You may have noticed this past week your skin is feeling a little “rougher around the edges.” Not surprising with temperatures taking a rapid nose drive. There are steps you can take for protecting your skin in the winter months.
Eczema flare-ups can worsen in the winter. Eczema is a condition where the skin becomes red, itchy and inflamed. The word “eczema” is derived from a Greek word meaning “to boil over.”
While eczema is not contagious, it can cause debilitating discomfort that can affect one’s self esteem and create social embarrassment. According to National Eczema society, “while the exact cause of eczema is unknown, researchers do know that people who develop eczema do so because of a combination of genes and environmental triggers. When an irritant or an allergen “switches on” the immune system, skin cells don’t behave as they should causing an eczema flare-up.”
Some of the symptoms of eczema may include:
- Dry, sensitive skin
- Red, inflamed skin
- Very bad itching
- Dark colored patches of skin
- Rough, leathery or scaly patches of skin
- Oozing or crusting
- Areas of swelling
In cases of severe eczema, the itch gets so bad that people scratch it until it bleeds, which can make your eczema worse. This is called the “itch-scratch cycle.”
Dry air combined with indoor heating systems can dry out your skin. Eczema flares up because the skin can’t stay moist on its own. Flare-ups can also be caused by wearing too many layers of clothing, taking hot baths, or using too many bed coverings.
While there are no cures for eczema, treatment includes:
- Knowing your triggers (ie cold, animal dander, foods, medications etc)
- Keeping clean hygiene
- Topical OTC and prescription creams
- Natural remedies
But for those of you that don’t have eczema, here are some ways to keep your skin healthy this winter season:
- Avoid prolonged hot baths/showers. Heat can cause skin to dry out. So instead, use warm water, and bathe less frequently. You can also add moisturizing bath products such as oatmeal blends. While drying off, pat the skin. Rubbing with a towel can exacerbates the “itch-scratch cycle.”
- Use gentle products. Look for soaps and detergents that are made for sensitive skin free of dye, alcohol and fragrance.
- Avoid contact with certain materials. Wool and nylon cause overheating which can irritate the skin and lead to an eczema flare up. Choosing cotton materials and breathable fabrics and avoid wearing multiple layers allows for cooling on the skin.
- Keeping the skin hydrated with good lubrication, such as petroleum jelly, goes a long way in healing. Lotions have been shown not to be as effective in winter months. Apply immediately after bathing on damp skin.
- Vitamin D supplements. Taking vitamin D supplements in the winter may improve eczema flare-ups. According to a study conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital looked at 100 Mongolian schoolchildren and found that the children treated daily with vitamin D supplements saw a reduction in winter eczema symptoms. Alternative option includes using ultraviolet light to stimulate vitamin D production.
- Alternative remedies. Although the safety and effectiveness of many complementary and alternative medicine therapies are uncertain, the use of home-made concoctions may prove to be the best treatment of all. Some of these include:
- Topical Coconut Oil. Coconut oil is known to have weak anti-bacterial properties and when applied may help calm the skin.
- Topical Sunflower oil. Although the mechanism appears unclear, topical application of sunflower oil appears to have soothing relief of symptoms.
- Probiotics. “In October 2012, The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, found that supplementation with strains of Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Bifidobacterium longum or Lactobacillus paracasei and Bifidobacterium longum in combination reduced the risk of developing eczema in infants.” The initial theory thateczema was caused from microbial imbalances leading to immune suppression is now proving to be true. And therefore maintaining homeostasis of gut flora may lead to integumentary control.
Despite the unknowns, the skin remains the largest organ of our body. Just as we are mindful of keeping our heart and lungs healthy, ultimately the outside is a reflection of inside health. Treat the skin like the warm blanket that protects you from the brutal external conditions. Hydrate, eliminate processed foods, maintain gut health, sleep and stay strong and hopeful. No better treatment than that!
Dr. Raman’s Concierge Medical Practice is focused on caring for each person as a whole, not just a list of symptoms. Our office is committed to helping our patients stay well and maintain good health rather than treating patients only after they become ill.