Common Triggers that Cause Eczema Symptom Flare-Ups

By Alison Lowe, MD March 4, 2019 No Comments

eczema triggers

Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is a long-term skin condition that results in the development of redness, scaly and itchy rash patches, inflammation, and swelling along the skin. Other less common symptoms can include blisters, bumpy skin, and changes in skin color. Unfortunately, there is no cure for eczema at this time. There are, however, topical steroid creams, prescription antihistamines, and light therapy treatments that can help control the symptoms of eczema.

One of the best ways to prevent eczema flare-ups is to properly take care of the skin. This includes identifying and avoiding eczema triggers: specific substances or conditions that cause eczema symptoms to occur or worsen in intensity.

Well Known Eczema Triggers

While eczema affects each person differently, here are some well-known eczema triggers:

Chemical and irritants: Products you use daily such as dish soap, hand sanitizer, disinfectants, cleaners, shampoo, body wash, and laundry detergent can include certain chemicals like formaldehyde, cocamidopropyl, paraphenylene-diamine, or isothiazolinones which can spur eczema. To avoid many common chemical triggers, consider choosing “clear and free” products that are free of fragrance and other additives. Your Dermatologist may recommend patch testing in order to determine which chemicals/irritants your skin is sensitive to.

Long, hot showers/baths: While taking a long soak in the tub may sound peaceful, exposing the skin to high temperate water for long periods is terrible for eczema prone skin. It is recommended to bathe/shower no more frequently than once per day with a sensitive skin body wash. Try keeping the water at a medium-warm temperature and set a time limit of 10 minutes or less.

Dry skin: Many eczema sufferers may notice that bouts of dry skin preempt the occurrence of eczema symptoms. This is because the tight, scaly, and brittle nature of dry skin form a great environment for symptom occurrence.

Scratching: Eczema is sometimes referred to as the itch that rashes because eczema related rashes often occur after the skin is damaged (from scratching or picking). Individuals with eczema should moisturize daily to prevent dry skin and subsequent eczema flares. It’s also advised to keep your nails smooth and trimmed.

Certain fabrics: Wool and synthetic fibers such as polyester have an abrasive nature that can cause irritation and itchiness as they rub the skin. Avoid this trigger by choosing soft cotton clothing that is looser in fit.

Extreme temperatures: Some people may notice an increase of eczema symptoms during the summer or winter months. This is not just their imagination. For many, the exposure to either high heat (and even sweating) or dry cold weather can trigger flare-ups. Other individuals may experience severe symptoms during sudden weather changes.

Stress: Both physical and emotional stress can serve as triggers for eczema flares. In fact, many eczema sufferers indicate worsening symptoms when they feel stressed. Stress impacts hormone levels as well as the immune system, which can ultimately lead to worsening eczema symptoms.

Sunscreen: Protecting the skin from UV exposure is important for eczema suffers, as sunburns often lead to symptom occurrence. Unfortunately, the ingredients found in many chemical sunscreens can be equally irritating. Try choosing a “physical” sunscreen with only zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as the active ingredients. Physical sunscreens will protect the skin without causing irritation.

Allergies: Exposure to allergens is a very common trigger for eczema flares. Patients who are allergic to dust mites, mold, pollen, or pet dander should try to avoid exposure, and might even need to consult an Allergist to help manage allergy symptoms.

Foods: Allergy to foods is another potential eczema trigger, one that is most commonly seen in childhood. However, “elimination diets,” or diets that eliminate many foods such as fish, eggs, dairy, soy, nuts, and wheat, should not be attempted prior to evaluation by a Dermatologist or Allergist. If a food allergy is suspected, allergy testing should be performed.


Alison Lowe, MD

Alison Lowe, M.D. completed her doctorate of medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, where she graduated with the distinction of Magna Cum Laude. Dr .Lowe is Board Certified by the American Board of Dermatology and is active in various medical organizations, including the American Academy of Dermatology, the American Society of Dermatology, the Texas Dermatological Society, the Texas Medical Association, and the Travis County Medical Society. She currently sees patients at our Lakeway location.


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