For people with eczema, summer isn’t always so sweet. The soaring temps and warm-weather activities, like swimming and spending hours in the sun, can be eczema triggers. To help make this summer more manageable, please see our tips and suggestions below:
The sun: Exposure to sunlight provides vitamin D, which is needed to assist skin conditions such as eczema. Often, those with eczema have low vitamin D. However, heat from the sun and perspiration can trigger eczema flares. So balance and a sensible approach is essential. Getting sunburnt may also trigger inflammation which will exacerbate eczema (not to mention the long term risks of skin cancer). Another important note about the sun – always check with your health professional regarding the possibility of increased sensitivity relating to any medication or creams you are using.
Salt water: Salt water can be good for eczema. It has antiseptic properties (preventing infections) and anti-inflammatory properties – but it all depends on the situation. Salt water can be soothing on the skin but if the skin is broken (often the case with eczema) salt water can sting. To try to combat the sting, you can apply a barrier cream/ointment before swimming. Salt bathing is often used in eczema management regimes but keep in mind that not all salt water is equal. It is possible to pick up skin infections at the beach due to other things in the water combined with broken skin.
Pools and chlorine: Pools and chlorine can be safe to swim in – but not all pools are equal. The right amount of chlorine can help manage infections, but too much can irritate. Some public pools will have the maximum chlorine levels due to their high usage rate. Salt water pools are often more tolerated (and mineral or oxygen treated pools can be wonderful). Regardless of where you are swimming, always shower and moisturise well as soon as possible after swimming. Also, keep in mind that the more time in the water, the more the skin may become dry and irritated, so short swims are best.
Sand: Sand and eczema are not good friends. It does irritate sensitive skin, but there are things you can do if you still want to head to the beach with your little ones. A great idea is to provide a sand free area using an upside down fitted bed sheet. Just place some cool boxes (esky’s in Australia) or big bags in each corner and pull up the sides to create a relatively sand free area. And don’t forget to rinse off as soon as possible after sand exposure to prevent any grains of sand rubbing sensitive skin.
Sunscreen: We are often asked about sunscreens and it seems to be a different answer for each person. Children/babies with eczema often react to sunscreens and sometimes, it is a case of trial and error. This is where patch testing is essential – always test the cream on a small patch of skin first. Sunscreens come in two main categories – Physical Blockers or Chemical Blockers. Chemical blockers work by absorbing into the skin, absorbing the UV rays, converting the rays into heat and then releasing them from the body. Physical blocker sunscreen works by sitting on the skin’s surface and reflecting the UV rays. Therefore, eczema skin may benefit from physical blockers as they do not generate as much heat (an enemy of eczema) and often have fewer ingredients that can cause skin reactions. Physical blockers often use minerals, usually zinc or titanium oxide based. More tips for sunscreen usage – apply moisturiser at least 30 minutes prior to applying the sunscreen. Try to avoid thick, greasy sunscreens or ones with fragrances. Avoid applying to sandy skin as the friction can hurt and cause more broken skin. If you are still struggling to find a sunscreen that agrees with your skin, there are other ways to get out and about while minimising damaging UV rays. Use a UV suit or loose cotton/bamboo clothing and a hat with a wide brim.
Clothing: It can be difficult to find appropriate summer clothing for eczema skin – especially in our Australian summer. Often eczema skin needs to be fully covered to prevent too much UV exposure or to prevent the scratching and infection cycle that goes with eczema. Light weight pure cotton or bamboo seems to be the best materials for eczema, although fine merino wool and silk garments especially made for eczema can be an option. In summer, if you have to keep the skin fully covered, it is important to keep skin cool at the same time – so often air-conditioning is essential. For swimming, standard rashies and swimwear can be great for UV protection, but often cause trapped sweat and irritation if left on too long after swimming.
Insect repellent: As with anything that goes on the skin, patch test first. A bit like the sunscreens – you can have different styles of repellents – mainly DEET, Picaridin and the ‘natural’ repellents such as citronella. Ones with DEET have always proven to be very effective but can be harsh on plastics or clothing, but the new ones with Picaridin are also very effective and seem to be better tolerated due to the very low odour.
Other tips for insect repellent:
- You can spray the repellent on your clothes instead of directly on the skin (some are even specifically marketed for this purpose, some of our members have been doing this with existing repellents for years)
- Wear cotton long pants and tops with long sleeves
- Use mosquito nets over your child’s bed/cot
- Avoid being out at dusk and being near stagnant water.
For more information on triggers and eczema management check out our Eczema Resource Library.