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Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a skin condition that affects 1 in 10 people in their lifetime, including infants and children.

It causes dry, itchy, and inflamed skin. Some experience crusty patches and a general skin roughness. Since it can be itchy, some people have trouble sleeping at night.

Using a humidifier may help by addressing the symptoms of the condition.

Keep reading to learn about this helpful tool, including its benefits and how to use one.

You may find that your eczema worsens during the winter months. Marisa Garshick, MD, FAAD, a skincare specialist and board-certified dermatologist in New York City, explains that a dry, cold environment is to blame.

So does cranking up the heat inside. Both result in less moisture in the air.

It’s for this reason that a humidifier can help. “It helps to put moisture back in the air, making the skin less dry and as a result, less susceptible to itching and flaking,” Garshick says.

But do humidifiers work to prevent breakouts? In an update on treatment for eczema, a study suggested that humidifiers used during low humidity months can have a positive impact on eczema flareups.

Humidifiers are generally safe for all skin types to use.

However, daily use requires regular cleaning to get rid of limescale and other debris. Dr. Garshick explains that this also helps prevent the build-up of mold, which can be aggravating for those with eczema.

“Growth of bacteria, molds, and dust mites can exacerbate symptoms of asthma and eczema, and could potentially even lead to infections,” New York dermatologist Dr. Hadley King says.

Finally, be careful with warm-mist humidifiers. Since it works by boiling the water in the tank before releasing it into the air, there’s a risk of burning.

If you have pets or small children, Dr. King advises that it might not be a good choice.

Most dermatologists say that humidity levels between 30 to 50 percent are most ideal for eczema-prone people.

However, this varies from person to person. For example, Dr. Garshick points out that humidity levels that are too high may permit the growth of mold, which may contribute to worsening eczema.

“Additionally, some people do experience a worsening of their eczema in the summer months when it is more humid as a result of increased sweat, so it is important to remember that it may vary among individuals.”

When choosing a humidifier, opt for one with a cool mist. New York dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner says that it’s safer than hot mist, which can cause a burn if you get too close.

Humidifiers can be left running for as long as you’re going to be in a certain room. People commonly turn it on in the bedroom before going to sleep.

“I typically recommend turning on the humidifier a half an hour or so before going to bed so the air can adjust before you are ready to go to sleep,” Zeichner says.

As for size, choose one that relates to the size of the room.

“Small humidifiers work for rooms up to 300 square feet, medium humidifiers work for rooms 300 to 500 square feet, and large humidifiers are best for spaces over 500 square feet,” King says.

Since cleaning is important, select a humidifier with antimicrobial filters to prevent mold.

You may also want to consider a humidistat, timer, and a quiet noise option. Ultrasonic humidifiers are generally the quietest options, King says.

While there’s no cure for eczema, you may manage the symptoms with the right treatments.

Avoid your eczema triggers

This includes things like:

  • stress
  • allergies
  • weather conditions
  • water exposure

For example, since cold, dry weather can make eczema symptoms worse, use a humidifier to add moisture back into the air and take short showers to decrease water exposure.

Moisturize regularly

Moisturizing daily is beneficial for the skin. Choose a moisturizer that contains humectants, emollients, and occlusives.

“Humectants hydrate, emollients support the skin barrier, and occlusives lock in the moisture,” Dr. King explains.

Here are examples of all three:

  • Humectants: hyaluronic acid and glycerin
  • Emollients: cholesterol, squalene, fatty acids, fatty alcohols, and ceramides
  • Occlusives: petrolatum, beeswax, mineral oil, silicones, lanolin, and zinc oxide

Keep showers short

“Extended exposure to water strips the skin of essential oils needed for proper skin barrier function,” Dr. Zeichner says.

Aim for one lukewarm shower daily.

“If it feels like a hot tub, then the temperature is too hot,” Zeichner says.

After your bath or shower, don’t rub your skin to dry it. Instead, pat yourself dry with a towel.

Use gentle skin products

Prevent further aggravation to the skin by using gentle products.

Choose cleansers that won’t strip the skin of its natural oils. You should also help prevent any further moisture loss by using thick moisturizing creams or ointments.

These “help seal in any moisture and prevent further moisture loss,” Garshick says.

See a dermatologist

Dermatologists can prescribe additional treatments that soothe symptoms and reduce inflammation:

  • topical steroid creams
  • ointments
  • biologic injections

Humidifiers are a beneficial tool in treating the symptoms of eczema. They restore moisture in the air, which creates a gentler environment for your skin.

As helpful as humidifiers are, though, they shouldn’t be your sole treatment for eczema. You’ll need to focus on eliminating other triggers. A humidifier may be used alongside moisturizing regularly, using gentle skin products, and keeping showers brief.

See a doctor if eczema does not respond to home remedies or becomes more severe.