Atopic dermatitis is a mystery. I've spent a lifetime unplanned and coated in thick body lotions, eliminated certain foods, vacuumed poor carpets to death, but the itchy patches always resurface like a pesky ex that won't quit. Apparently, I'm not alone; more than 3 million people suffer from irritated and red itchy skin due to a variety of factors. We all know the common causes - scratchy fabrics, dry soaps, fragrant skincare - but the triggers vary from person to person, making it impossible to pinpoint the exact reason for the flare-ups. To identify what might be bothering sensitive skin, I rounded up some of the less common causes that I've found to trigger patches and tapped a top dermatologist to explain why. Here's what I learned.
1. Extreme high or low temperatures
One of my favorite pastimes is to simmer in a hot sauna, but while I leave feeling more relaxed, I leave with worse skin. According to Dan Belkin, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, heat isn't necessarily a trigger, but its effects can be quite taxing on the skin. In the case of dry heat, it can contribute to moisture loss and dryness. The resulting sweat may also act as an irritant, affecting the skin's microflora and nourishing the eczema cycle, he says.
The same holds true for low temperatures. According to Jeannette Graf, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, extreme cold reduces the relative humidity in the air, exacerbating dry skin and causing eczema. Try to avoid areas or treatments that expose the body to heat or cold for prolonged periods of time (including, sadly, saunas) and limit exercise to the cooler hours of the day.
2. Air conditioning
As if the heat that triggers atopic dermatitis isn't annoying enough, standing in front of an air conditioner won't do your skin any favors either. The year I spent in college with an air conditioning vent directly above my dorm bed was probably the worst facial eczema of my life. Why? According to Sheila Farhang, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Avant Dermatology & Aesthetics, air conditioning not only creates a dry environment, but also leads to the loss of moisture passing through the epidermis of the skin. not be changed. And if you have no choice but to sleep directly in the presence of air conditioning, California dermatologist Paru Chaudhari, MD, recommends installing a bedside humidifier to combat the moisture that is drawn in through the skin.
Like most people, I prefer to take long, hot showers (the steam helps me de-stress, ok?). Unfortunately, if you want to save your skin barrier, you'll have to sacrifice hot and humid shower sessions. Imagine it rained every day at home and you didn't maintain the paint. The paint will wear and peel, reducing its insulating properties. Additionally, rust and erosion will occur. It is the skin that has too much water. This is especially true if the hot water is tapped daily, says Dr. Graf. Hot water strips the skin of its natural moisturizing oils, so skin is all the better for a short, tepid shower. Applying a moisturizer within a few minutes of being exposed to tepid water can help the shower actually boost moisture and soothe eczema, Dr. Belkin adds.
4. Airborne dust
Airborne dust consists of particles in the environment, such as pollen, dust mites, and pet skin debris, which can act as allergens and cause eczema flare-ups, says Dr. Graf. Well, this is probably the trickiest eczema trigger of all, as avoiding dust is literally impossible. However, using mattresses and pillowcases, sweeping rugs (or removing them altogether), and vacuuming frequently can help. And a good air purifier-my favorite is the Coway Airmega AP-1512HHS Air Purifier ($272; amazon.com)-works wonders, too.
A week of exams, a busy work day, a big presentation: anything that caused stress also meant that I could expect itchy patches. This pattern is not a coincidence. As it is the case with almost everything, stress can certainly make eczema worse. There are multiple ways this can affect the skin, says Dr. Farhan. Stress increases cortisol (stress hormone), which in turn causes increased inflammation in the body. Stress also weakens the skin barrier because glycocorticoids (another stress hormone) cause a breakdown in the skin barrier function. To make matters worse, thanks to my skin plucking disease , my skin itches when I'm stressed, and my eczema only gets worse. Try to sneak in mindfulness practices throughout your day, and come up with a comprehensive plan that incorporates stress reduction techniques to help you manage the anxiety that looms.
6. Specific foods
First and foremost, it is important to distinguish between food allergies and eczema. If a skin rash occurs only when you eat certain foods (and then goes away quickly), it is advisable to consult a doctor about the possibility of a food allergy. On the other hand, research has found that even non-allergenic foods can aggravate existing eczema. If you notice that a particular food is making your eczema worse, Justin Gordon, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in California, recommends keeping a food diary to track how your skin reacts to different things.
7. Chemical sunscreens
According to Dr. Farhan, chemical sunscreens can exacerbate eczema due to the ingredients that play a role in UV protection. But don't take this to mean that you should avoid SPF. Physical sunscreens don't tend to trigger my skin, and the market is chock-full of sunscreen brands specifically targeted at eczema and sensitive skin patients. It takes a little experimentation to find the one that works best for you (this may help guide).