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The Eczema Files: Do workouts make your eczema worse?

July 2nd 2015 / Ali Hunter


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Do you find that getting sweaty exacerbates your skin condition? You're not the only one. Here are some ways to cope...

As an eczema sufferer, baring all in the summer months has never been easy and I’ve often felt I look more sea-monster than mermaid in an itsy bitsy bikini. However, unsightly scales aren’t the only problem eczema poses to looking and feeling fabulous all-year round: I’ve discovered over the years that eczema and exercise don’t go together as well as their alliterative names would have you think.

Sweat, chlorine, rubber mats and straps, Lycra… the gym often resembles a torture chamber for well-intentioned reptiles. I’m beginning to understand why lizards spend so much time lying around on rocks – they aren’t lazy, they just can’t handle the burn. But you don’t have to let your rebellious skin get in the way of your Olympic, Project Bikini or occasional spin class ambitions. I’ve found some simple ways to enjoy exercise without upsetting my epidermis.

The Pool

Maybe I’m just living up to my scaly nature but I’ve recently rediscovered the joys of swimming. However, my skin seems to think this is an excuse to turn into a sea creature. If you’re lucky enough to have one nearby, swim in a salt water pool as it will contain far fewer irritating chemicals. If not then make sure you wear goggles and a swimming hat to protect your delicate eye area and scalp from chlorine et al. Moisturising before you get in the pool will strengthen the lipid barrier of your skin and ensure it doesn’t dry out too drastically as you carve your way elegantly through the water. Don’t be tempted to hit the hot tub after your swim as this will expose your skin to even more irritating cleaning agents and the hot water won’t do your scales any favours. Instead, have a lukewarm shower as soon as you can after your swim. Bring your own shampoo and body wash as those provided by most swimming pools are loaded with fragrance, SLS and other skin-irritating nasties.

The Studio

If you’re into your yoga, Pilates, stretch classes and the like make sure to take a clean towel in to cover your mat as they often harbour a multitude of bacteria from previous uses. If you take your own mat don’t forget to clean it between classes. It’s a good idea to wear long sleeves and trousers in these classes to protect skin from chafing caused by rubber resistances bands and balance balls.

The Gym Floor

Weights, rowing machines, spinning bikes… even in the most hygiene-alert establishments all the equipment on the gym floor is potentially covered in other people’s unwanted sweat and bacteria. But don’t let that put you off: arm yourself with antibacterial wipes and clean equipment before use to stop vulnerable eczema patches from getting infected. Sitting or leaning on a clean towel wicks sweat away and will also help to prevent chafing from rubber or leather seats and back supports. Just make sure to use a different towel to wipe your face.

Out and About

Whether it’s running, cycling, parkour or hiking there’s nothing better than exercising in the open air. Nonetheless, wind, rain, sunshine and hail can all turn a breath of fresh air into a battle with the elements. If you’re out in the winter, make sure to cover up properly with gloves, a headband and a high-necked base-layer as cold air and rain can leave skin stripped of moisture. Always wear sun protection when outside as it’s easy to burn without realising when exercising. Avène’s Very High Protection SPF50 Emulsion is water resistant and has a very light texture that won’t clog your pores.

Water Sports

If surfing, sailing or kayaking are your thing then you really need to protect your skin from sun and salt water. Wear a waterproof sun cream, such as Avène Very High Protection Spray SPF50+, £15, or La Roche-Posay Anthelios Dermo-Pediatrics SPF 50+, which is extremely waterproof but also very gentle. I tend to use children’s sun protection as it is often more water resistant and less irritating than the adult version. If you’re wearing a life-jacket, pop a rash vest or wicking base layer underneath to prevent rubbing. Make sure to shower and moisturise as soon as possible after getting out of the water to keep your skin from becoming crustaceous.

My Gym Kit Essentials

Vaseline: Extremely hypo-allergenic, Vaseline is great for creating a barrier between eczema and external irritants. I cover any scaly patches before swimming to keep the chlorine out. Vaseline, £2.19, is also a great way to avoid chafing on long runs or cycles. Just don’t try lifting weights with greasy hands. You’ve been warned…

Avène Eau Thermale Water Spray, from £3: Keep your skin cool and hydrated with a spritz of this refreshing mist to keep the itching at bay.

Cetaphil Restoraderm Body Wash, £14.50: This gentle shower wash will get rid of sweat and calm and moisturise your skin post-workout.

La Roche-Posay Lipikar Baume AP+, £12.50: Apply this to skin after showering to replenish moisture and calm any chlorine or sweat induced itching. LRP’s wonder-balm has saved me from post-hike rucksack rash and swimming pool-scales.

SkinCeuticals Redness Neutralizer, £75: This extremely soothing and refreshing face cream protects sensitive skin against environmental triggers and is a perfect post-workout skin pick-me-up.

H&M Sports Top, £7.99: I learned the hard way that tight lycra is one of the worst culprits for gym-induced flare-ups as it has a tendency to bunch up around the knees, waist and elbows, chafing and building up sweat along the way. The results are not pretty, trust me! Then I discovered H&M’s sportswear: the tops are loose-fitting, lightweight and efficiently wick away sweat. My vest is also a fetching green which counteracts my tomato red workout face and pink eczema patches perfectly.

Microfibre Travel Towel, £7.99: Extremely lightweight, fast-drying and efficient at wicking away sweat, travel towels are the ultimate gym companion. They are also super soft so won’t rub skin up the wrong way like their traditional counterparts.

So there you have it, your skin should never get in the way of an active lifestyle again. What’s more, exercising will increase the blood flow closer to the surface of the skin, keeping it well nourished and flushing out waste products from the cells. Exercise also helps ease stress, which in turn will help to prevent eczema or acne flare-ups. Now where did my I put Project Bikini guide…

Do you find exercising tricky due to a skin condition? Or has exercise improved your skin condition? Comment below or tweet Ali


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