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Slideshow: Top eczema triggers to avoid

Chemical culprits

Common household products contain chemicals and irritants that may be the prime suspects in your eczema flare-up. Identifying and avoiding triggers such as detergents or perfumes is the key to preventing the itchy, red skin inflammation that is the hallmark of eczema.

  • Protect skin with non-latex or cotton gloves when cleaning
  • Consider shunning air fresheners and other scented products
  • Avoid tobacco smoke

The weather

Generally, eczema improves during the summer and worsens in the winter. Cold and windy weather can cause chapped skin. Indoors, roaring fires, central heating and low humidity dry the skin even further. Stay hydrated and slather on the moisturiser to counter these effects. Sadly, summer may be no picnic either, if your skin reacts to heat and sweat. Try to stay cool in the shade and always wear sunscreen, as sunburn can trigger an eczema flare-up. Choose sunscreen carefully if your skin is sensitive. Mineral products containing zinc and titanium dioxide may be gentler on your skin.

Rough clothing

Your eczema prone skin may not take kindly to prickly fabrics such as wool or coarse linen. To avoid a flare-up, you may want to choose a breathable, cotton top, rather than a mohair jumper. If synthetic materials such as nylon, rayon or polyester make you sweat, you may want to avoid those too. Always wash new clothes before wearing them, to get rid of any dye or chemical residues. Chemicals are also used during dry cleaning, so you may want to remove the plastic and air clothes out for a day before wearing them.

Go soft on soap

Harsh soaps can trigger an eczema flare-up, so choose gentle, non-soap face or body cleansers and shampoos that are pH neutral and fragrance free.  Washing too much can also irritate skin, so don't overdo it with baths and showers. Check the laundry aisle for gentle detergents and pass on fabric softeners or scented dryer sheets. Products made for babies or sensitive skin are often fragrance free and may be a good choice. Stick to the amount recommended on the label.


It's not fully understood why but stress is known to be linked with skin conditions like eczema. Stress seems to worsen symptoms for some people, while others say symptoms make them feel stressed. Either way, stress remedies are a good idea, from relaxation exercises like tai chi or yoga, to meditation, deep breathing or biofeedback. Even physical conditions such as colds or an infection can stress the body, so take care of yourself to stay healthy and avoid a flare-up.


Fluctuating hormones, particularly in women, have a powerful effect on the body. Your skin is not immune and while hormones may not actually cause eczema, they may make the condition worse. Some women experience worse eczema a few days before their period, or at certain times in their menstrual cycle. Also, more than half of pregnant women report worse eczema symptoms, while a quarter say their condition improves.


Your furry friends may not be best friends with your skin. Pet dander and other allergens, from pollen to mould or dust mites, can trigger your eczema. You’ll need to avoid them if your skin reacts badly. Damp dusting and using a vacuum with a particulate (HEPA) filter helps, as well as washing bedding in hot water once a week. Consider removing heavy curtains or other upholstery that harbours dust. Finally, it’s time to delegate if certain housework sparks an allergic reaction!

Food allergens

Studies suggest that sensitivity to certain foods may produce a reaction that makes your eczema worse. This seems to be more common in children. Some studies found that one-third to nearly two-thirds of children with eczema also had a food allergy. Having food allergies also makes it more likely your eczema is severe. Cow’s milk, eggs, tree nuts, soya, wheat, fish and shellfish are common culprits. However, don’t make any radical changes to your child’s diet, such as cutting out dairy products, without seeking medical advice first.

Dry air

Dry indoor air can make eczema worse. During the winter months, you may want to invest in a humidifier that counteracts the effects of central heating and other dry heat. Remember to follow the instructions and clean a humidifier at least once a week to avoid the growth of mould, which can collect inside and make eczema worse. A bowl of cool water near to a non-electric radiator is a cheap alternative to a humidifier. Of course, drink lots of water and moisturise your skin regularly.

Working out

Vigorous exercise is great for overall health and stress relief, however, it usually sparks warmth and sweating which can irritate your skin and make eczema symptoms worse. But you can work out and don't have to become a couch potato. Stay cool, don't wrap up too warmly, take regular breaks and hydrate to beat over-heating. Choose cooler times of the day to exercise and towel off sweat gently. Swimming is a great workout choice, but shower immediately afterwards to remove any chlorine residue, then moisturise.

Drool and saliva

About 1 in 5 children in the UK has eczema. It ocurrs most often before the age of 5, with many children developing it before their first birthday. If your baby has eczema, keep nails short and use anti-scratch mittens to help them avoid scratching themselves. Tapping the skin until the itch has gone may also help. Patches of eczema on the cheeks, chin, neck or around the mouth, may be helped by applying a layer of rich emollient cream before baby eats or sleeps.

Hot water

Lukearm or cool water is less likely to trigger your eczema, so turn down the heat in your shower and at the kitchen sink. If your home is in an area with hard water (high in minerals) you may want protect your hands by wearing gloves for dishwashing and cleaning. After baths or showers, avoid vigorous towel drying and gently pat skin dry. Apply moisturiser while skin is still damp to seal in moisture to help curb dry skin.

Infected skin

If your itching is worse or more widespread than normal, you may have developed a skin infection. Infected eczema can be sore, very red and oozing. See your GP who may prescribe oral antibiotics if large areas of the skin are affected. Smaller areas may be treated with topical antibiotic creams or ointments.

A woman's guide to eczema

Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on October 05, 2016

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