Unpacking how eczema impacts long-term mental health, even when skin is calm.
Published On: Nov 30, 2022
Last Updated On: Dec 5, 2022
Piping hot hot chocolate, cozy blankets and pine-scented candles abound when the temperature drops. In these colder, darker months, many of us partake in these elements of hygge, a Danish term that became popular in the U.S. in recent years, which encompasses the meaning of ultimate coziness and contentment.
For people with eczema, however, aspects of hygge can translate into additional triggers. Winter poses unique challenges for people with eczema. The low humidity, cold air and wind all accelerate moisture evaporation from the skin and weaken already vulnerable skin barriers. But with some extra attention, you can participate in this cozy tradition without additional risks for a flare.
Hygge encompasses a wide range of comfort-inducing activities, not all of which involve scratchy fabrics and fragrances. Hygge represents slowing down amidst the bustle of the holidays and learning what comfort and coziness mean to you. Follow along for expert tips to create a hygge, eczema-friendly home.
Irritating fabrics, like wool, can trigger an eczema flare when in contact with already dry and sensitive skin during winter. Morgan Maier, board-certified PA-C at Seattle Children’s Hospital in the dermatology department, recommends reaching for warm blankets and pajamas made from natural materials such as 100% cotton, silk or bamboo with a fine weave, and looking for the OEKO-TEX standard labels, which have been tested for harmful substances.
Non-irritating base layers are also vital during winter to protect your skin from itchy outerwear and the elements. Lots of loose layers, Maier advises, can help you control your body temperature from getting too hot and flaring.
For some people with eczema, research has shown that certain ingredients can cause a flare, such as cow’s milk, eggs, gluten and soy.1 But this doesn’t mean you need to avoid baking or baked goods this winter. Fill your home with the smell of freshly baked goods by substituting ingredients or searching for allergy-friendly recipes for your favorite loaves, cookies and pies. The range of dairy and gluten substitute options continues to broaden, making it more difficult to tell the difference.
Scented candles may emanate a soft, warm glow, yet are common triggers for people with eczema. Essential oils cause airborne contact dermatitis and worsen skin barrier dysfunction. Even with non-scented candles, “The smoke particulates can be irritating for some, as can the by-products of the dyes in the wax and type of wax itself,” cautions Maier. “Also, not all candles have lead-free wicks, which can be another hazard.”
But that doesn’t mean you need to forego all ambient lighting. Hang soft-lit string lights and place electric candles around your favorite room for a comforting, non-irritating glow. The cozier the lighting, the more hygge the home!
Speaking of a soft, warm glow, crackling fireplaces certainly exude hygge, but the smoke particulates released into your home may not be worth the cost for your sensitive skin. “Gas and electric [fireplaces] are definitely preferred over wood for the smoke and particulates,” said Maier. “Heating in general lowers humidity, so any heat source can be a trigger. Keeping humidity over 40% during drier months is important.” To create a cozy atmosphere, Maier recommends electric fireplaces over gas and investing in a humidifier to combat the dry air.
Remember, not all elements of hygge are tactile. Spending relaxed time with friends and loved ones represents hygge at its finest2. And while large holiday parties carry their own appeal, hygge is all about slowing down and connecting with others.
Try inviting a few, close friends over for a game or movie night. These connections help drive away winter blues and can even increase the amount of oxytocin3, also known as the “happy hormone,” in your bloodstream.
Did you know that mindfulness practices can help reduce itching and anxiety in people with eczema? Time away from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season (and life in general) is of utmost importance for people practicing hygge.
Researchers found mindfulness meditation can improve both sleep and reaction to stress. Though mindfulness does not eliminate eczema, it can lessen its interference with day-to-day activities and its emotional impact. To integrate mindfulness and hygge, take a moment to either listen to a guided meditation or jot down a few lines in a gratitude journal.