How to Avoid Winter Eczema on Your Hands: 5 Proven Tips

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

Your skin goes through a lot in winter, especially on your hands. Cold weather, wind, and indoor heating can dry out your skin and make it itchy and irritated. Let’s find out how you can prevent winter eczema flare-ups on your hands in the colder months.

What can cause seasonal eczema flare-ups on your hands?

Eczema can be a year-round problem. The main factors that make you more susceptible to eczema are dry skin, stress, and exposure to harsh chemicals and irritants. But other things that can cause seasonal eczema on your hands are:

  • Seasonal allergens like pollen or dust mites
  • Cold and damp weather
  • Prolonged exposure to saltwater or chlorine
  • Excessive sweating
  • Working in the garden with bare hands

Any weather can cause an eczema flare-up. For some, high humidity and heat can bring relief, while for others, they may set off skin issues. Keep track of your symptoms to know your triggers and be prepared when your eczema starts playing up.

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Is eczema worse in cold weather?

When the winter comes, you may experience eczema flare-ups, particularly on the skin exposed to the cold air, such as the face and hands. The main reasons for winter eczema are the cold, dry wind, and indoor heating that can dry out your skin and make it more sensitive. Wearing layers of warm, wool clothes can also trigger eczema flares and they can irritate your skin and make it more itchy.

What’s the difference between eczema and winter rash?

Some skin conditions have similar symptoms and triggers, and winter rash and eczema are no exceptions. A winter rash can develop on any part of your body, but it often appears on your hands, arms, and legs. If your skin gets red, swollen, and itchy, you may have a winter rash.

Playing with snow wearing wool gloves as a trigger for winter eczema

The usual triggers of a winter rash are cold wind and low humidity, but it can have other causes, such as:

  • Sunburn. The UV light can damage your skin even in winter, so make sure to cover up and apply sunscreen on exposed areas.
  • Sensitivity to different chemicals in soaps and detergents. The cold weather can make you more susceptible to everyday allergens.
  • Infections. Watch out for accompanying symptoms like a fever and sores.
  • Stress and fatigue. They can trigger a rash especially if you have a skin condition like eczema and psoriasis.

Eczema and winter rash can be quite difficult to tell apart as they manifest themselves in similar ways.

In general, rashes develop after contact with an irritant and can clear up fairly quickly.

Eczema, on the other hand, is a long-term condition that can flare up during any season and requires ongoing treatment.

Make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your symptoms and find the cause of your rash or skin irritation in winter.

How to prevent hand eczema in winter

If you notice your hands getting itchy and sore in cold weather, you can do a few things to keep eczema at bay.

1. Protect your hands

Your hands need some extra care in winter. Wear gloves when you’re walking outside or keep your hands in your pockets to shield them from the cold wind.

Moisturizing is also an essential step in preventing winter eczema on your hands.

So keep a hand cream with you and apply it liberally throughout the day to protect the skin from the cold, dry winter air.

Water and chemicals can strip your skin of its natural oils, further damaging your dry hands, so put on a pair of rubber gloves with a cotton lining when cleaning and doing the dishes.

2. Wash your hands in lukewarm water

Excessive washing can dry out and irritate your hands. It can be especially damaging when your eczema is already affected by the cold wind and indoor heating. While remaining hygienic, try to wash your hands less often in winter and use warm water rather than hot. Opt for moisturizing soaps to avoid stripping your skin of its protective oils. Pat your hands dry with a towel and apply hand cream to lock the moisture in. Avoid rubbing your skin, as it can irritate your eczema and make it itchier.

3. Switch up your skincare for the winter

Dry indoor air, cold wind, and freezing temperatures can strip your skin of its natural oils and make it more sensitive to irritants. So you may need to adjust your skincare routine for the winter. Switch to gentle, fragrance-free soaps and lotions to reduce irritation.

Applying product to treat winter eczema on hands

Your skin can become dry and dehydrated in colder weather, so it’s important to moisturize it every day, especially after having a bath or shower. Add a thick cream to your winter skincare routine if your skin is extra dry, and apply it to your hands before going outside to protect them from the elements.

4. Choose soft fabrics

As the weather gets colder, you may start wrapping yourself in layers of clothes. Wool hats, scarves, and gloves will keep you toasty, but the scratchy material can irritate your skin and cause your eczema to flare up. Opt for soft, breathable fabrics when it comes to clothes that touch your skin, like pajamas, underwear, and socks. Natural materials such as cotton are the best. You can still wear your favorite wooly sweater in the colder months; just put on a cotton t-shirt under it to keep your skin eczema-free. When it comes to gloves, look for a pair with a soft, natural lining or made from a non-irritating material like cashmere.

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5. Use a humidifier

Indoor heating dries out the air and can also dehydrate your skin. This can lead to an eczema flare-up. A humidifier helps to add some moisture back to the air and maintain the comfortable humidity levels in your home. But make sure to change the water and regularly clean your machine to prevent bacteria growth. You can also add a couple of drops of essential oils to your humidifier — it will make your home smell nice and fresh.

There are other ways to combat dry indoor air if you’re not ready to invest in a humidifier. For example, place a few water bowls around your home near the radiators. The water will evaporate and make your indoor air less dry — keep an eye on the humidity levels in your home, as excess moisture can encourage mold growth.

Final thoughts

Cold weather can cause patches of dry, irritated skin to appear on your hands. Seasonal triggers for winter eczema flare-ups include dry, cold wind, indoor heating, and itchy fabrics like wool. The key to keeping your hands soft throughout winter is to protect them from the elements: always wear gloves when you go outside and apply fragrance-free moisturizer after washing your hands. You may use a thicker cream before bed to nourish your skin and restore its protective barrier.

March 1, 2023