It can seem like atopic dermatitis or eczema can be triggered by almost anything. There could be a change in the weather, and you’ll experience a flare.
You could change your laundry detergent and there you have it, another flare. You might have picked up on some of the things that cause your AD to come to the surface, but why is it happening?
Your AD is caused, in part, by environmental factors.1 They can exacerbate the signs that you see and the symptoms that you experience and may trigger a flare up.
But they’re not the only cause. Your genetics and your immune system also play a role.1 Both of these are responsible for the underlying inflammation that’s at the heart of AD.1,2 This is something you can’t see or feel but is always happening beneath the skin. It’s this underlying inflammation which can further damage your skin barrier and also trigger a flare-up.1,2
So, in short, a few things are to blame for the AD symptoms you have to live with. But on this page, we’re going to focus on the most common environmental triggers.
Chances are you’ll have a good idea about what triggers your AD – and hopefully, how to avoid them. Although knowing to avoid triggers can be helpful in avoiding a flare-up, it won’t address the underlying cause of your AD.
Dry skin is one of the most common symptoms of AD, so anything that can make your skin drier will often exacerbate your AD.
Low humidity (very dry air) can remove moisture from the skin, causing your AD to flare.1,3 So, you might find your condition getting worse when it’s cold, especially in winter.3 Using a humidifier may help to prevent your skin from drying out.1
On the flip side, higher humidity (from a warmer environment) can make you sweat more, which may also trigger your AD.1
We’re not talking about chemistry, just the everyday soaps and detergents you use. A change in fabric conditioner could cause your AD to flare, so it’s something you should keep an eye on. Some harsh soaps and detergents contain chemical ingredients that may exacerbate your AD signs and symptoms, so it’s important to find the right ones for you.4
If you’re not sure where to start, aim for products that are pH-balanced (a pH of 4–6 is considered normal for the skin) and avoid alkaline products (pH greater than 7).4,5
Pollution may be the hardest trigger to avoid, but it helps to understand why it’s aggravating your AD. Pollutants come in many different forms, from man-made pollutants like petrol and diesel fumes, cigarette smoke, or even smoke from stoves, to natural substances like dust mites and animal dander; which are biologic pollutants.6 When they come into contact with your skin, they can cause damage to your body’s proteins and lipids (fats) in the skin barrier.6 Put simply, they may damage your skin barrier and contribute to triggering your flares.6
It gets in the way. Nobody enjoys cleaning it. And to top it all off, it can exacerbate your AD.2,7 Dust can set off your allergies, resulting in the release of histamine and setting off other reactions within your immune system that may cause your AD symptoms to flare.7 Dust is an example of a biological pollutant, and unfortunately it’s almost everywhere.6 So, it might be time for a little spring cleaning to keep the dust, and your flares, at bay.
If you’ve noticed your AD signs and symptoms flare in reaction to environmental factors, or any other factors, you should talk to your dermatologist. They can give you advice on ways to manage your AD, and help you find the long-term control you deserve.
Your AD can change with the seasons. So come rain or shine, it's good to understand the impact the seasons have.Find out more
Allergies can get in the way, but did you know that some of them are associated with AD?Learn more
Feeling lost in a sea of terminology? Our glossary can help you feel confident when you discuss your AD.Expand your vocabulary
Kantor R and Silverberg JI. Expert Rev Clin Immunol 2017; 13(1): 15–26.
Cork MJ et al. Clin Rev Allergy Immunol 2006; 118: 3–21.
National Eczema Association. Eczema in Winter. Available at: https://nationaleczema.org/eczema-in-winter/. Accessed July 2021.
National Eczema Association. Changing Our Laundry Routine Helped My Son’s Eczema. Available at: https://nationaleczema.org/laundry-change/ (Accessed July 2021).
Panther DJ et al. J Clin Med 2015; 4(5): 970–978.
Ahn K. Clin Rev Allergy Immunol 2014; 134(5): 993–999.
Hostetler SG et al. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol 2010; 3(1): 22–31.