10 Ways to Stop Eczema Cold This Winter
Oh, HELLO winter. And winter weather. You sure are on a roll this year. And like every year, you bring all kinds of skin annoyances to me and my family. Particularly: seasonal eczema. For me and my son. We take dry skin to a whole other, blotchy, ugly level this time of year. Thankfully, we’ve figured a few things out to keep comfortable and splotch-free.
1) Bathe your kids less…
Once the temperature drops (and your home’s artificial heat kicks on), the nightly bath routine simply does more harm than good for dry, itchy skin. In the summer, kids get muddy and sweaty and genuinely grimy – but in the winter it’s REALLY okay to let them go a few days without a bath. We wash hair separately in the sink, if needed. And then we bathe selectively on gym day, or sports practice/swim lesson day, or if they’ve spent a lot of time outside in a bajillion outerwear layers. Basically, we’ll go as long as possible (particularly for my eczema-prone eldest) and wait until they are actually dirty before a dip in the tub. (WHAT A CONCEPT!)
2)…and moisturize them MORE.
Someday, I dream of having self-sufficient children who can recognize that oh, my skin feels tight and itchy, I should put something on that. Instead, I’ve got kids who will scratch themselves raw if I don’t stay on top of slathering up their bodies. In the summer, a little lotion after the nightly bath is sufficient. In the winter, no way. Morning and night, with some extra hand rubdowns due to all the cold/flu season-related hand washing/sanitizing.
Of course, for the child who needs this routine the most – my super-sensitive, eczema-prone 9 year old – this isn’t always the easiest thing in the world. He has sensory issues on top of his skin problems, and spent YEARS running from me if he spotted a bottle of lotion in my hand, and the whole thing would devolve into a big IT PUTS THE LOTION ON ITS SKIN battle. Luckily, through a combination of these 10 little tips and the right, effective products (which you’ll read about in a second), we’re in a much, MUCH better place this winter than ever before. Phew!
3) When you bathe or shower, go as tepid/lukewarm as you can, and get out ASAP.
So tip number one? Yeah, that one actually isn’t one I can personally follow. I wake up gross and oily and sweaty and…dead sexy. Definitely in need of a shower. And while I typically love long, steamy showers so hot my husband doesn’t understand how I manage to avoid first-degree burns from them, in the winter I suck it up and keep the temperature tepid and the duration short. (I also get mild eczema in the winter – although I’ve only managed to figure out how to KEEP it mild once my son inherited the condition and I finally got around to educating my dumb self about it.)
Likewise, my kids’ baths are as short as possible, with a drastic reduction in the post-wash playtime. In and out, if possible.
(Luckily they tend to declare any bath temperature above semi-lukewarm as “HOT TOO HOT OH GOD IT BURNS” so that part isn’t an issue.)
4) And add colloidal oatmeal or baking soda to baths soothe the itching.
Step AWAY from the bubbles and the bath bombs and whatever other colored/scented/rose-petal stuff you know we all love. It’s not sexy, but in the winter or whenever eczema rears its ugly scales, go for fragrance-free basics like an oatmeal bath or plain baking soda.
5) Moisturize while your skin is still wet.
Full disclosure: I hate this one. I hate turning off the shower, stepping out all dripping wet and freezing and reaching for my moisturizers instead of the warm, fuzzy embrace of my towel or bathrobe. I hate watching my kids shiver and drip water all over the bathmat while I lotion them up.
But it works. It’s effective and worth it. It seals in more moisture, and stops my post-shower flare-ups dead in their tracks. Drying off with a towel first produces the opposite results – an extended flare-up over a larger area of my body. Currently I use Skinfix’s Body Repair Treatment on my eczema (it erupts like clockwork on my upper arms and shoulders – right where the shower hits me the hardest) and then follow up with an all-over application of their Daily Lotion. The Body Repair is specific for eczema flares and absorbs slowly – but faster on wet skin than dry, I’ve noticed – and acts as an all-day barrier against other triggers (dry heat, wind, clothing irritation, etc.) and the patchiness is generally gone by the time I’m dressed.
My 9 year old typically complains that lotions make him “cold,” but applying them while he’s wet (and already cold) from the bath gives him the opposite feeling – my hands vigorously rubbing his eczema-prone legs and arms feels “warm” in comparison. The result – less complaining/resisting, and I can use the same product regimen on him without a subsequent freak-out over the eczema cream visibly lingering too long on his skin’s surface.
6) Get REALLY picky about your products.
Avoid fragrances, dyes, harsh ingredients at all costs. (And this goes for anything that touches your skin — your acne regimen, laundry detergent, soaps, lotions, etc.) Flip all those bottles/packages over and read the ingredients just like you (presumably) do for any food product you feed your kids. It’s up to you to define what your complete list of no-go ingredients is (re: parabens or other preservatives), but at a bare minimum avoid anything with fragrance/parfum listed, and give a side-eye to anything that claims to be scented with “natural” oils or essences – these can be just as bad for sensitive skin. When it doubt, go for bottles labeled both fragrance-free AND unscented.
I don’t care how yummy that scented pink or purple baby lotion smells, it’s pretty much the worst thing you can put on dry, sensitive or eczema-prone skin, no exaggeration. It’s okay for human children to smell like human children instead of flowers or baby powder.
7) Get your kids out of wet socks/gloves/clothing ASAP.
Even just a few minutes in wet gloves or socks can lead to horribly irritated skin that lingers for weeks: think red, chapped, cracked skin that takes forever to fully heal. (And can even get infected.) Even if they’re wearing waterproof outerwear in the snow, it’s a good idea to have them come in for periodic checks and swaps.
And once your kids are inside, see Tips #1 and #2 and resist the urge to warm them up in a hot bath right away. Some warm food and drink and a generous application of moisturizer will be MUCH better for their skin.
8) Use a humidifier.
Besides your bath/shower water, your skin’s number one winter enemy is not really the cold: It’s the dry heat of your home or office. The best way to combat its effects (while still staying warm!) is to use humidifiers and add some moisture back into the air. We have one going in every bedroom…although my ultimate dream is to install a full-house system at some point. Sigh. File that one with the dream of self-sufficient lotion-applying children, I guess.
9) Carry your favorite moisturizers in travel sizes everywhere you go and apply, apply, apply.
You guys, it is so cold out there. I took my glove off this morning for 20 seconds to shove some coins in a parking meter and it took all of 10 seconds for my knuckles to turn bright red and irritated. Thankfully I’d tossed a travel-sized tube of hand repair cream and was able to promptly treat my hands to a liberal coating once I was back inside. It’s also a good habit in the face of all the extra hand-washing we do in the winter to combat germs – the skin on your hands is thin and delicate and really needs the extra care if you hope to avoid painful stuff like hangnails, split knuckles, chapped skin.
10) Know what eczema looks like and treat it appropriately.
I’ve been throwing around a lot of adjectives in this article, and they really aren’t all that interchangeable. There’s “dry winter skin.” There’s “itchy skin” and “sensitive skin” and “chapped, red, raw angry skin.”
And then there’s “eczema-prone skin.”
I’d describe my husband’s skin as sensitive, as he reacts badly to fragrances and scents and a few other assorted ingredients. My 6 year old gets dry in the winter, but nothing too terrible, while my 3 year old gets dry to the point of itchiness and ashiness, and also has some of his dad’s ingredient quirks.
And then there’s me and the 9 year old. We get the full eczema show if we’re not careful. The itchy red patches that spread and raise and give way to ugly, stubborn scales. Thankfully our eczema isn’t tied to food triggers or allergies (it often is), but man. It is not fun. My son will scratch at his patches until he BLEEDS, you guys. I know nobody likes to Google Image Search skin conditions, but if you don’t know what eczema looks like (and what it can turn into if left untreated)…well, probably best to get it over with and eat a late lunch today.
I’ve tried seemingly every product out there – heavy-duty prescriptions options aren’t the most convenient for seasonal eczema (think yearly dermatologist visits for updated/non-expired scripts) – but the majority of OTC eczema treatments haven’t worked for us either, or triggered some other skin or sensory sensitivity in my son. Since we gave the Skinfix regimen a try, both of our flare-ups are fully under control…even when I break my own rules and treat myself to a long, hot, steamy shower, because YOU KNOW I DO SOMETIMES.
(Hey, who here is ready for SPRING?)
Published February 25, 2015. Last updated June 27, 2018.