How to exercise safely with eczema

a group of people ready to work out

By National Eczema Association

Published On: Jun 10, 2018

Last Updated On: Jul 15, 2021

If fitness isn’t your forte, you might want to give it another chance.

There are many reasons why exercise helps eczema. It keeps the heart, muscles and bones strong and healthy. It boosts energy levels and the immune system. It improves brain health and memory. It lowers stress, depression and anxiety. It helps you lose weight and get a better night’s sleep.

The downside of exercising with eczema is the fact that sweat can trigger flare-ups in some people. The body sweats in order to regulate body temperature. When we get hot and sweaty, the moisture evaporates, cooling us down. As the sweat evaporates, the skin dries out and is left with a salty residue that can irritate eczema skin and bring on the itch.

The good news is that there are steps you can take before, during and after your workout to reduce your chances of flaring. And even if you do have an eczema flare, there are low-impact exercises that will still give you the same fitness benefits without breaking a sweat.

Find an eczema-friendly workout space

Choosing the right fitness club is important when you have eczema. Find a gym that is well ventilated. Look for one that has shower facilities and plenty of fresh, clean towels. Just remember to bring your own personal care products that work best for your sensitive skin, and don’t skimp on the lotion.

man and woman drinking water while working outKeep in mind that exercising in the comfort and privacy of your own home has its perks. You can crank up the air-conditioning or surround yourself with fans and blast your favorite workout music. You can also take a shower immediately afterward to rinse off the sweat. Just make sure the water is cold or lukewarm, as hot water tends to dry out the skin.

If you like to exercise outside, do so in the early morning or evening hours when the sun’s rays are less intense. The peak sun intensity hours—when UV light is the strongest and the temperatures are at their hottest—happen between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Even if you avoid peak hours and stay in the shade, you should always wear sunblock. Bring extra bottles of water, not only to keep rehydrating but to also rinse off the sweat. Just as you would after a bath or shower, gently pat the skin dry with a clean towel.

Spandex and eczema don’t get along

As tempting as it may be to bust out the spandex bodysuit and wool leg warmers, this isn’t the 1980s, and you aren’t Jane Fonda. Spandex and wool are materials that tend to irritate sensitive skin and exacerbate eczema.

There are new, man-made fabrics on the market designed to wick moisture away from the skin. But these synthetic fabrics can also irritate your skin. Stick with light, breathable fabrics, such as cotton, instead. Keep in mind that tight, form-fitting workout clothes will trap in sweat. Your skin will thank you for wearing looser, more comfortable clothing.

It’s common for people with eczema to feel self-conscious. They wear long-sleeved shirts and pants to cover up as much of their skin as possible. But this will only make your skin warmer when you work out, causing you to sweat more.

Try to remember that most people go to the gym to improve their health—not judge other people’s appearances. Don’t be afraid to put on shorts and a T-shirt, good-looking!

Is your eczema flaring? Don’t sweat it

Sometimes eczema flares are inevitable, but this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stop exercising. Simply dial back the intensity of the workout until your skin calms down.

If you find your usual go-to exercises aggravate your eczema, think outside the gym. For instance, if you tend to hit the treadmill hard, go for a brisk walk around the neighborhood instead. If you enjoy using a stair-climber at the gym, walk up a set of stairs at home or work at a slower, more leisurely pace.

Strength training with weights will build strong muscles and raise your heart rate. Plus, it has built-in breaks that force you to stop and rest between sets, allowing your body to cool down and your heart rate to return to normal.

If you need to take cardio off the table for the time being, there are low-impact workouts you can do in the interim that won’t make you sweat excessively or feel overheated. Tai chi, Pilates and yoga are often just as effective at improving mobility, muscle strength and reducing stress.

If you’re experiencing a particularly bad flare and don’t feel well enough to work out, don’t push it. Always listen to your body when it’s telling you to rest. And always consult with your medical provider if you have concerns or questions about exercising.

5 takeaway tips for eczema workouts

  1. Wear loose, cotton clothing.
  2. Take regular rest breaks.
  3. Blot sweat away with a clean towel.
  4. Drink water and bring extra to rinse off sweat.
  5. Go for low-impact workouts during eczema flare.

Get the latest eczema news delivered to your inbox.