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Lifestyle Changes to Manage Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis)
Although there is no cure for eczema, there are several lifestyle changes you can make that can help you manage the symptoms of eczema.
General Guidelines for Managing Eczema
General tips for minimizing symptoms and helping to prevent flare-ups include the following:
- Take Care of Your Skin
- Avoid Common Skin Irritants
- Maintain a Consistent Temperature
- Limit Exposure to Allergens
- Recognize and Limit Emotional Stress
- Don’t Scratch or Rub
Take Care of Your Skin
Consistent skin care is one of the most critical methods for treatment and prevention of eczema flare-ups. Caring for your skin will not only help prevent outbreaks of eczema, but it may also help prevent bacterial skin infections common in people with eczema.
Doctors recommend that you establish a daily routine to care for your skin. This includes:
- Take brief baths or showers—no more than 10-15 minutes. Do not soak in water for long periods of time.
- Avoid extremes in water temperature when bathing; lukewarm water is best.
- Limit your use of soap, or try non-soap cleansers instead.
- Pat your skin gently while drying, do not rub briskly.
- Apply emollients or moisturizers immediately after bathing. Heavier creams and especially ointments work best. Lotions are usually water or alcohol-based and are not as effective for moisturizing. Of all of the above, ointments typically have the least amounts of potentially irritating preservatives.
- Choose soaps, cleansers and moisturizers that are fragrance-free.
Avoid Common Skin Irritants
Outbreaks of eczema are often caused by skin exposure to irritants such as:
- Soaps or detergents
- Solvents or chemicals
- Woolen or synthetic fabrics
- Skin astringents or other alcohol-containing skin care products
- Cosmetics or fragrances
Maintain a Consistent Temperature
Protect your skin by maintaining cool, stable temperatures and average humidity levels. Avoid cold, dry weather conditions, and minimize outdoor exposure during cold weather. Wear clothing that covers and protects your skin as much as possible, and hydrate the skin with moisturizers after exposure.
Also avoid conditions where you will be exposed to excess moisture, such as in steam baths and hot tubs or when sweating after strenuous exercise.
Limit Exposure to Allergens
Because there are many allergens that may trigger eczema, it is nearly impossible to completely eliminate all allergens from your environment. However, there are many things you can do to help reduce allergens and minimize your exposure to allergic triggers. For example, to limit your exposure to dust, animal dander, molds, and pests, keep your home and work environment clean and dry.
Recognize and Limit Emotional Stress
Maintaining emotional balance and avoiding stress are strongly recommended, as stress is a strong trigger for eczema outbreaks. If you need support or assistance in reducing stress, you may want to try some of the following techniques:
- Stress management classes
- Relaxation techniques
- Breathing exercises
Don’t Scratch or Rub
People with eczema seem to be more sensitive to itching and feel the need to scratch longer in response. Often, this creates an “itch-scratch cycle”—the skin itches, the person scratches, and the skin becomes even itchier. This scratching pattern will affect your skin reaction and healing patterns, sometimes resulting in thick, leathery skin from excessive scratching. Keep your skin moisturized to minimize irritation, and try not to scratch or rub whenever possible. Ask your doctor about medicines to relieve the itching.
When to Contact Your Doctor
If your symptoms become noticeably worse, or are not responding to lifestyle changes or prescribed treatment, notify your doctor.
Kimyai-Asadi A, Usman A. The role of psychological stress in skin disease. J Cutan Med Surg. 2001;5(2):140-145.
Koo J, Lebwohl A. Psycho dermatology: the mind and skin connection. Am Fam Physician. 2001;64(11):1873-1878.
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 11/2013
- Update Date: 09/11/2012