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People with eczema should take special care with the items that come into direct contact with their skin. In addition to the fabrics themselves, the products you use to care for them can potentially cause a reaction with your skin. Dyes, perfumes, fragrances, and detergents that are left on the fabric after washing and drying may irritate sensitive skin, so avoid them.

What to look for in laundry care products

For most people fragrances (perfumes), dyes, and detergents are what cause skin reactions. For some people, almost any brand of detergent that is free of dyes and fragrances will be satisfactory as long as the laundry is rinsed adequately. Some people have additional allergies, which can make even a detergent without dyes and perfumes problematic. It may take some trial and error to find a detergent that works for you.

    • Choose products (from detergents to fabric softeners) that are hypoallergenic, free of dyes and fragrances, and formulated for sensitive skin.
    • Try liquid products, as they tend to leave fewer residues than powders.
    • Consider using a liquid fabric softener. Studies have shown that clothes treated with fabric softener have a potential benefit for people with sensitive skin.
    • Use your washing machine’s second or “extra rinse” setting if it has one.
    • Check the NEA website for laundry products that have been awarded the NEA Seal of Acceptance

Wash new fabrics before first use

New clothing can sometimes have a finish on it to make it more appealing at the store.

    • Wash new clothing, bedding, and cloth napkins before you use them.
    • Wash everything your baby comes into contact with (plush toys, bedding, blankets, parent and caregiver clothes, towels) before being used for the first time.
    • Consider washing the clothes, bedding, and towels of the person with sensitive skin separately.

Laundry room safety

If you have children, pay special attention to how you use and store laundry care products.

    • Keep laundry products in their original containers with the original label intact.
    • Place products in a secure location after use, out of the reach of children and pets. Consider storing them in a high, locked cabinet. Do not store products on top of the washer or dryer.
    • Keep single-use detergent laundry packets away from children. These packs are very concentrated and should never be handled or played with by children. The packs dissolve quickly when in contact with water, wet hands, or saliva.
    • Throw away empty product containers properly. Do not reuse detergent buckets or bottles for other uses.
    • Clean up any spills, and immediately wash your hands and any items you use to pour or measure products.
    • Close and lock the laundry room door when you are finished, so curious young children cannot get in.
    • Pay special attention to spray bottles. They are a common source of exposure to cleaning solutions and should be kept out of a child’s reach.


Laundry Room Safety information reproduced with permission from the American Academy of Pediatrics and healthychildren.org

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Why is bathing so effective?

When your skin is dry, it’s not because it doesn’t contain enough oil. It’s because your skin isn’t doing a very good job of retaining its moisture (water). Wind, low humidity, cold temperatures, harsh soaps and too much washing without the use of a moisturizer can lead to dry skin, which can irritate your eczema and even make it worse.

People with eczema, especially atopic dermatitis, tend to have very dry skin in general. This is because the disease causes defects in the skin barrier. The skin barrier is uppermost layer of skin that protects irritants, bacteria/viruses, and allergens from getting into our bodies and moisture from getting out. Genes, skin trauma such as from scratching or rubbing, and inflammation can all contribute to this defective or “leaky” skin barrier in people with eczema.

The most effective way to treat dry skin is to give it the moisture it needs. Proper bathing and moisturizing are important for this reason — especially if you have eczema. The best way to replace moisture in the skin is to soak in a bath or take a shower and then moisturize immediately afterward.

Soak and Seal

The “Soak and Seal” method of treating eczema is recommended by many providers to combat dry skin and reduce flares. To get the full therapeutic benefit, Soak and Seal often and follow these steps in order.

Instructions to Soak and Seal:

    1. Take a bath using lukewarm (not hot) water for five to 10 minutes. Use a gentle cleanser (no soaps) and avoid scrubbing the affected skin.
    2. After bathing, pat the skin lightly with a towel leaving it slightly damp.
    3. Apply the prescription topical medication to the affected areas of skin as directed.
    4. Within three minutes, liberally apply a moisturizer all over the body. It’s important to apply the moisturizer within three minutes or the skin may become even drier.
    5. Wait a few minutes to let the moisturizer absorb into the skin before dressing or applying wet wraps.

Tips for bathing and moisturizing with eczema

Some things to remember when bathing:

    • Take at least one bath or shower a day
    • Bathe or shower in lukewarm (not hot) water for 10 to 15 minutes
    • Avoid scrubbing your skin with a washcloth or loofah
    • Use a gentle cleanser (not soap)
    • During severe flares, limit the use of cleansers to further avoid irritation

Some things to remember when moisturizing:

  • Use a high-oil content moisturizer twice a day to improve hydration and protect the skin barrier
  • Moisturize hands every time you wash them or they come into contact with water
  • Schedule your bathing and moisturizing routine at night, just before bed. This can help your skin better retain its moisture
  • If you have eczema on your hands, soak your hands in water, then follow with an application of your prescription medication (if you use one) and moisturizer. Wear cotton gloves over your hands while you sleep to help “lock-in” the moisturizer
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Managing Itch

Chronic itchy skin is a universal symptom of most types of eczema. Itch from eczema is different than itch from a bug bite or poison ivy. Because of this, common medications used for the itch, such as antihistamines, do not work well on the itch associated with eczema.

For many people, chronic itch from eczema goes way beyond just the physical. People with chronically itchy skin are more likely to experience poor sleep and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

According to researchers, itch and pain have a yin-yang relationship. When pain is present, the feeling of itch subsides. That’s why scratching can relieve the feeling of itchy skin because it causes low-grade pain.

Treating itchy skin

The first step to managing itchy skin is to reduce the risk of it happening in the first place. This can be done through a daily bathing and moisturizing routine and using prescription medications as prescribed. Wet wrap therapy also helps control itch. Outside of bathing, apply moisturizers that replenish the skin barrier consistently and liberally throughout the day.

Natural remedies for itch relief include soaking in a bath with oatmeal or baking soda. These can also be applied directly to the skin in the form of a paste.

While antihistamines do not stop the itch sensation, they may be recommended to help people with eczema fall asleep. Cotton gloves or cutting fingernails short can help protect the skin from night-time scratching. OTC corticosteroids can also help with mild itch.

Topical and immunosuppressant medications reduce symptoms of itch as does phototherapy. In severe cases, health care providers may prescribe mirtazapine, an antidepressant that is effective at relieving itch at night; pramoxine, a topical anesthetic; or certain oral antibiotics used for skin infections.

As much as possible, try not to excessively scratch the skin affected by an eczema flare. Too much scratching can lead to more rashes, thickened skin and infections if the surface of the skin is broken. Scratching also can trigger the “itch-scratch cycle” where the scratching leads to more itchiness.

10 tips for itch relief

    1. Use skin cleansers with low pH
    2. Apply a cold compress
    3. Understand and avoid your itch triggers
    4. Pinch and pat the itchy skin (rather than scratching)
    5. Take an apple cider vinegar bath or dilute it and add to a cold compress
    6. Wear soft, breathable, natural clothing next to your skin
    7. Avoid sitting on the grass, plastic chairs, or rough carpet and upholstery with bare legs
    8. Try acupuncture
    9. Do wet wrap therapy
    10. Moisturize frequently throughout the day with an ointment or cream that contains ceramides
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