Most people experience some kind of skin issue in their lifetime, like acne or sunburn. While these conditions certainly aren’t fun, they’re easily treatable and tend to go away. But if you’re one of the estimated 30 million or more adults living in the United States with eczema, you know that some issues are a little more persistent.
Eczema is a category of skin conditions which cause inflamed and itchy patches to form on the skin. It’s sometimes accompanied by weeping blisters or scales. Eczema isn’t contagious, nor is it typically dangerous. But it can make you vulnerable to skin infections or be a sign of an allergic reaction that may need treatment. And the most common form, atopic dermatitis, is chronic.
There are times when I have flares and other times when you wouldn’t know I have eczema at all. A few years ago, I became reacquainted with my own eczema after flare-ups decades apart. Now the body checks, daily moisturizing routines, and constant attempts to break that “itch/scratch” cycle seem second nature. If you’ve never experienced eczema, you may not be aware of all the ways this pesky condition affects daily life. Whether you’ve just been diagnosed or have been managing eczema for years, here are just some of the ways your day is different (and some tips for dealing with it).
1. The morning assessment
For many, the morning routine is so routine, it could happen in their sleep. If you have eczema, though, your morning may require a little more vigilance.
Did you scratch in your sleep last night? How is that patch on your leg looking? Has it spread?
If you’re like me and wear moisturizing gloves at night, your morning might also involve searching for the glove you managed to take off while snoozing.
2. Shower time
Once you’ve checked for blood on the sheets (kidding ... mostly) it’s time for a shower. Many experts say that hot water temperatures can exacerbate eczema flares and make already tender skin more sensitive and dry. One strategy is to keep the shower lukewarm. Another is to keep it short.
3. Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize
Whether your shower is hot, cold, short, or long, be sure to moisturize after. Using cream moisturizers free of fragrances, dyes, and other irritating additives can help seal in moisture needed to help skin repair itself. Just budget a few minutes to let it all sink in before getting dressed.
4. Figuring out what to wear
Choosing an outfit can be difficult enough early in the morning. If you have eczema, fabric choice can make a big difference in how your day goes. Breathable fabrics like cotton can help keep skin dry and prevent sweating, which can make eczema flares worse. Fabrics like wool can irritate the skin.
5. To wear makeup, or not to wear makeup?
If you experience eczema on your face or neck, makeup poses its own set of challenges. It’s entirely up to you if you want to cover facial flares with makeup. If you do, just opt for cosmetics that are formulated for sensitive skin and free of perfumes.
6. De-stressing after a stressful commute
Depending on your occupation, the hard part could be over — or just beginning. Getting to work can be a big source of stress if you’re running late or facing traffic. Either way, taking a few deep breaths now may help save you discomfort later. Stress (and sweating) can be a serious eczema trigger.
7. Germs, be gone!
Taking public transportation? I get it, I can’t shake that slimy feeling after hanging on to the strap or bus pole, either. If you’re reaching for that hand sanitizer, brace yourself — nothing burns quite like alcohol on a burst eczema blister between your fingers. It may be worth it, though. Sanitizing can help curb contact between bacteria and broken skin. Just be sure to moisturize after.
8. Dealing with indoor climate change
Part of what makes eczema so difficult to manage is that your needs can change daily — like the weather. Dry air is moisture’s enemy. Working in a dry environment (hot or cold) can make dry skin as delicate as tissue paper. If you work in an overly air-conditioned office, be sure to (say it with me now!) moisturize often.
9. Gloves, kid
If your work requires you to handle food or chemicals (even dishwashing liquid or detergents) or otherwise wash your hands frequently, see if you can wear latex or nitrile gloves while on duty. Wearing gloves can reduce your contact with irritants, water (yes, even water is drying), and generally help protect your skin (or customers’ food from your skin).
10. No, really, gloves
This trick really changed my eczema game, so it’s worth repeating. As contradictory as it sounds, water really does dry out your skin. Washing veggies for dinner and doing dishes are two of my biggest eczema nemeses. (So is handling avocado, but you can’t pry my guacamole from my cold, chapped hands.) Wearing gloves controls water-hand contact and makes time in the kitchen a little more fun.
Pro tip: Look for cotton glove liners to wear under rubber or latex gloves. The extra layer provides even more protection and can help keep moisture where you want it.
11. Clean up, clean up
Keeping a tidy home is often easier said than done. I’m not talking pizza boxes stacked on the floor. I mean the kind of cleaning that helps keep allergens under control, like vacuuming, dusting, washing sheets, and cleaning windows. Dust mites, pollen, mildew, and other irritating debris may contribute to eczema flares. In fact, if you have atopic dermatitis, there’s a good chance you have asthma or hay fever. Keeping things clean may go a long way in relieving symptoms. For anything that comes in contact with your skin, like sheets, look for detergents formulated for sensitive skin, free of dyes and perfumes.
12. Goodnight, moon
When it’s time to hit the hay, budget a few minutes to do a little eczema self-care. If your eczema is mostly under control, this might mean a nightly moisturizing routine before you hop into bed (and if you have hand eczema, those cotton glove liners make great overnight moisturizing gloves).
If your eczema triggers are less than clear, you might take a moment to reflect on your day. Keep a journal of what you ate, any new products you’re trying (like detergents, perfumes, and hand soaps), any stressful moments, and other noteworthy happenings. Just keeping track can help you feel more connected to your body. It may help you manage triggers down the line.
There’s no doubt that having eczema affects your daily life. With a little attention to detail and a few adjustments to your routine, however, it doesn’t have to derail your day. Talk to your doctor for a diagnosis if you recently developed what you think is eczema, or if you’re interested in exploring treatment options for your existing eczema.