As colder temperatures approach, our skin care may need seasonal adjustments. For those who suffer from “winter itch” or eczema, now is the time to establish good skin care habits to prevent annoying and frequently debilitating flares.
“Eczema” is a term used very loosely. It encompasses many types of red, blistering, oozing, scaly, thickened and, most annoying, itching skin rashes. It is, in fact, known in the medical arena as “the rash that itches” or the “itch that rashes.”
Eczema can affect any age group at any time in a person’s life, from infants to seniors. For those affected, there are preventative measures that can be helpful. A hot shower or bath feels so good on a cold day, but hot water can exacerbate itching. The heat brings blood to the surface of the skin, and this can be aggravating and very drying. Cool to lukewarm water is better, and keep shower/bath time relatively short, around 10 minutes. Soaps and detergents to cleanse skin can be aggravating as well. In many instances, it is better to use a mild or moisturizing soap. Wash essential areas with mild soap such as Dove for sensitive skin, versus sudsing and scrubbing all over.
When finished bathing, try patting the skin dry (versus rubbing vigorously) and immediately apply a good emollient moisturizing cream or ointment. If the consistency of Vaseline is not bothersome to you, it can provide excellent moisture and skin protection. As a general rule, the thicker the emollient, the more moisturizing it will be and the less it will burn if put on open skin. Oils, such as olive or vegetable oil, can also be used. Gels and lotions tend to contain more alcohol, which can be irritating and drying. Using a humidifier can also help.
If eczema does not respond to these conservative measures, see a skin specialist. He or she can prescribe topical medications that are safe and effective for eczema. It is better to treat resistant rash areas early. As things worsen, it can lead to secondary infections and further worsening of the condition.