Swimming with eczema: What you should know before you take the plunge


By Margaret W. Crane

Published On: Jul 18, 2018

Last Updated On: Jul 13, 2021

Summer isn’t summer without plenty of quality time in the water. The decision to swim in a pool, lake or the ocean is typically a matter of convenience, preference or location. But if you or your child has eczema, you might be wondering whether it’s safe to swim at all.

Before you finalize your summer plans, let’s take a few minutes to review the pros and cons of pool vs. open water and discuss what you can do to keep your skin cool and calm before and after swimming.

1. Hydrating helps

Even though the water feels cold and refreshing, your body actually heats up and sweats when you swim. That’s why it’s important to boost your fluids before you head into the water and replace them afterwards. It’s all about keeping you and your skin hydrated—even when you’re already wet!

2. Moisturizing is a must

  • Bring travel-sized containers of your favorite products with you to the beach, lake or poolside.
  • Apply a thick layer of cream or lightweight ointment about an hour before a swim.
  • Shower immediately afterwards, making sure to check that the water in the showers is fresh, not recycled.
  • Reapply a liberal amount of moisturizer within three minutes to offset the drying effects of swimming and showering.

3. Chlorine can help… or hurt

Chlorine is the most common disinfectant that gets added to the water in swimming pools. It can be irritating to some eczema skin, but many find that swimming in a chlorinated pool has a soothing effect that’s similar to taking a bleach bath. If you’re in the former group, choose a fresh-water alternative. However, if chlorine sits well with you, enjoy your time in the pool.

4. Saltwater can soothe… or irritate

The effects of saltwater on eczema skin vary widely. It can be soothing for some and painful for others. If you’re an experienced swimmer, you already know your body and its preferences, but if you’re new to the sport, trial and error is the only way to find out how your skin will react to saltwater. Remember to rinse off and moisturize before and after swimming in any body of water, whether natural or human-made.

5. There’s a right way and wrong way to bathe and shower

  • A hot shower or bath can be tempting after a vigorous swim. Your muscles may love that sensation, but if you have eczema, your skin probably won’t agree. Start with a lukewarm shower and gradually make it cooler.
  • Many people with moderate to severe eczema swear by bleach baths. The concentration of chlorine in a bleach bath is roughly equivalent to the amount in a chlorinated swimming pool, so you can get clean while getting an additional dose of chlorine’s anti-inflammatory and disinfectant properties.
  • If you’re sensitive to chlorine bleach, try an apple cider vinegar bath instead. Or try adding oatmeal, baking soda, bath oil or salt to your bathwater. While not universally effective, these variations on the bathing theme work well for some people with eczema.

The above guidelines apply to swimmers of every age and with all types of eczema, with the exception of young infants. Consult your pediatric dermatologist for expert guidance about how to protect your infant’s eczema skin at the pool, lake or beach.

Swimming is summer’s go-to activity, so take care of the skin you’re in—before, during and after you take the plunge.

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