Using a humidifier adds moisture to the air, which may help soothe dry, irritated skin for some. But, it’s important to take certain precautions.

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

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

Using a humidifier may help address dryness and other symptoms of the condition.

This article explains more about this helpful tool, including its benefits and how to use it.

Your skin contains around 64% water. When the amount of water in the air drops much lower than that, the skin can become dehydrated, and dry air can trigger eczema symptoms.

For example, you may find that your eczema worsens during winter. According to Marisa Garshick, MD, FAAD, a skin care specialist and board certified dermatologist in New York City, a dry, cold environment is to blame. Cranking up the heat inside may also play a role. Both result in less moisture in the air.

That’s where a humidifier may come into play. “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 said.

Will a humidifier make a difference?

How helpful a humidifier is for eczema can depend on various factors, including:

  • the current humidity level in the home
  • the time of year
  • the presence of other eczema triggers

So it’s important to incorporate their use into a well-rounded eczema treatment and management plan.

Can humidifiers prevent eczema flares?

Some older research suggests that humidifiers used during low-humidity months can positively impact eczema flare-ups.

However, newer, more comprehensive studies are needed to determine exactly how adding moisture back into the environment may impact the likelihood of future eczema flares.

You can leave a humidifier running for as long as you’re in a certain room. People often 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,” said New York dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner.

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

“Small humidifiers work for rooms up to 300 square feet (sq ft), medium humidifiers work for rooms 300–500 sq ft, and large humidifiers are best for spaces over 500 sq ft,” said New York dermatologist Dr. Hadley King.

It is important to keep your humidifier clean, so select one with antimicrobial filters to prevent mold.

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

Humidifiers are generally safe for people of all skin types.

However, daily use requires regular cleaning to get rid of limescale and other debris. Garshick explained that this also helps prevent the buildup of mold, which can aggravate those with eczema.

“Growth of bacteria, mold, and dust mites can exacerbate symptoms of asthma and eczema and could potentially even lead to infections,” said King.

Also, practice caution with warm-mist humidifiers. They work by boiling the water in the tank before releasing it into the air so there’s a risk of burning.

King advised that a warm-mist humidifier might not be a good choice if you have small children or pets.

The National Eczema Society recommends keeping humidity levels between 30–60%.

However, this varies from person to person. For example, Garshick pointed 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. Zeichner said that it’s safer than hot mist, which can cause a burn if you get too close.

Humidifiers can be beneficial tools in treating eczema symptoms. They restore moisture in the air, which creates a gentler environment for your skin.

As helpful as they may be, you should not rely on humidifiers as your sole treatment for eczema. Use them alongside other strategies, such as moisturizing regularly, using gentle skin products, and keeping showers brief.