6 simple tips to prevent eczema flare-ups, and what to do if you get them, according to experts

·4 min read
Flare ups 2
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  • Eczema is a generic term that describes a rash, dermatologists say.

  • Flare-ups are unpleasant, but there's a number of precautions you can take to avoid them.

  • If you have a flare-up, go to a dermatologist for a topical steroid prescription.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

A bumpy, red rash flare-up is one of the signs of summer for people with eczema.

Dr. Sandra Lee, a dermatologist famously known as Dr. Pimple Popper, said eczema is a generic term to describe a rash. "It is very common, partly because there's so many different forms of it," Lee told Insider.

There are different types of eczema with different types of causes, and for those who have a lifelong case of eczema, the summer heat can trigger a flare-up.

Bumpy, swollen flare-ups typically happen in the folds of the body, like in the elbows and knees, and scratching a flare-up can lead to another flare-up.

"The problem is you get this sort of vicious cycle that once you start scratching, you keep scratching, and then it gets itchy more so you have to break the cycle," Lee said.

If you have a flare-up or want to avoid a flare-up cycle, dermatologists say there are numerous steps you can take to prevent or tame a flare-up.

To prevent flare-ups, stay clear of products that irritate your skin

Nearly 15 million people in the US have eczema, according to the Cleveland Clinic. It usually starts in children younger than five, but can also affect adults later in life.

Dr. Mona Gohara, a dermatologist based in Connecticut, said any type of irritant can trigger a flare-up, whether it's heat, sweat, or laundry detergent.

"It connotes that there's something irritating the skin and the barrier is not equipped to deal with it," Gohara said.

1. Use a mild non-soap cleanser

Gohara said to use a mild non-soap cleanser because the product doesn't contain harsh chemicals that can irritate the skin, rather it has synthetic ingredients that are milder than soap and help keep the skin moisturized, which is important for preventing flare-ups.

Non-soap cleansers are your typical body wash that you apply all of yourself in the shower. It comes in liquid or soap form and can be found at any drug store.

2. Avoid laundry detergents with fragrances

Although fragrances smell good, our skin is sensitive to the chemical irritants, and our body reacts by having a flare-up. That's why Gohara recommends using a laundry detergent without fragrances, like All Free Clear.

Laundry detergents free of fragrances don't have chemicals that will irritate the skin, so using this type of detergent will lower your odds of getting a flare-up.

3. Use mineral-based sunscreen

Although sunscreen has numerous benefits, like reducing your risk of skin cancer or preventing wrinkles, chemical-based sunscreens can trigger a flare-up because the chemicals irritate the skin. To reap the benefits of sunscreen without getting a flare-up, Gohara recommends using mineral-based sunscreen.

A mineral-based sunscreen stays on top of the skin and reflects UV rays, while a chemical-based sunscreen gets absorbed into the skin. Using a mineral-based sunscreen will prevent contact with chemicals, and therefore, prevent a flare-up.

4. Take a shower after a swim

Although chlorine keeps a pool disinfected, it can also trigger a flare-up because it irritates and dries out the skin.

"It's a harsh chemical in some ways so, yes, it can exacerbate eczema," Gohara said.

She recommends taking a shower after dipping in the pool to wash off the chlorine.

5. Moisturize after washing your hands or showering

Some eczema flare-ups are caused by dry skin. Lee said, ironically, you're skin is drier after it's wet.

"When your skin gets wet, as you get out of the shower or you dry your hands, there's moisture on it and it evaporates and it sucks up a lot more of your natural moisture," Lee said.

But if you moisturize with cream after the shower or washing your hands, the cream will seal in the moisture and prevent it from evaporating, which will prevent a flare-up. Lee recommends moisturizing while your skin is still damp.

6. Use a humidifier

In the same vein of keeping your skin moisturized, Lee suggested using a humidifier to retain moisture in the skin.

"It's a good thing to use to help also keep humidity in the air and keep your skin less prone to drying out," Lee said.

So using a humidifier will help your skin stay moisturized and make you less likely to have a flare-up.

When to go to the dermatologist

If you take all these steps and still have a flare-up, Lee recommends going to the dermatologist for a topical steroid prescription, or buy a lower strength topical steroid over the counter. If the itching persists, Lee said a dermatologist can prescribe anti-itch pills like oral corticosteroids

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