13 Common Triggers That May Worsen Atopic Dermatitis Flare-Ups

Winter is often a comforting time of year—cozy clothes, roaring fireplaces, simmering soups—but the cold, dry weather can wreak havoc on your skin. This year, it seems like everyone is dealing with some sort of skin issue, from cystic acne breakouts to flaky faces and damaged skin barriers. Even TikTok users have taken to the platform to reveal their struggles with the “winter uglies.”

Why Your Skin’s Being Difficult Right Now

The term “winter uglies” isn’t a medical one, but dermatologists agree that they’ve been witnessing a surge in skin issues recently. Dr. Ife J. Rodney, a board-certified dermatologist and founding director of Eternal Dermatology + Aesthetics, confirms this trend, stating, “I’m definitely seeing this in patients right now.”

According to Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research at The Mount Sinai Hospital, winter weather commonly takes a toll on the skin. “Low humidity, cold temperatures, and wind can impair skin barrier function by stripping away essential oils,” he warns. For those with underlying conditions like eczema, managing the winter season becomes even more challenging. Dr. Cindy Wassef, an assistant professor at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, notes, “Usually in wintertime, I see more eczema flares because of dry weather—and this year is no different.”

Even if you don’t have an underlying skin condition, cold dry air can still dehydrate your skin, leaving you feeling itchy and uncomfortable, Dr. Rodney said. And it’s not just dry skin you have to worry about—breakouts are common too. “Acne-prone skin is usually dry and sensitive,” said Rodney. “When the skin gets drier than usual, like in winter, the body overproduces oil. That oil gets caught under the skin’s surface and leads to acne.”

If you’re using actives in your skincare routine, you may be exacerbating the problem. “Acne medication can be drying in general, and this could be made worse by winter weather,” said Wassef. And don’t forget about your scalp—according to Rodney, dandruff flares or other hair issues are common this time of year too.

13 Common Triggers That May Trigger Atopic Dermatitis Flare Ups

Atopic dermatitis, commonly known as eczema, is a chronic skin condition characterized by itchy, inflamed skin. While it can affect individuals of all ages, it often manifests in childhood and can persist into adulthood. Managing atopic dermatitis involves identifying and avoiding triggers that can lead to flare-ups. Here are 13 common factors that may trigger atopic dermatitis flare-ups:

1. Weather Conditions:

Extreme weather conditions, especially cold and dry weather, can strip the skin of its natural moisture, leading to increased itching and irritation for individuals with atopic dermatitis.

2. Harsh Soaps and Detergents:

Certain soaps and detergents contain harsh chemicals that can be irritating to sensitive skin. Opting for fragrance-free, hypoallergenic products can help prevent flare-ups.

3. Fabrics and Clothing:

Wearing rough or tight fabrics can aggravate atopic dermatitis. Choose soft, breathable fabrics like cotton and avoid tight clothing to minimize skin irritation.

4. Stress and Anxiety:

Emotional stress and anxiety can contribute to atopic dermatitis flare-ups. Finding effective stress management techniques, such as mindfulness or yoga, may help reduce symptoms.

5. Allergens:

Common allergens like pet dander, pollen, mold, and dust mites can trigger eczema flare-ups. Identifying and minimizing exposure to these allergens is crucial for managing symptoms.

6. Certain Foods:

While food triggers vary from person to person, some individuals with atopic dermatitis may experience flare-ups after consuming certain foods. Common triggers include dairy, nuts, and shellfish.

7. Sweating:

Excessive sweating can lead to increased itching and discomfort for individuals with atopic dermatitis. Keeping the skin cool and dry is essential, especially during physical activities.

8. Fragrances and Perfumes:

Fragrances and perfumes in skincare products, detergents, or personal care items can be irritating for those with sensitive skin. Opt for fragrance-free options to minimize the risk of flare-ups.

9. Hormonal Changes:

Fluctuations in hormones, particularly during puberty or pregnancy, can influence atopic dermatitis symptoms. Managing hormonal changes with the guidance of a healthcare professional may help control flare-ups.

10. Microbial Infections:

Bacterial, viral, or fungal infections can exacerbate atopic dermatitis symptoms. Keeping the skin clean and practicing good hygiene can reduce the risk of infections triggering flare-ups.

11. Exposure to Irritants:

Contact with irritants like harsh cleaning chemicals or solvents can worsen eczema symptoms. Wearing protective gloves and minimizing exposure to such irritants is crucial.

12. Overwashing:

Frequent bathing or washing with hot water can strip the skin of its natural oils, leading to dryness and irritation. Limiting baths to shorter durations with lukewarm water can help prevent flare-ups.

13. Inadequate Skincare:

Using inappropriate skincare products or neglecting proper skincare can contribute to atopic dermatitis flare-ups. Regular moisturizing with hypoallergenic lotions and creams is essential for maintaining skin health.

Helping Your Skin Get Through the Winter Season

Wintertime and the skin issues it can bring can feel frustrating, but dermatologists say there are things you can do to repair your skin and bring it back to health. Dr. Zeichner suggests, “I would take a good look at your skincare regimen and see where you can make adjustments.” For dry skin, he recommends switching from your summer lotion to thicker moisturizing creams or even Vaseline.

If acne is the issue, Zeichner suggested looking at your treatment arsenal, including whether you recently increased the strength of your medications or added a new product. “It may be best to cut back to prevent further dryness and breakouts,” he said. If your products were prescribed by a dermatologist, it doesn’t hurt to check in to see if they’re on board with this change.

Moisturizing—and doing so strategically—is also key. “It’s super important that you moisturize all of your skin, including your face and neck,” said Rodney. The best time to moisturize is straight out of the shower so you can keep as much hydration as possible. “Pat your skin dry to remove excess moisture and apply a cream-based lotion,” said Rodney. “This will help seal the moisture in.”

Another important aspect is to be mindful of the products you’re using. In the winter, consider switching to more hydrating and gentle cleansers. Harsh cleansers can strip away the natural oils on your skin, exacerbating dryness and irritation. Opt for creamy cleansers that clean without over-drying.

Adjusting Your Skincare Routine

As the seasons change, so should your skincare routine. Dr. Rodney emphasizes, “I recommend incorporating products with hyaluronic acid and ceramides during the winter months. These ingredients help to hydrate and repair the skin barrier.”

Hyaluronic acid is a powerhouse ingredient that attracts and retains moisture. It’s like a drink of water for your skin, ensuring it stays plump and hydrated. Ceramides, on the other hand, are lipids that help form the skin’s barrier and retain moisture. Including these in your routine can make a significant difference in combatting winter dryness.

Moreover, if you’re battling acne, consider a more gentle approach during the winter. Dr. Zeichner suggests, “It may be a good idea to use a more hydrating, less irritating acne medication or to cut back on the frequency of use during the colder months.”

Lifestyle Adjustments for Healthy Skin

Beyond skincare products, your lifestyle can play a crucial role in maintaining skin health during winter. Staying hydrated is paramount. The cold weather can be deceptively drying, and it’s easy to overlook the importance of drinking enough water. Make a conscious effort to stay well-hydrated, and you’ll notice a positive impact on your skin.

Dietary choices also matter. Include foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins. These nutrients contribute to skin health and can help combat the effects of winter weather. Consider incorporating foods like salmon, avocados, nuts, and berries into your diet.

Protecting your skin from the elements is essential. Wear protective clothing, including scarves and hats, to shield your skin from harsh winds. Don’t forget sunscreen, even in winter. The sun’s UV rays can still cause damage, especially when reflected off snow.

When to Seek Professional Help

If despite your best efforts, your skin issues persist or worsen, it may be time to consult a board-certified dermatologist. They can provide a personalized assessment of your skin condition and recommend a more comprehensive treatment plan. Ignoring persistent issues could lead to long-term damage, so seeking professional advice is a proactive step towards healthier skin.

In conclusion, navigating skin issues during winter requires a combination of thoughtful skincare, lifestyle adjustments, and, when necessary, professional guidance. By understanding the impact of winter weather on your skin and taking proactive steps, you can ensure that your skin remains healthy and radiant even in the coldest months.

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