In some instances, you can control the symptoms of eczema and dermatitis by making changes to the products you use and to the environment around you. This is particularly true if dermatologists have diagnosed allergic or irritant dermatitis, which often has specific triggers that may be identified using a patch test. Avoiding those triggers is the simplest and most effective way to treat allergic or irritant dermatitis.
If the results of a patch test indicate sensitivity to a specific substance, our dermatologists suggest completely removing that substance from your routine. This may be as easy as avoiding a certain type of cleanser or changing your deodorant.
But some fragrances and preservatives are used in many products, which can make avoiding them a challenge. It can be overwhelming and time-consuming to read through long ingredient lists to identify which products are safe to use.
Our dermatologists can search a large database of common products and provide you with a list of options that are safe for you to use. Often, these products are available at drugstores and aren’t difficult to find.
In addition, dermatologists recommend taking simple steps at home to avoid common triggers such as hot and cold temperatures, irritating fabrics, and hot showers. Trigger avoidance may prevent symptoms from recurring or from getting worse.
Often, making changes to the temperature inside a home, school, or office helps control symptoms of eczema and dermatitis. Cold, dry air may cause skin to become cracked, scaly, and dry. Skin that lacks moisture is more vulnerable to irritation.
Using a humidifier in addition to maintaining a moderate room temperature—our doctors recommend 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit—during winter months may help skin retain moisture.
During the summer, heat and humidity can worsen eczema and dermatitis. Sweat makes skin itch and provides an environment for bacteria to grow, increasing the risk of infection. In warm weather, using an air conditioner to keep air cool and dry can help prevent rashes.
Long, hot showers or baths strip the skin of oils and moisture. Our dermatologists understand that most people prefer to bathe or shower daily but recommend short, lukewarm showers or baths. This prevents loss of the skin’s natural barriers against exposure to irritants and avoids stripping the skin of its natural oils and defenses.
Many common products contain ingredients that may cause allergic dermatitis. These products include perfumes and colognes as well as fragranced lotion, deodorants, soap, bubble bath, shampoo, conditioner, laundry detergent, and fabric softener.
Many of these products also contain preservatives to give them a long shelf life. Preservatives in cleansing wipes may linger on the skin if you don’t rinse after using them. Preservatives are also used in many fragrance-free skin care and beauty products, including foundation and lipstick.
Some brands of moisturizers and cosmetics have fragrance-free and low-preservative varieties, and these distinctions are usually marked clearly on the bottle or packaging.
Fabrics with rough textures, such as wool and tweed, can cause irritant dermatitis and make other types of rashes worse. Also, pigments in dyed fabric may be the source of chemical allergens that can cause contact dermatitis. Doctors recommend avoiding these fabrics and choosing light-colored or dye-free clothing made from 100 percent cotton or silk, which is less likely to irritate the skin.
A moisturizer seals in some of the water your skin absorbs while you bathe and improves the skin’s barrier against environmental irritants. Applying moisturizer immediately after bathing offers added protection against eczema and dermatitis. Look for fragrance-free moisturizers that have low levels of preservatives.
Eczema and dermatitis are often intensely itchy, and fighting the urge to scratch can be very difficult. Scratching can tear the skin and leave it vulnerable to bacteria that pose a risk of infection and worsening of the eczema itself.
Doctors suggest occasionally adding a small amount of bleach to a bath as a safe way to kill bacteria on the skin and reduce itching, redness, and swelling. Bleach baths are safe for children and adults, and your dermatologist can tell you how much bleach you should use, as well as the recommended frequency of baths.
Generally, no more than one-half cup of regular-strength bleach should be added to a full bath, and soaking time should not exceed 10 to 15 minutes. Doctors recommend using a fragrance-free and low-preservative moisturizer all over the body immediately after the bath.
Our dermatologists may recommend brief periods of sunlight exposure instead of artificial phototherapy to relieve symptoms of eczema and dermatitis. This is called sun therapy or heliotherapy.
Direct exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun may relieve symptoms such as itchiness and redness and prevent a rash from spreading. You should discuss the amount of sunlight exposure you should get with your doctor; sensitivity to light is different for each person, and doctors may not recommend sun therapy for people with medical conditions such as cutaneous lupus or those who take medications such as tetracyclines that might make them more sensitive to the sun’s rays.
Direct exposure to sunlight for longer periods can have harmful effects, and doctors recommend applying a fragrance-free, low-preservative sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher during sun exposure that lasts longer than 5 minutes.