Caring for Eczema in Hot and Humid Weather
Eczema is more prevalent than you think; it’s estimated that about one in 10 adults in Singapore suffers from atopic dermatitis (or more commonly known as eczema). If you suffer from eczema, then you know how challenging it can be, especially in sunny Singapore where the heat and humidity can make eczema worse. Changes in temperatures could lead to flare-ups, which can result in bumpy red rashes that won’t stop itching on the insides of elbows and knees, or dry, cracked skin on fingers and even on the face.
The chronic inflammatory disease can easily impact your daily life; “Eczema has affected literally every aspect in my life — my sleep, my job, my exercise habits, my food, my clothes,” says freelance emcee and lifeskills trainer Rae Fung, 23, who has suffered from eczema all her life. She says being a freelance emcee, eczema flare-ups, especially on the face, could lead to her inability to take certain jobs.
Eczema isn’t curable and may be a hindrance to your daily life, but with daily care and the right lifestyle changes, you could keep flareups to a minimum.
1. Stay cool and dry
Sweating is a natural defence mechanism for lowering our body temperature, and since sweat is mostly water, the evaporation process is what cools the body down. But because human sweat contains chemicals like zinc, copper and sodium, the buildup of these elements could irritate your eczema, which is why the parts of your body where moisture accumulates the most (like the creases of your elbows and the back of your knees) tend to be the areas where eczema occurs the most.
Rae advises to take note of the material of your clothes: avoid thick and heavy materials like denim and wool, as well as long-sleeved and tight-fitting clothing because these will trap heat. Go for loose, airy materials like cotton and linen, and in brighter colours so as to reflect sunlight.
If you’re exercising, try to do it indoors or in places with air conditioning. Rinse off with water after, apply a moisturizer and change into fresh, dry clothes. You could also bring a handheld fan and umbrella around, and drink plenty of fluids to help you stay cooler throughout the day.
A tip Rae learned from a coworker is to bring a towel and a bottle of filtered water around. If you can, keep the bottle cold. When you’re feeling too warm, pour some water on the towel and dab on your skin to keep cool.
2. Know your triggers
Your eczema might suddenly erupt in the face of stress or in the presence of allergens like dust, pet dander, mould, pollen and some types of food. Rae suggests a vegetarian diet if you’re very worried about major relapses, otherwise staying away from fried food and processed foods high in sugar —which can cause inflammation and trigger a flareup— would suffice.
You can also take an allergy test to determine which allergens affect you. If you’re allergic to dust, take appropriate measures to clean and prevent dust mites. Another useful trick is to always do a patch test when using new products; you never know what ingredients might cause your eczema to flare up.
Having antihistamines on standby in your bag would also be helpful in making sure you’re not sneezing and itching the whole day.
3. Avoid long showers
Long, hot showers may sound great after a long day, but they can dry your skin out even more, which isn’t ideal for eczema-prone skin. Switch to cold water (which can beat the heat too). Skip the loofah—which can irritate your skin— and wash gently with your hands instead.
4. Avoid harsh soaps
This might seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised by how many soaps and body wash contain foaming agents, which are actually quite irritating and will dry your skin even further. Read the ingredients list before purchasing, and try to avoid products with sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and coco-glucoside.
While your skin is still slightly damp, apply a moisturizer to help keep moisture in and prevent your skin from drying out. Look for moisturizers that contain skin-protecting and nourishing ingredients such as petroleum and glycerin. These formulations will form a protective barrier between your skin and the harsh weather.
Dyes and fragrances can be extremely irritating and aggravate the skin barrier, which can cause eczema symptoms to flare up. Opt for fragrance-free options to prevent any relapse of eczema symptoms.
Even if you’ve been diligent and are following the steps above to treat your eczema, there might still be stubborn scaly patches that just won’t go away, or they’re just too severe to be treated at home. Consider seeing your dermatologist for a prescription treatment. Your doctor will assess your skin and determine a course of action.