7 Treatments for Winter Eczema Flare-Ups

Medically reviewed by Debra Henline, Sullivan, PhD, MSN , CNE, COI on March 24, 2016Written by Natalie Silver on March 24, 2016

Feeling itchy this winter? You may have eczema. Eczema is a skin condition that causes dry skin. It’s generally diagnosed in children, but it can occur for the first time in adults as well.

Eczema flare-ups are common in winter. Here are seven tips to help you cope with eczema flare-ups this winter.

What is eczema?

Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a skin condition that causes a dry, scaly, and itchy rash on the top of the skin. Eczema can be so itchy that someone with the condition can have trouble sleeping.

If you have eczema, you may experience the following symptoms:

  • severe itching, especially at night
  • dry, scaly patches that are red to brownish-gray on the skin
  • small, raised bumps that could leak fluid and scab over if scratched
  • thick, cracked, dry, and scaly skin
  • raw and sensitive skin

Eczema often first appears in children. By age 5, one in 10 children will be diagnosed with eczema. Many children outgrow eczema by their teenage years. About 50 percent of children with eczema will continue to have eczema into adulthood. It’s uncommon for eczema to develop for the first time in adulthood, but it’s possible.

Half of children who develop eczema are likely to have asthma or hay fever. There are many triggers that cause eczema flare-ups, though it’s suggested that it’s passed through genetics. There’s no known cure for eczema.

Why does eczema sometimes get worse in the winter?

You may find that eczema flares occur more frequently or get worse in the winter. Dry air combined with indoor heating systems can dry out your skin. Eczema flares because the skin cannot stay moist on its own. Flare-ups can also be caused by wearing too many layers of clothing, taking hot baths, or using too many bed coverings. These are all things you’re more likely to do during the cold winter months.

Eczema may also be caused by:

  • skin irritants
  • infections
  • stress
  • exposure to certain allergens, such as dust or pet dander

To combat problems with eczema in the winter, try these tips:

1. Skip hot baths

Because heat can cause your skin to dry out, avoid taking very hot baths in winter. Instead, use warm water, and try to bathe or shower less frequently. To keep your skin moist while bathing, add some moisturizing products to the water. Look for products that are specifically made for the bath. For example, there are moisturizing oatmeal products that can be added to the bath. Limit time in the bath as well. Children with eczema should only take baths that are 5 to 10 minutes long.

After your bath or shower, don’t rub your skin with a towel. Pat yourself dry instead. Rubbing your skin with a towel may scratch your eczema, which can cause you to itch more. Patting yourself dry may avoid this and will also leave a little moisture on the skin.

2. Use a gentle soap

If you have eczema, your skin is very sensitive. Avoid soaps and other bath products with unwanted added ingredients. Look for moisturizing soaps that are fragrance, dye, and alcohol-free. Skip bubble baths altogether.

Don’t forget to avoid harsh soaps in your laundry detergents as well. Look for detergents that are formulated for sensitive skin.

3. Try a thick moisturizer

If you have eczema, your skin requires a lot of moisturizing. Use thick moisturizers and apply them immediately after bathing or showering. Petroleum jelly is a good option. Lotions may not be as effective at treating winter eczema.

For painful, itchy flare-ups, you may also use a cream containing hydrocortisone or hydrocortisone acetate. You should talk to your doctor before using hydrocortisone or hydrocortisone acetate cream, though. Your doctor may also prescribe something stronger to curb your flare-up.

Make sure to moisturize your skin more than once per day.

4. Avoid contact with certain materials

Some fibers, such as wool, nylon, and others, can irritate skin and cause eczema. They also may cause overheating, which also leads to flare-ups.

Dress in breathable materials, such as cotton, and avoid wearing too many layers. Also, eliminate unnecessary layers on your bed and make sure bed linens are made from breathable fabrics as well.

5. Try a humidifier

Your heating system pumps a lot of hot air into your home. That likely irritates your eczema-prone skin. Use a humidifier to combat the dry heat. A humidifier adds moisture back into the air. There are portable humidifiers as well as ones that can be hooked up to your heating system. Be sure to maintain the humidifier to avoid bacteria and fungi growth.

6. Drink plenty of water

Keeping your body hydrated can help keep your skin hydrated. Drink at least eight glasses of water per day. This will help moisturize your skin. Those eight glasses can include cups of tea, coffee, hot chocolate, or your other favorite warm winter beverage.

Slice up lemons or other citrus and add it to the water for a mild flavor.

7. Take vitamin D supplements

Taking vitamin D supplements in the winter may improve eczema flare-ups, according to a study conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital. The study looked at 100 Mongolian schoolchildren and found that the children treated daily with vitamin D supplements saw a reduction in winter eczema symptoms. Vitamin D supplements are inexpensive and easy to find at a grocery or health food store. You can also use ultraviolet light to stimulate Vitamin D production.

Create a routine using these tips

If you create a daily routine with these seven tips in mind, the itching, pain, and rash caused by eczema should improve this winter. Contact your doctor if your eczema becomes severe. 

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