Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall; there’s never a good time for eczema. Most people with dry skin are used to the seasonal dance, but this year we have another complication throw in: COVID-19. What are some of the precautions that we can take to combat dry skin and eczema when our skin is battered with soaps, hand sanitizers, and increased handwashing?
Q: Why does eczema get worse in the winter?
A: The main factor is the drop in temperature and humidity. The responses that we take to counteract the cold can rob the skin of moisture as well.
- We spend a much longer time indoors during the winter and expose ourselves to indoor heating systems, which drain moisture from the skin.
- Hot baths and showers are a problem for dry skin – and they are much more appealing in the winter.
- Indirectly related, exposure to cotton or other fabrics that are worn more commonly in the winter can trigger irritation.
Q: Will eczema get better in the spring?
A: Usually, but there are no guarantees. For some people, pollen or hayfever acts as triggers that worsen eczema symptoms.
- Eczema symptoms are usually the worst during the winter months due to low humidity and temperatures. For many people, eczema symptoms only show up during the winter.
- Eczema can react to various environmental factors. For those with pollen allergies, spring may worsen their eczema.
Q: Does having eczema put me at higher risk of contracting COVID-19?
A: No, there is currently no evidence that people with eczema are at higher risk of COVID-19. If you have a weakened immune system or are taking systemic medication that affects your immune system, you will be at higher risk of COVID-19.
- The most significant risk factor of COVID-19 is age. A weakened immune system is also a risk factor.
- Eczema does not directly affect COVID-19 risk. However, some systemic medications for eczema may weaken the immune system, increasing COVID-19 risk. If you are taking any immunocompromising drugs, you will be at higher risk.
Q: Is handwashing necessary to fight COVID-19? Are there alternatives?
A: Regular handwashing is not negotiable. Don’t reduce it or try to be any less thorough in washing your hands. Frequent and effective handwashing is one of the best ways of fighting COVID-19, the flu, and similar infections. Handwashing is drying for the skin, and it’s tough on people with eczema, but with some extra precautions, you can still protect your skin while being safe and responsible.
- Leave a moisturizer around your sink at home and workplace, and carry a small bottle for travel.
- Pat your skin dry rather than scrubbing hard with a towel, leaving a bit of dampness after washing your hands.
- Apply the moisturizer while your hand is still damp to seal the moisture in.
Some hand sanitizers contain emollients. Emollients can help mitigate the irritation.
Q: My skin cracks during the winter months. Does my exposed skin leave me more vulnerable to COVID-19?
A: That’s a good question, but unfortunately, we don’t know the answer yet. The mouth, eye, and airway mucosa are the main vectors of transmission of COVID-19, so having damaged skin is unlikely to increase your risk.
Q: Are hand sanitizers a more gentle alternative to handwashing?
A: Hand sanitizers should not be used as an alternative to handwashing. Their main advantage is that a sink is not needed, so they are often used outdoors, at storefronts.
- The majority of hand sanitizers are alcohol-based and harsh on the skin. For patients with eczema, this is especially concerning.
- Handwash whenever possible with a gentle cleanser, and use a moisturizer immediately afterward. Only use hand sanitizers when handwashing isn’t an option (e.g., if you are out shopping).
Q: Can you give me tips to help keep eczema away while still protecting myself from COVID-19?
A: The same principles of keeping your skin protected still apply during COVID. Keep your skin covered and protected, avoid hot water, and apply moisturizers often.
- Keep a moisturizer close at hand if you suffer from eczema or dry skin. Carry a mini-bottle, and have one ready at home and the office. Be prepared to bring it out after every handwash.
- Avoid antibacterial soaps. They don’t help protect against COVID-19 and strip the skin of sebum, the skin oil that helps protect it from dryness.
- Avoid hot baths, as tempting as they can be during the cold winter months. Opt for a warm bath, or better, a shower. Remember to have the moisturizer nearby.
- Indoor heating sucks the moisture from the air, which contributes to dry and damaged skin. Consider purchasing a humidifier to counteract this effect.
- If your skin is doing significantly worse than most years, try to identify any significant changes. Do you have a new routine, a change in diet, or wear different clothes? Avoiding triggers that worsen eczema is an essential part of management.
Q: Could stress be worsening my eczema?
A: It could be a contributing factor. Stress is linked to many skin conditions and affects immune function. It can affect you indirectly as well. Stress can affect the quality of your sleep or even make you prone to overeat. Everyone should recognize that we are in an unusually stressful time and should have a strategy to cope with stress.
- Acknowledge the disruptions to your usual pace of life. It may be food, lack of social interaction, decreased sun exposure, lack of exercise, or sleep problems contributing to your stress.
- Think positive. We don’t always control all the factors in life, but sometimes reframing the situation helps provide perspective. Too much downtime? Use the time to develop a new skill or find a hobby.
- Replicate normalcy. Even if you don’t have to, wake up at the same time you usually would. Is your gym closed? Create a bodyweight exercise routine at home.
Q: Do masks contribute to facial eczema?
A: It’s certainly possible. Maskne is a thing. First, look at the contact points for potential irritants. The fabric or paper remains in contact with the skin for hours. Some masks also have metal holders. Many metals like nickel are a common allergen. Moisture and friction also contribute to irritation. Here are a few steps to help you adjust to mask-use:
- Cleanse and moisturize your face thoroughly before and after using the mask.
- Fit is important. You don’t want a mask that is too tight or too loose.
- Choose masks with cotton material on the inside as it is less likely to irritate the skin.
- Ensure that your reusable masks are clean. Hygiene is critical.