Exercise is a crucial component to staying healthy — both mentally and physically. Working out consistently helps you to manage your weight, boost your mood, improve sleep, manage blood sugar, reduce your risk of heart disease, and even increase your chances of living longer.
So, eczema shouldn’t have to stop you from breaking a sweat and staying active… but when you’re constantly experiencing itchy, red flare-ups after hitting the gym, it can be really discouraging.
That’s why we want to break down why exercise can induce eczema flares and give you pointers for how to exercise comfortably with eczema, because you shouldn’t have to compromise your overall health for comfortable, healthy skin.
Exercise & Sweat
When you exercise hard, you sweat. It’s a natural reaction to exertion — and a healthy one, too.
When your body releases sweat through the glands on your skin, the perspiration rests on the skin surface and then evaporates, effectively cooling off your body and helping to regulate your body temperature.
This whole process works to prevent your body from overheating. It’s important that your body sweats during exertion. So what about your eczema flare-ups?
Can Sweat Cause Eczema?
Sweating doesn’t cause eczema, but for some people sweating can trigger eczema flare-ups. That’s because when the sweat evaporates off your skin, it leaves sodium behind (that doesn’t get evaporated). That sodium can dry out and irritate your skin if left on the surface.
That’s how you end up with worsened eczema and itchy irritation.
However, this reaction doesn’t happen to everyone. It really depends on the person. Oddly enough, sweat can actually help rebalance your skin microbiome, and an imbalanced skin microbiome is linked to the majority of eczema cases. So, some people actually see improvements in their eczema from sweating.
How does sweat benefit these microorganisms living on your skin's surface?
Sweat contains the antimicrobial peptide dermcidin that helps protect your body from harmful germs. While that shouldn’t encourage you to quit showering, it should encourage you to keep exercising!
Ensure you’re cleansing your body with a gentle, preservative-free body wash that respects your skin microbiome post-workout.
Heat Rash vs. Eczema
Exercise can also cause what’s known as ‘heat rash.’ Heat rash can appear differently on the skin, as red, white, or clear bumps and may be itchy. Because heat rash sometimes shows up as red bumps that itch, it can be confused with eczema.
Adults often develop heat rash in areas that rub together, like the inner thighs or insides of the arms.
The biggest difference between eczema and heat rash is the cause. Heat rash is actually caused by blocked pores that can’t allow the sweat out. Compared to eczema, heat rash typically disappears much quicker.
How to exercise comfortably with eczema
Because working out and staying active play a huge role in caring for your mental and physical health, it’s important to find ways to exercise comfortably while dealing with an eczema flare-up.
Here are seven ways to stay comfortable while exercising:
One of the most important ways to combat irritation is by drinking plenty of water before, after, and during your workout. This will help you stay hydrated, keep your body temperature cooler, and dilute your sweat so less sodium builds up on your skin.
When exercising with eczema, it’s important to wear loose-fitting, breathable, cotton clothing. This will help prevent sweat from staying trapped against the skin. It’ll also lower your risk of rubbing that can cause irritation. Avoid nylon, spandex, and latex clothing as much as possible.
When considering your clothing, also make sure you’re washing your workout gear with gentle, fragrance-free, paraben-free detergent. Sometimes detergents contain harsh chemical ingredients that can irritate eczema.
Clean the Equipment
If you’re exercising in a gym (or even at home), remember to clean the equipment before and after use. Old sweat and other bacteria can exacerbate eczema and cause further irritation. Plus, it’s just common courtesy.
Heat is a very common eczema trigger. While it’s unlikely you’ll avoid a spike in body temperature while exercising, you can combat the heat in a few ways. To help your body stay as cool as possible, work out indoors where you have AC. If you’re going to work out outside, opt for a day with a nice breeze and avoid direct sunlight. Exercising in the shade of a tree or overhang is preferable to having the UV rays directly on your skin.
Another way to stay cool and help regulate your body temperature is by taking breaks. During your breaks, drink cold water, wrap a cool, damp towel around your neck, or cool off with a cooling pack.
You can also use this time to gently dab away any sweat that’s on your skin to prevent a build up of sodium.
Avoid Hot Showers or Baths
Showering and cleaning your body with a gentle body wash and shampoo is crucial to ensuring sweat doesn’t stay on your skin and further irritate it. However, hot water and long showers can dry out your skin. Instead of taking a steamy shower, opt for lukewarm water.
Moisturize After You Shower
After you shower post-workout, it’s important to moisturize. You can apply lotion whenever you like throughout the day, but moisturizing after a shower is actually the most beneficial. When you apply a gentle, fragrance-free lotion after showering, you help to lock in that moisture in your skin. Otherwise, the water would simply evaporate off the skin surface and dry it further.
Swimming with Eczema
Swimming is an excellent form of exercise, but it’s very different from working out on land. You don’t have to worry about sweat staying on your skin, but both chlorine and saltwater can be irritating for some people’s skin. If it is irritating, gently shower off as soon as possible to get chlorine and other potential irritants off your skin. Then apply a fragrance-free lotion to lock in that moisture. Oddly enough, saltwater can actually be soothing for some people with eczema. Get to know your skin as well as your personal eczema triggers to determine what works best for you.
Keep Your Body & Your Skin Healthy
If you’re dealing with eczema pain that interferes with your ability to work out and stay active, visit your healthcare provider to help you establish a treatment plan that can soothe your skin and get you moving again.
After you exercise, be sure to gently cleanse the skin and apply your Gladskin Eczema Cream. The microbiome-balancing cream reduces eczema itch and redness in four out of five users… so you can say goodbye to those uncomfortable workout sessions.