You may have noticed that your atopic dermatitis (AD), or eczema, signs and symptoms seem to change with the weather. Though AD is always there beneath the surface due to underlying inflammation, the seasons can come along and trigger AD flare-ups.1-3 So, for some people the summer months can be more difficult, and for others it's during the winter.2-4
Your AD signs and symptoms may change when there is less sunlight and cold weather, and your skin may become itchy when temperatures rise.3-5 In some cases it’s simply the temperature changes between seasons that can bring the biggest challenges.3,6 While one person may find that summer alleviates their symptoms, for others it may be the opposite.6,7 It’s different for everyone.
Here we take a look at ways you can try to manage your AD signs and symptoms and still enjoy the weather, whatever it brings.
When the weather gets hot, we start to sweat. This will often make your skin itch more.5 Moving inside to somewhere with air conditioning can dry out the skin, which could make your skin itch too.6 The allergens that increase in summer, like pollen, can also worsen other related conditions, such as hay fever and asthma.6-8
So, when the sun pops out, so can more triggers for your AD too.
For many, there might be nothing worse than becoming hot and irritable when everyone else is out there enjoying the sun. But don’t despair. There are steps you can take to make life in the sun easier.
For some, AD or atopic eczema may ease during the summer.6 If that’s the case, experiencing sunlight may improve your AD signs and symptoms rather than trigger them.4
Just make sure you’re doing everything you can to keep your skin safe in the sun and talk to your dermatologist about ways to keep your skin protected.
Though the warm weather can be fun, it can also cause cause harm if you spend too long in the sun.4 So, try to avoid painful sun burn by staying sun safe.
Sun protection is a good idea for everyone, but for you and your AD you should try to find a sun cream that suits you – and remember everyone’s skin will be different.4
A fragrance-free sun cream labelled as hypoallergenic may be a good option if you have sensitive skin, and make sure it’ll protect against UVA and UVB light.4,9,10 You could try a small amount on your wrist or the crook of your arm as a test.9 If you try this, don't wash the area for at least a day and watch out for any rashes, itchiness, or flaking skin.9
Some people like to carry out the five-day self-patch test just in case it causes a reaction.4 This involves applying small amounts each day to your skin when using a new, or old cream, as your skin may have changed since last time.4 Gradually increase the amount each day, and try it on a few areas of your body, as other areas may react differently.4,10
If you do have an allergic reaction to sun cream then all is not lost. You can find clothing that has been developed with built in SPF50 protection, which could help you stay protected from the sun.4 As always, if you have any concerns about being in the sun then talk to your doctor. They’re best placed to give advice and suggestions to make those summer months run more smoothly.
You should take all the precautions mentioned earlier, such as looking out for shady spots and drinking plenty of water. It's all about staying in control and keeping your cool.
Through the winter months, the cold, windy weather can cause your skin to dry.6 In wintry weather, you may also go from harsh outdoor conditions straight back into warm or centrally-heated homes.3,6 Be aware that these sudden changes could be worsening your AD signs and symptoms.3,6
There are other factors too, such as winter colds and flu.6 These can disrupt your immune system, which may be associated with more flares.6
You may find that multiple layers are your best option in winter so you can add or take them off and keep yourself in control of your temperature.3
Cotton is the most common worn fabric by people with AD.11 It’s durable, regulates temperature well and is good at absorbing moisture, whereas wool may irritate the skin and cause itchiness.3,11 In fact, any rough textures may aggravate your AD, so some people choose to avoid these materials in their clothes altogether.3
You can make the winter months easier to cope with by keeping on top of things in and around the home and when you make trips outside. You might find it helps to try and minimise the amount of time you’re swapping between going outside and inside, as this will keep your skin temperature nice and even.3,6
Keeping your skin moisturised with emollients and protecting your lips might help some people, especially before venturing outside on a cold day.3 As if you need an excuse to take a bath, why not try it lukewarm (or a shower).3,6 Really hot water should be avoided as it can lead to more scratching and irritation, so keeping it cool may help.3 Try to avoid shower gels or soaps that can de-grease your skin, and moisturise again as soon as you have towelled dry.6,12
Try not to fall into the trap of overheating your home. Instead try to keep the temperature nice and comfortable.3 A humidifier can keep the air in your home moist, but you don't necessarily need to buy a device.3 Sometimes a simple bowl of water that you can refill or change regularly might do the trick.3 It’s small things like this that can make a big difference.
At night, think about having several thinner layers on your bed instead of one larger duvet.3 That way, you can peel off a layer or two if you’re feeling too hot or uncomfortable.3
Gloves, hats, and scarves can help to keep your skin warm during the cold weather but avoid materials that can cause irritation, as wool can do.3 Leather may be an option if you’re not allergic to chromate.3 Silk is another natural material that causes little friction with the skin, and can also be useful to wear under wool gloves.3,11
Something that may help with getting through the winter months is to maintain a more consistent skin temperature.3 The more you can do this, the less likely you are to have flare-ups during the harsh weather.3
You may have fewer symptoms in winter and have more flares in summer. Or you could be the other way around. It's all about finding what works best for you.
All the tips included here may help you navigate the common triggers through the seasons – yet this may not give you long-term control or prevent possible future flare-ups from happening.
The plain truth is that external triggers, environmental or otherwise, can be tricky to control.13,14 But the fundamental causes of your AD, like inflammation, are far simpler to identify.
That’s why it’s best to ask a dermatologist about a management approach that proactively targets the underlying causes to help you find long-term control, whatever the weather.
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Bieber T. Ann Dermatol 2010; 22:125–137.
National Eczema Association. 20 tips for managing eczema in summer. Available at: https://nationaleczema.org/summer-tips/ Accessed April 2021.
National Eczema Association. Eczema in Winter. Available at: https://nationaleczema.org/eczema-in-winter/ Accessed April 2021.
National Eczema Society. Sun and eczema. 2021. Available at: https://eczema.org/information-and-advice/triggers-for-eczema/sun-and-eczema/ Accessed April 2021.
Hamann CR et al. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol 2018; 32(10):1745–1753.
Patient. How the seasons affect your eczema. Available at: https://patient.info/news-and-features/how-the-seasons-affect-your-eczema Accessed April 2021.
Fleischer Jr AB. Int J Dermatol 2019; 58(4):465–471.
National Eczema Association. Eczema, Atopic Dermatitis and Allergies: What Is The Connection? 2021. Available at: https://nationaleczema.org/atopic-dermatitis-and-allergies-connection/ Accessed June 2021.
National Eczema Association. Slather Up: Sunscreen For Eczema Skin. Available at: https://nationaleczema.org/slather-sunscreen-eczema-skin/ Accessed August 2021.
Nottingham Support Group for Carers of Children with Eczema. Atopic Eczema: Sun, Holidays and Fun – Information for Parents. Available at: http://www.nottinghameczema.org.uk/documents/sun-holidays-fun.pdf Accessed August 2021.
Ricci G et al. Curr Probl Dermatol 2006; 33:127–141.
National Eczema Association. Eczema and Bathing. Available at: https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/treatment/bathing/ Accessed September 2021.
National Eczema Association. Eczema Causes and Triggers. Available at: https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/causes-and-triggers-of-eczema/ Accessed July 2021.
National Eczema Society. Triggers for Eczema. Available at: https://eczema.org/information-and-advice/triggers-for-eczema/ Accessed August 2021.