Maybe you’ve been dealing with it your whole life or maybe you’re only noticing it now. But, if you’re battling bouts of eczema, known in the medical community as atopic dermatitis (AD), you’re far from alone. In fact, as many as 30 million Americans suffer from the skin condition. Eczema is an autoimmune response. It presents as a rash, inflammation, irritation, itching, dryness, bumps, peeling, and redness. If you have eczema, everyday activities can become more challenging. This includes exercising with eczema, as sweating, heat, and friction from clothing or exercise equipment can aggravate symptoms.
While the root cause of eczema is unknown, some factors make you more susceptible to it. These include whether or not you have a family history, if you live in a city with higher levels of pollution or a cold climate, and your gender, as females are slightly more likely to get it, according to Dermatologist Kelly Bickle, M.D. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this skin condition. However, there are a myriad of treatment options available, as well as lifestyle changes that you can make to ensure that your daily life is more manageable.
Here are dermatologists’ top solutions for relieving symptoms that can crop up when you’re exercising with eczema.
You know how important it is to get your fair share of H2O every day. This is especially true on days when you’re exercising. But, you might not have realized just how beneficial hydration is for your eczema.
“Dehydration can not only have a damaging effect on your body but also on your skin since it is your body’s largest organ,” says Michele Green, M.D., dermatologist and RealSelf contributor. “During workouts, perspiration is bound to happen since it’s the body’s way of keeping us cool. [This] means loss of fluid and dry skin—two ingredients that cause eczema symptoms to flare.” Sweat doesn’t help either since it’s mainly made up of water and sodium. “The salty residue that’s left behind after sweat evaporates is because of the sodium [that] your body releases. [It] can most certainly cause an eczema flare-up,” she adds. For this reason, Dr. Green recommends staying hydrated and drinking a lot of water during workouts.
Wear light, breathable fabrics.
In addition to staying hydrated during exercise, it’s important to pay attention to the clothes you wear. Light, breathable, comfortable, and soft fabrics are key, especially if you suffer from eczema. “Cotton is probably the best fabric to wear because it is light. [This] prevents the skin from getting too hot,” says Dr. Green. She recommends avoiding any type of synthetic clothing. “Synthetic material, such as polyester, can draw sweat into your clothing. [This] means that all that salty residue left behind after sweating is trapped between your skin and clothing.” Another fabric to stay away from is wool since its fibers are known to irritate the skin.
Keeping your skin hydrated is a two-part process. You should be doing so from the inside by drinking plenty of water, and the outside by using topical moisturizers. “Ceramide-containing moisturizers are the best. They’re made of natural fats that fill in cracks between the skin cells In the outer layer,” says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. His go-to for eczema-prone skin is Aveeno Active Naturals Skin Relief Moisture Repair Cream. It combines skin protectant colloidal oatmeal with ceramides and is fragrance-free.
Wash your skin immediately after working out.
Bacteria live everywhere on all surfaces, especially the ones that are touched sometimes multiple times a minute at your local fitness studio. That’s why it’s so important not only to wash your hands after exercising but to wash your whole body. This is especially true for areas where you sweat the most. “Not removing wet and warm clothes gives bacteria the opportunity to spread and flourish on the body and result in a flare-up,” says Dendy Engelman, M.D., director of dermatologic surgery at Metropolitan Hospital in New York City. If you don’t have access to a shower (or time to take one), consider wiping yourself down with a cleansing wipe. This will help get rid of bacteria that can worsen your flare-ups.
Use body glide for anti-chafing.
When you’re physically active, you’re more prone to chafing. This occurs when your skin rubs together or rubs on clothing or equipment. This friction can greatly aggravate your skin, especially if you’re prone to eczema, warns Dr. Green, especially since symptoms worsen with pressure, heat, sweating, and dryness. For this reason, she recommends applying Body Glide Original Anti Chafe Balm to multiple body parts such as the thighs, groin, underarms, etc. to create a moisturized barrier that protects against skin irritations.
Avoid hot showers.
They might feel nice and relaxing, but hot and steamy showers can damage your skin and worsen your eczema symptoms. “Showering with the heat causes your skin to become red, irritated, and more dehydrated since essential oils and moisture from your skin are removed,” says Dr. Green. “If you already have an eczema flare-up, showering with hot water is most likely going to [activate] another flare-up.” She recommends keeping your shower water lukewarm or cold (if you can handle it). This will still give you some relief from itching. Yet, at the same time, give you the hydrating benefits of a cold shower.
Eczema can be frustrating, but it doesn’t have to make working out and staying healthy impossible. Stay hydrated and pay attention to your symptoms in order to keep your body comfortable while you exercise.