EPeople with eczema have their own unique cocktail of specific triggers that exacerbate their symptoms. But one of the most common is exercise.
“Exercise can mean more outdoor activity with pollen, weeds, and grass,” all of which can be eczema-flaring allergens, notes dermatologist Calvin Williams, MD, medical director of Essential Dermatology Group. “Or, exercise means exposure to areas like gym mats, where germs like to colonize, which can cause flare-ups.”
The point is, our bodies naturally produce sweat to help cool us down when we’re working out. And some components of sweat (sodium chloride, urea, lactate) can irritate our skin and aggravate symptoms such as itching. According to Dr. Williams, “Sweat is one of the most commonly reported triggers.”
Of course, since fitness is an important component of staying healthy, cutting out exercise altogether isn’t usually a good solution. And it can even be helpful as part of a long-term strategy. “The link between eczema and stress is clear, and we know that exercise can reduce stress and anxiety,” Dr. Williams explains. Because of that, he said, regular work can even reduce Eczema flares for some patients.
How to Exercise Comfortably With Eczema
Rather than stopping exercise altogether, the best approach is to do a little detective work and problem solving to reduce potential skin irritation.
1. Identify triggers
Dr. Williams recommends that people with eczema try to find out exactly what it is about exercise that causes them to flare up so they can find creative ways to avoid it. For example, wearing long pants while running on an outdoor trail can help avoid casual leg brushing against trees.
2. Drink lots of water
Hydration is always important during exercise, but even more so for those exercising with eczema. “Patients who suffer from eczema already have problems with epidermal dehydration,” says Dr. Williams.
3. Wear natural clothes
If sweat is irritating for your eczema, natural fabrics are the way to go. Wearing synthetic materials that trap sweat on the skin can cause further irritation. “Natural materials can allow for greater air flow and sweat absorption, reducing the chronic contact of sweat directly with the skin,” says Dr. Williams. Consider cotton, bamboo or even wool.
4. Clean any mat before use
Disinfect your workout equipment with an antimicrobial spray in the past To use it to help prevent flare-inducing infections—don’t trust that it’s been cleaned properly by previous gym-goers.
5. Remove sweat as it forms
“If sweating is irritating, keeping a clean towel nearby to gently wipe away the sweat can be a way to help reduce itching,” Dr. Williams advises
6. Manage your chlorine exposure
Chlorine is a known skin irritant—even without eczema. But that doesn’t mean you have to avoid the pool. “Brief exposure to a chlorine pool may be helpful and may have the same effect as a diluted bleach bath,” says Dr. Williams. Just make sure the pool’s chlorine levels are well maintained, and get out of your swimsuit and rinse with fresh clean water when you’re done. “If chlorine water is allowed to dry out on your skin, significant irritation and itching can occur,” warns Dr. Williams.
7. Protect the skin with a cream
Finally, Dr. Williams recommends using a skin protector before and after your workout: “A thick emollient cream like Cetaphil, Serav, or Eucerin can help protect the skin’s barrier.” So buckle up, lace up, and get after it.
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