey. “Sun block with at least an SPF of 15 helps protect you from the sun’s damaging effects while allowing you to enjoy your tropical paradise.”