Eczema 101: Picking the Right Fabrics
Eczema, or dermatitis, affects almost 15 million Americans. Per the National Eczema Society, eczema is classified as a dry skin condition that can result in rough, itchy, and irritated patches of skin. Our skin is made up of water, fats, and oils and serves as our protective barrier from the outside world. Eczematous skin produces fewer fats and oils than regular skin which causes it to retain less water. Without enough water to plump the skin, small gaps are left behind. Bacteria and other irritants can enter our skin through these gaps and cause painful infections. Factor in the use of everyday products that further strip our skin of oils, we can be left even more prone to new eczema flare-ups or worsening ones we already have.
Eczema is not a one-size-fits-all diagnosis. There are actually several different types of eczema, including:
- Atopic dermatitis: Atopic dermatitis is genetic and often affects several members of a family. The condition is first seen in infancy. Luckily, the Cleveland Clinic affirms that almost half of babies experiencing eczema grow out of it or at least see a significant improvement in symptoms are they get older. Atopic dermatitis is an allergic reaction that manifests as rashes in the crooks of the elbows and knees, small bumps, and scaly patches of skin.
- Contact dermatitis: Contact dermatitis is a reaction to touching an irritant or allergen such as chemicals, metals, or latex. Reactions can vary from red, itchy skin to stinging blisters.
- Other types of dermatitis such as neurodermatitis and stasis dermatitis affect specific parts of the body like the hands and legs or show up as advanced stages in people who have other types of eczema or psoriasis.
While eczema varies from person to person, various forms of eczema share similar symptoms such as patches of dry, thick, or leathery skin, redness, itching, burning, and small bumps or blisters. In severe cases, there may be bleeding or crusting of affected areas. Eczema breakouts can be brought on by a laundry list of culprits. Some of the most common triggers are:
- Makeup products
- Food or alcohol allergies
- Physical activity
- Dry skin
- Environmental triggers
- Immune system response
- Fabrics, and
- Metals found in jewelry
Once a new eczema breakout occurs, the symptoms are immediate. Usually, the first signs are redness and itchiness on a certain area of skin. That area can become more inflamed and even infected. To help treat immediate symptoms such as pain and discomfort as well as preventing long-term scarring or infection, medical experts suggest the following to treat eczema:
- Antihistamines like Benadryl to relieve itching
- Topical corticosteroids to reduce inflammation
- Emollients to moisturize the skin
- Cold compresses
- Antibiotics to prevent infection
- Light therapy
However, there are steps you can take to avoid eczema outbreaks in the first place. To prevent flare-ups, it is important to put good moisture back into your skin’s layers while avoiding irritants such as bacteria and sweat from getting in too. To best protect your skin from another eczema breakout, we recommend:
- Moisturizing: Healthy, moisturized skin is better equipped to keep out environmental factors that can bring on breakouts.
- Avoiding triggers: It is important to recognize if you have any sort of allergy or sensitivity to certain materials. Those with latex allergies or negative reactions to things like nickel in jewelry are more aware of what they need to avoid. Consider keeping a journal of items you have come in contact with immediately preceding an eczema breakout. You could also talk with your medical provider about getting an allergy test.
- Take oatmeal baths: Oatmeal baths calm sensitive skin, restore Ph levels, and reduce allergic reactions and itching. These are also helpful amid breakouts as itching can spread the rash and cause infection.
- Switch to fragrance-free products: Many products we use daily such as detergents, soaps, and makeup can contain fragrances and dyes that can easily irritate the skin.
- Avoid excessive sweating: Overheating and sweat can be a trigger for eczema. Opt for loose-fitting clothes made from soft, breathable materials.
Picking the Right Fabric for Eczema
Overheating, sweating, and friction caused by clothing can be irritants the spark dreaded eczema breakouts. That is why it is crucial to be mindful of the fabrics your clothing is made out of. The National Eczema Society suggest avoiding rough material such as wool or fleece. Other fabrics such as nylon and polyester prevent the skin from breathing and can trap heat and bacteria against the skin. Double-check that your clothing does not have rough seams or fastenings that continuously rub against the skin or contain irritating chemicals such as flame-retardants. All of these factors can trigger or worsen eczema.
Now that you know which fabrics to avoid, let’s discuss what fabrics you should be stocking up on!
- Cotton: Cotton, especially jersey, is an excellent choice for people with eczema. This material is soft to the touch and breathable. It also helps absorb excess sweat instead of letting it seep into your skin. However, some cotton blends contain polyester so check the tag before you buy
- Bamboo: Bamboo is one of the newest trends in the fabric world. Bamboo fabric is exceptionally gentle on the skin and even more absorbent than cotton. Its breathability makes it an excellent tool for regulating body temperature especially for preventing night sweats while you sleep. The major bonus of bamboo fabric is its antimicrobial properties. Bamboo fabric protects your skin from bacteria and other external irritants that could bring on an eczema flare-up. Furthermore, bamboo is durable. It does not require special detergents to maintain it that could potentially irritate your skin.
- Silk: There is a reason the saying is “smooth as silk”! Silk is non-irritating to the skin as it is hypoallergenic and helps keep you cool and therefore not sweating! There is also a wide range of silk undergarments available which can come in handy if you cannot avoid certain irritating fabrics. Wearing silk undergarments under, say, your polyester work uniform can put a barrier between your sensitive skin and the harsh material. Another option is satin, which is a specific weave pattern of silk. Satin has been a recently popular option for pillowcases because it does not cause friction and instead of absorbing moisture from your skin, it can help keep your skin’s protective oils where they belong! In a study out of the University of Zurich, DermaSilk was found to be as effective as topical corticosteroid in treating atopic dermatitis.
- Modal: Modal is a type of rayon that is known for its silky feel and stretch. Modal is highly absorbent (in fact, it is 50% more absorbent than cotton!) which makes it a popular choice for activewear and bath towels. Modal can help keep sweat and bacteria off of your skin while still being gentle enough for even the most sensitive of skin. The best part is modal fibers are strong and built to last so your clothing will last for years to come!