Living with Eczema: Common Triggers and Everyday Tips for Relief
As an eczema sufferer, your flare ups may seem to come out of nowhere. While there are many factors that contribute to your eczema—including genetics, an overactive immune system, environmental conditions, chemicals, and a compromised skin barrier—there may be some steps you can take to help soothe your skin. Discover some common eczema triggers you can steer clear of—to help improve your symptoms and help prevent them from returning.
What you need to know
There are a variety of eczema triggers, including changes in weather, contact with chemicals and the fabrics you wear. It’s especially important to avoid exposure to any factors that have led to a flare up in the past—and understand how to stop itching and get the relief your skin needs. Eczema remedies include over-the-counter skincare products designed to provide itch-relief benefits, as well as lifestyle changes that help minimize exposure to eczema triggers. When dealing with a flare up, make sure to keep skin hydrated, manage itching and avoid scratching that can injure the skin. 1,2,3 If you need help identifying your unique triggers and managing eczema symptoms, it’s best to consult with your dermatologist.
What can trigger eczema:
- Scratchy fabrics like wool4
- Harsh soaps, detergents and cleansing supplies5
- Long, hot showers7
- Excessive perspiration5
- Sudden changes in temperature and humidity5
Common eczema triggers
Every case is different, but dermatologists have identified several eczema triggers that, when combined with a genetic predisposition,7 can lead to an outbreak. However, it’s important to keep in mind that there can be a delay between exposure to eczema triggers and your actual flare up.7 This can make it even more difficult to identify what aggravates your eczema. The most common triggers include:
Dry skin: Keeping skin hydrated should be a top priority. When skin becomes rough, tight and dehydrated, you're more likely to experience an eczema flare up.8
Irritants: Harsh chemicals like cleaning supplies, everyday products like soap, detergent, dyes, shampoo and skincare products—as well as wearing polyester or wool and touching fruits, vegetables and meats can be eczema triggers.9
Weather: A drastic change in environmental conditions, as well as climate extremes, can trigger a flare up. Excessive heat and sweating during summer and dry skin caused by winter weather often leads to an eczema outbreak.10
Allergens: There are a variety of allergens that are eczema triggers, including pollen, dust mites, mold and pet dander.11
Stress: Emotional stress is among the many eczema triggers, perhaps because of the increased production a certain hormone cortisol associated with the body’s natural “fight or flight” response.6
Infections: A flare up can occur when the body is fighting bacteria, fungus and viruses such as staph, molluscum or herpes. This extra stress on the immune system can cause symptoms to worsen, which is another reason it’s important for a doctor or dermatologist to treat these microbial infections.12
Hormones: Women are especially prone to an eczema outbreak in tandem with hormonal fluctuations.13
How to manage an eczema flare up
Now that you know what causes eczema to flare up, the next step is understanding how to keep skin calm and comfortable. Beyond avoiding triggers, keeping skin moisturized with ointments and creams is key. Ingredients like ceramides that can help restore the skin’s barrier can be beneficial as well. Avoiding long baths and showers (and hot water) can also help prevent a flare up. Be mindful of the clothing you wear as well—and opt for soft, natural fabrics such as cotton and silk to help minimize the chances of an eczema outbreak.1 If these efforts don’t help improve your symptoms, it’s best to see a dermatologist.
Everyday eczema relief
A good first step for getting eczema relief is the proper skincare regimen. Eczema can be aggravated by harsh personal-care products, which is why it’s important to choose a gentle, non-irritating wash that cleanses, soothes and hydrates the skin. You should also look for over-the-counter ingredients with itch-relief benefits like hydrocortisone and colloidal oatmeal. Additional beneficial skincare ingredients include ceramides to help restore the skin barrier, which helps keep moisture in the skin while keeping irritants out, as well as hyaluronic acid and omega-rich oils for extra moisture. Applying a moisturizer with these ingredients and soothing niacinamide after cleansing helps calm the skin as well—and remember to apply often throughout the day. For targeted eczema itch relief, keep a hydrocortisone anti-itch cream with you at all times to help relieve itching.14
- Sidbury R, Tom WL,et al. “Part 4: Guidelines of care for the management of atopic dermatitis. Part 4: Prevention of disease flares and use of adjunctive therapies and approaches.”J Am Acad Dermatol. 2014 Jul;71(1);1218-33.
- Thomsen SF. Atopic dermatitis: natural history, diagnosis, and treatment.ISRN Allergy. 2014;354250:1-7.
- Eichenfield LF, Tom WL, Chamlin SL, et al. Guidelines of care for the management of atopic dermatitis. Section 2. Management and treatment of atopic dermatitis with topical therapies.J Am Acad Dermatol. 2014;71(1):116-132.
- Akdis CA, Akdis M, Bieber T, et al. Diagnosis and treatment of atopic dermatitis in children: European Academy of Allergology and Clinical Immunology/American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology/PRACTALL Consensus Report.J Allerg Clin Immunol. 2006;118:152-169.
- Oszukowska M, Michalak I, Gutfreund K, et al. Role of primary and secondary prevention in atopic dermatitis.Postep Derm Alergol. 2015;32(6):409-420.
- Vocks, E., Busch, R., Fröhlich, C. et al. Int J Biometeorol (2001) 45: 27.
- T. Ruzicka, B. Przybilla, J. Ring (2006) Handbook of Atopic Eczema; 2nd edition; Springer