What Causes Eczema Flare-Ups? 

If you have eczema, you’re probably aware that symptoms can sometimes get worse, or ‘flare up’. But what causes eczema flare-ups? By understanding the causes of eczema flare-ups, you can help manage your symptoms more effectively.

eczema flare up on neck and scratching itchy skin

What Are the Symptoms of Eczema Flare-Ups? 

Eczema is a chronic skin condition. It's not always visible as it tends to come and go, but when eczema flares up, symptoms can make life pretty challenging.

If you have eczema, then flare-ups can be an unwelcome surprise. The most common symptom is itchy skin. Other symptoms include red or reddish-brown patches on your skin, dryness leading to cracking, inflammation, and occasionally blisters that can weep liquid.

eczema issues on the arm

What Triggers Eczema Flare-Ups & How Can You Help to Manage Them?

Eczema doesn't have a one-size-fits-all approach. Babies usually experience flare-ups on their cheeks, whereas adults tend to get them in other areas such as elbows, backs of knees and neck. But no matter your age, eczema breakouts can be triggered by a variety of factors; including your genetics and environmental factors.

It’s important to understand your eczema, so you can make some lifestyle changes to help manage your symptoms and reduce flare-ups. However, if you experience a flare-up you can use gentle skincare products such as Cetaphil Eczema Restoraderm Flare-Up Relief Cream to help relieve and repair your skin barrier.

Let’s look at some common eczema flare-up triggers and how to avoid them:

You can help prevent itching by avoiding harsh chemicals or skincare products with strong fragrances. Instead, switch to gentle formulas and products with soothing ingredients like Cetaphil Restoraderm products, which are approved by the National Eczema Association.

When using gentle, fragrance-free moisturizers, apply to damp skin to help to lock in moisture.

The weather can have a huge impact on your skin, from seasonal transitions to temperature and humidity changes. What causes an eczema flare-up in the summer can be different from what triggers them in winter. Hot weather can cause you to sweat more, leading to a flare-up. On the other hand, cold temperatures can dry out your skin.

In the summer, wear lightweight clothes and stay indoors in well-ventilated areas when possible. During winter, use moisturizing products on your dry skin like Cetaphil Healing Ointment – especially on your hands and face, which are often the most exposed part of your body.

Exercise is a great way to get your body and mind in shape, but when you have eczema exercise can be quite a challenge because of sweating. Sweat from physical activity contains sodium, minerals, and water that may dry out or irritate your skin. In addition, the sudden change in body temperature can cause your skin to itch. To minimize the effect exercise has on your eczema, try these recommendations:

  • Moisturize before exercise and afterwards, post-shower, with a gentle product like Cetaphil Eczema Restoraderm Soothing Moisturizer.
  • Wear breathable fabrics that won't irritate your skin.
  • Drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after to keep hydrated.
  • Exercise in well-ventilated spaces and keep a towel on hand for wiping off sweat.
  • Use cold compression wraps to cool the skin.
  • Take a lukewarm – not hot – shower afterward and use products such as Cetaphil Flare-up Relief Body Wash.
  • Take a break in your exercise routine if you get a flare-up.

Your wardrobe choices can play a role in managing eczema flare-ups. Fabrics like wool, nylon, and polyester are common triggers. You may find that fake fur, leather, lace, velvet, tulle, or even denim triggers a flare-up or irritates your skin, causing it to become itchy. If itchy eczema is a problem for you, then relieve the itch with Cetaphil Eczema Restoraderm Itch Relief Gel.

Additionally, opt for loose-fitting clothes made of natural fabrics like cotton, silk, and bamboo. These allow the air to flow and could help with any flare-ups.

How you wash your clothes matters too. Avoid laundry products that contain dyes and fragrances. Instead, choose ones that are hypoallergenic and formulated for sensitive skin.

Nickel can be a trigger for contact dermatitis flare-ups, so you may want to avoid jewelry such as watches, rings, and necklaces with a high amount of nickel. You should speak to your doctor if you think your jewelry may be causing your flare-ups.

Certain foods can sometimes contribute to eczema flare-ups, which tend to be more apparent in babies and children.

Foods high in nickel could be a trigger. These include oatmeal, beans, lentils, processed meats, chocolate, nuts, seeds, black tea, and canned food. Other foods which have been associated with eczema in some studies are eggs, milk, fish, and peanuts. If you have eczema, you should speak to your dietician about the role diet may play in your flare-ups.

It’s no secret that stress can have a serious effect on our skin, and those with eczema know this all too well. When we’re anxious or overwhelmed, hormones like adrenaline and cortisol are released in the body, which can contribute to inflammation of the skin. That’s why it’s so important to take care of your physical and mental health.

If you are stressed, try one or more of these techniques: deep breathing, yoga, meditation, practicing a hobby, or taking a walk in nature. Before going to bed, try indulging in a lukewarm bath and moisturizing your skin with some nourishing cream afterward to avoid itching.

For some women, eczema flare-ups before menstruation and during pregnancy are surprisingly common. Taking certain hormonal medications such as oral contraceptives or hormone modulators may also cause an flare-up to occur.

Menopause can bring some noticeable changes to skin, too. At around the age of 50, a woman’s skin pH level changes. This change in pH results in more sensitive skin that is more easily irritated. These hormonal changes also means that older women are more likely to develop rashes. Additionally, it’s possible that existing eczema can be exacerbated.

dermatologist inspecting eczema skin

The Bottom Line

Help eczema flare-ups by identifying the triggers, and making small tweaks to your lifestyle and skincare routine to help avoid these triggers. Try treating yourself with specially formulated skincare products, or switching detergent. A few little steps can bring big improvements when it comes to managing skin irritations.

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