Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition characterized by dryness, itchiness, rashes, scaling, and occasional blistering. The exact cause isn’t known, but it’s likely due to genetic and environmental factors.
More than 31 million Americans have some type of eczema, according to the National Eczema Association (NEA). Some people have mild symptoms, but others have severe flares that disrupt their quality of life.
Common therapies to manage symptoms include over-the-counter topical creams, avoiding triggers, and prescription medications or treatments. These aren’t the only possible remedies, though. Some people also use a humidifier.
If you’re curious about whether you should be using a humidifier for your eczema, keep reading.
A humidifier is a device that adds moisture to the air. It works by releasing water vapor or steam.
Although there’s no scientific evidence that humidifiers help eczema, says the NEA, some people find them helpful for relieving dry skin.
There are various types of humidifiers. Humidifiers are designated by size:
- Central humidifiers are built into your home’s cooling and heating system.
- Console humidifiers are larger units meant to remain stationary.
- Portable humidifiers are smaller units that can be easily moved from room to room.
They can also be categorized by the way they create and disperse air mist. For example:
- Ultrasonic humidifiers use ultrasonic vibrations to create a mist.
- Cool mist humidifiers use a rotating disk to create a mist.
- Evaporative humidifiers use a fan to blow air through a moistened material.
- Warm mist or steam vaporizers use a heating element to create mist.
While all work to add moisture to the air, some doctors recommend a cool mist over a warm mist because it’s safer (the water doesn’t heat up, reducing the risk of burns).
However, the Environmental Protection Agency notes that cool mist and ultrasonic humidifiers are more likely to disperse microorganisms or minerals into the air. They clarify that this hasn’t been established as a serious health risk, but it’s possible that breathing in these irritants could cause issues.
If you’re looking for the simplest and most cost-effective solution you can simply put out a bowl of water in a warm room. Just be sure to clean the bowl and change the water regularly.
Both a cool mist and warm mist humidifier can help add moisture to the air and relieve skin dryness. But under certain circumstances, a humidifier can potentially worsen eczema.
This might happen when you don’t clean the unit.
It’s important to properly clean a humidifier. This can prevent the growth of bacteria, yeast, mold, and fungi. If a humidifier isn’t cleaned or sanitized on a regular basis, the device could release harmful microorganisms into the air.
This can cause respiratory illnesses, and possibly worsen eczema and other skin conditions like psoriasis.
Proper cleaning is also important because using the wrong cleaning products can be harmful. An older study from South Korea also found that a disinfectant (which has since been banned) added to the humidifier water had devastating effects. As such, use caution with any products or additives and speak with your doctor regarding any questions.
In addition to proper cleaning, you may want to talk with your doctor about using a humidifier if you or a family member also has allergies. Dust mites thrive on humid air, which could make allergies and eczema worse.
Humid weather and humidity can often reduce symptoms of eczema in some people.
The skin contains 64 percent water, notes the U.S. Department of Interior. Therefore, skin begins to dry out when there’s too little humidity in the air.
Higher humidity, on the other hand, puts moisture back into the air, which in turn helps hydrate dry, itchy skin.
Humidity levels are higher during the warmer months. Therefore, your eczema symptoms might improve during the spring or summer.
Increasing the humidity level indoors might also provide relief from symptoms. This is where a humidifier comes in. In addition to helping you manage dry, itchy skin, a humidifier might also improve cracked lips and dry eyes.
However, while humidifiers are sometimes effective at increasing moisture, there isn’t any evidence that they have the same effect as humidity related to outdoor weather.
They also aren’t a substitute for a healthy skin care routine. So along with using one to increase moistures levels in the air — and subsequently draw moisture back into your skin — you should also use daily creams and moisturizers.
Too much or too little humidity in the home can exacerbate eczema, so it’s important to maintain a comfortable level.
To prevent dry skin, keep an indoor humidity level of 50 to 60 percent. Humidity above this level can encourage the growth of mold.
A person’s bathing habits can also improve or worsen eczema. A good skin care routine helps reduce the severity of eczema flares, and can even prevent some flares.
Hot showers and baths aren’t the best options for eczema. These can worsen symptoms because too much exposure to hot water can dry out the skin, stripping it of natural oils.
Instead of long showers and baths, keep bathing time short — perhaps 10 to 15 minutes. You should also avoid hot water and bathe in lukewarm water. Additionally, use a gentle cleanser, pat dry your skin, and liberally apply moisturizer over your body after drying off.
Some people also experience eczema flares in the winter. This is due to dry air caused by low humidity, which extracts moisture from the skin.
This can be more of an issue in areas with dry climates, like Arizona or Colorado. It may also be amplified when using heaters during the winter, which tend to draw moisture out of the skin.
Eczema symptoms might appear worse on parts of the body exposed to cold air such as the hands and face. Wearing a scarf, drinking plenty of fluids, and moisturizing your skin can help reduce symptoms.
You may also want to avoid wool, as lanolin allergies can lead to eczema flares. Some people also react to compounds found in leather gloves and hats. Silk, bamboo, or cotton are preferable materials.
Also, turning up the heat during the winter can cause overly dry air. A humidifier in the home, however, helps combat dry air and keeps skin moisturized.
Eczema is a chronic inflammatory itchy skin condition that can wax and wane. Managing symptoms involves keeping skin moisturized with lotions and creams.
And depending on the severity and type of eczema, your doctor may prescribe a combination of topical, oral, or injectable medication to control flares.
Along with these therapies, you can make adjustments like using a humidifier, regularly moisturizing, and taking shorter, cooler showers that may improve skin health.
There are also benefits to avoiding triggers, such as known allergens and scented products, along with decreasing stress.
If you have questions about your allergens or whether a humidifier is a good choice for you it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor.