Although we’ve come very far in our understanding of atopic dermatitis, there’s still much left for us to discover. For one, we still don’t know how climate, weather and the sea affect atopic dermatitis. In most patients, autumn and winter bring about the worsening of atopic dermatitis symptoms while summer brings a degree of respite from the illness. For a smaller percent of patients, however, the opposite is the case, as their atopic dermatitis gets worse in warm weather.
Summer, intense sunlight and sea have been very beneficial for me, allowing me to enjoy years-long remissions from atopic dermatitis. The UV rays from the sun reduce the inflammation of the skin, but the heat itself and the sweating cause discomfort to just about any patient with atopic dermatitis. In order for our body to cool down, the blood vessels in the skin dilate, which means that the transport of inflammatory cells to the skin occurs faster. In addition, heat aggravates the itchy sensation and encourages the scratch reflex, which quickly leads to wounded skin. The state of the skin is also considerably exacerbated by sweat. A few months ago, my remission period came to an end, but I hope I’ll manage to calm my illness down during summer. Because I’ve battled severe atopic dermatitis my entire life, I’d like to give you a few short tips on how to take on your illness during summer. But remember: the best rules for atopic dermatitis are no rules at all. Whatever tip you end up following, always pay attention to the needs of your or your child’s skin.
- Wear light and baggy clothes made from natural materials (cotton, linen, hemp, silk etc.). Such clothes are airy and help keep the skin cool.
- Keep skincare gels, lotions and creams that you use for your atopic dermatitis in the fridge.
- Perform your skincare routine early in the morning and/or in the evening and be careful not to apply your skincare products to the skin too often or in large quantities – because of the heat, your skin is unable to breathe and cool down, which can bring about a flare-up. If you notice that your skincare products irritate your skin, use them only when you feel your skin really needs them. When looking after the skin of a child patient, listen to the child’s needs and use moisturising creams with low percentage of oil during the day. IF your skin is very dry, use more oily creams in the evening when it’s cooler outside and turn on the air-conditioner or a ventilator during sleep.
- Always carry a small cooling bag where you keep a bottle of cool water and a towel. You will use them to remove the irritating sweat from your skin. Water dries the skin out, so also have a skincare product on you if the need for it arises.
- When I couldn’t get my skin to cool down, I would soak my t-shirt in cool water, put it on and changed it often. This technique is suitable for adults but not for children, who would quickly catch a cold this way.
- Keep your knee and elbow bends dry and wash them often. These areas on the human body are the most affected by atopic dermatitis and also the sweatiest.
- Swimming pool. Swim in the swimming pool and let the water cool your skin! Some like chlorinated water because chlorine disinfects the skin while others can only tolerate fresh water or saltwater. See how your or your child’ skin react to the swimming pool water. Chlorine can irritate the atopic skin and dries it out. When chilling at the pool, pay attention to the irritating effect of chlorine and protect your skin from secondary skin infections.
- Attention with saltwater! Salt can exacerbate the pain of open wounds, but the worst pain will only last for a few minutes. Adult patients can decide for themselves when and how long they will be swimming in the sea, but be VERY careful with children suffering from atopic dermatitis! If the child’s skin is heavily affected with open wounds, postpone swimming until the skin is less affected. The child should bathe in freshwater to which saltwater is being added gradually. ALWAYS ask the child what he or she can tolerate and be considerate.
- After swimming, wash your skin and apply a moisturiser if needed.
- Children with severely damaged skin should avoid sand, as it can contribute to the secondary infections of the skin.
- Stay away from sports or other physical activities that would cause you to sweat more strongly.
- Use air-conditioning whenever possible. If this option is unavailable to you, use ventilators or hairdryers (set to cool) to keep the temperature of your skin down. Use air dryers.
- There are two types of sunscreens: those with chemical filters and those that work as physical barriers (and contain TiO2, for example). For patients with atopic dermatitis and other skin conditions, the latter type is more appropriate, as it acts as a skin barrier that reflects sunrays. In general, it’s important that people with skin issues choose unscented sunscreens, as these are less irritating and more soothing to the skin. Also be considerate towards the environment when using sunscreens – apply them sparingly. In strong sunlight, protect your skin by wearing light, breathable clothing.
- Douse yourself with cool water multiple times during the day, removing the irritating sweat and allergens off your skin.
- Sun rays (which are UV rays) usually help lessen the signs and symptoms of atopic dermatitis, as they reduce the inflammatory processes in the skin, so don’t be sun-shy. However, protect yourself properly when sun is at its strongest (between 11 am and 4 pm) and stay in the shade. If your skin turns out to be sensitive to and easily irritated by the sun, avoid sunlight.
- Important. When using topical and systemic drugs to treat atopic dermatitis (cyclosporine, corticosteroid ointments, calcineurin inhibitors etc.) protect your skin from the sun and spend a limited amount of time exposed to sunlight. Check the side effects of the drugs and consult your doctor or pharmacologist.
- At night wear thin, light and long clothes. If you have the option, use the air-condition to cool down.
- Stay hydrated – drink water.
- Wear a hat.
- Eat fresh cooled fruits and vegetables.
- BE HAPPY! Try to find enjoyment and peace during your holidays at sea.
With kind, sunny regards, Tina