Winter brings with it cups of steaming hot cocoa, chunky knit sweaters and holiday parties, but with that joy comes the harsh reality of dry, itchy skin for some. Exposure to temperature extremes and bursts of indoor heat can often exacerbate dry skin conditions like eczema. We’re here to share 4 health-focused tips on how to prevent and tame the dreaded winter itch so you can spend more time in the snow — sans scratching.
The National Eczema Association defines eczema as “an inflammatory skin condition that causes itchiness, dry skin, rashes, scaly patches, blisters and skin infections.” More than 31 million Americans have some form of eczema that can begin during childhood, adolescence or adulthood — and it can range from mild to severe. It’s a chronic condition that is susceptible to periodic flare-ups and times where symptoms can worsen, including the wintertime.
If you’re experiencing eczema this winter – or know you will – this is your guide to preventing and managing the itching and discomfort.
Nurture Your Skin Barrier Daily
First of all, what’s your skin barrier? It’s the outermost layer of skin called the stratum corneum that’s often described as a brick wall. Its main function is to keep you alive. We’re not being dramatic — without this “brick wall”, environmental toxins and pathogens can enter skin and do a lot of harm both outside and inside your body. Additionally, without your skin barrier, water inside your body would escape and evaporate, leaving you completely dehydrated.
Your skin barrier goes through the ringer every day, especially in temperature extremes like the winter. Take a hard look at the products you apply on your body every day (body wash, body lotion, deodorant, for example, are the first ones that come to mind). Traditional personal care products have the potential to negatively influence the skin microbiome by reducing its diversity or changing the composition, which can affect comprehensive health. Importantly, an imbalanced microbiome has been shown to affect and enhance issues like eczema. Therefore, it's vital in eczema treatment to have a healthy skin microbiome.
It’s important to look at the INCI lists of body care you use to ensure that ingredients listed are formulated to be gentle and are created specifically with the skin barrier in mind. Body washes, for example, can be stripping. The general rule of thumb is, if your skin feels dry and tight after washing, it’s very likely that the body wash you’re using has disrupted your skin barrier. Gentle cleansing should be a priority so that skin can retain essential moisture. Prebiotics and postbiotics in the Supervitamin Body Wash+ help balance and strengthen your microbiome and skin barrier, leaving skin feeling softer, smoother, brighter and more moisturized after a warm shower.
End Your Toxic Hot-Cold-Hot-Cold Relationship
Cold weather and central heating can wreak havoc on eczema-prone skin. Skin reacts to sudden changes in temperature, which often results in itchy skin. The goal is to maintain an even skin temperature throughout the day. Modify any daily practices you have. If you love super-hot baths, try warm ones. Keep in mind that water with a high mineral content can dry out the skin and make eczema worse; hard water can leave a residue on skin, which can be irritating. In general, heat in any form — whether it’s a super-hot shower, sitting beside the fireplace or standing next to radiator — can trigger scratching. At night, opt for layering thin blankets on top of each other instead of a thick duvet. Getting the temperature just right is the name of the game, especially at home where you can control keeping rooms feeling comfortable.
Humidity is a concern for winter eczema as well — as temperatures drop, so does air humidity. This can sap moisture from skin and trigger flare-ups. The Mayo Clinic recommends keeping indoor humidity somewhere between 30 and 50% and humidifiers can be a great option for those looking to regulate indoor humidity. As awareness around the skin benefits of humidifiers grows, it’s important to be diligent about cleaning them as these moist environments are a breeding ground for mold and bacteria (these microorganisms can be aerosolized and misted into the air you breathe).
Sunflower Extract Can Help Retain Moisture You Need
Not all ingredients are equal when it comes to winter eczema. Ceramides, for example, are lipids that are naturally found in the skin — but less so in people with eczema. Using a product with ceramides, like the Superplant Body Serum+, adds a lipid barrier that prevents water loss. You’ll also want to look for other science-backed, moisture-retaining ingredients like hyaluronic acid and squalane, both also in the Superplant Body Serum+.
According to research, plant-based extracts may help repair the skin barrier and prevent it from losing moisture. Sunflower extract in the Supervitamin Body Wash+ formulations is non-comedogenic and contains linoleic acid to help maintain the skin’s natural barrier, supporting its ability to retain moisture. A published study contrasted the benefits of sunflower extract to olive extract, found that sunflower extract was more effective at improving skin hydration and maintaining the integrity of the skin’s outer layer.
pH matters, too. Your skin is naturally acidic, hovering at a pH level of approximately 5. This is important because the “good” microorganisms on your skin prefer a more acidic environment. If your pH is disrupted too dramatically or too frequently, it can create an environment for unwanted microbes to thrive. All iota formulations are crafted at a microbiome-friendly and skin barrier-friendly pH level of 5.0-5.5.
Have You Tried Bamboo?
Wool and synthetic materials, such as polyester and nylon, can make eczema-sufferers breakout into a sweat, literally and figuratively. Overheating, sweating and irritation combined with rough seams, fibers, fastenings and threads can set off the dreaded itch.
Which clothing is the most eczema-friendly? According to the National Eczema Society, it’s cotton (preferably 100%), bamboo, environmentally friendly lyocell/Tencel derived from bamboo or wood pulp, and silk. Cotton is cooling and soft and allows the skin to breathe. Plus, it’s great at absorbing sweat and easy to wash. Bamboo is soft and more absorbent than cotton. It’s great at regulating temperature and has antibacterial properties, too. Tencel is gentle, naturally itch-suppressing and helps inhibit the growth of bacteria. Lastly, silk is a good regulator of body temperature that is also soft and breathable, but it isn’t as practical as bamboo or cotton (silk can’t be washed as easily and creams are likely to stain it).
From your face to your feet, here’s to winter eczema-proofing your skin — starting now.