Board-certified allergist Dr. Michael Pistiner shares what he wishes more of his patients knew about the association of eczema and allergies.
Published On: Jan 29, 2021
Last Updated On: Jan 31, 2022
Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, and with it comes the usual mix of joy and anxiety about how to best celebrate with your family and loved ones. Many of us may be thinking of traditional gifts we’d like to give: flowers, chocolate, wine, lingerie, scented candles or a simple handwritten love letter. This can get complicated if you or your loved one is among the 31.6 million Americans living with eczema and especially if you have any of the allergies that often coexist with this condition.
We asked doctors who treat eczema which activities to embrace and which to avoid so that you and your loved ones can celebrate Valentine’s Day to its fullest.
Whether it’s a peck on the cheek from your kiddo, or a more romantic smooch from your partner, kissing is a lovely Valentine’s Day tradition you can safely embrace. In the words of Dr. Rupam Brar, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics in the NYU Grossman School of Medicine. “Enjoy kissing! Kissing releases feel good neurotransmitters and hormones like oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin. Feel good, look good.” This may sound overly simple, but there are a few small caveats to keep in mind. When it comes to lipstick or lip balms, Dr. Jeff Yu, director of occupational and contact dermatitis clinic at the Harvard Medical School, has reported that “certain lip balms may cause dermatitis in people who are allergic to ingredients in them, including lanolin (sheep’s oil), beeswax and other fragrances.” It’s important to make the distinction, though, Dr. Yu adds that “it’s a more important issue if you are actually wearing the product rather than short contact during kissing.” A quick conversation, then, is important to have to be sure your loved one knows about any potential allergies you might have. Steer clear of any triggering lip products and enjoy a boost of happy hormones with your loved one.
While it’s tempting to light a few candles or burn that stick of sandalwood incense, it’s best to avoid these potential triggers if you live with eczema. “Absolutely avoid it if possible,” says Dr. Yu. “Even if you spray your perfume on your clothing, it’s enough to induce a rash or exacerbation of your eczema. There are fragrance free candles to set the mood if necessary. However, avoid incense and perfumes. Natural fragrances are no less allergenic than synthetic fragrances. Don’t let the labeling fool you!” Dr. Brar added an important point, too: “Avoid essential oils. Don’t be afraid of everything, but just be aware of what you put close to your body.”
As an eczema-friendly gift, silk lingerie is a great choice, says Dr. Brar. “The important thing is to be proud of your skin showing, even if it’s not in perfect condition.” She advises caution for “anything with a scratchy texture like lace, or anything overly tight that might trigger itching.” For any member of the family who lives with eczema, Dr. Yu recommends 100% silk sheets as a safe but luxurious gift. “They’re great for the skin since they are generally very soft and completely natural.” This is a great alternative to fabrics like wool, polyester or leather, all of which are more likely to irritate your skin.
Be careful when you pick out a necklace, bracelet or wristwatch as a gift this Valentine’s Day. “Nickel or cobalt,” Dr. Yu explains, “are the most common allergens and can induce flares in the earlobes, neckline, or wrists.” According to Dr. Brar, you can test for nickel using a “spot test,” if, say, you wanted to give an old family heirloom to your loved one but didn’t know if it contained nickel. The spot tests are quick and affordable and widely available online. If you’re giving something new, it’s best to stick with “18K gold, silver, or platinum,” which are less likely to irritate the skin.
Indulge your love of chocolate as a gift. Unless you have a specific food allergy related to chocolate, giving your loved one a heart-shaped box of chocolates is still a good eczema-friendly Valentine’s Day tradition. “Keep in mind that chocolate contains antioxidants that have overall health benefits,” Dr. Brar says. “Just watch out for cross contamination if you are allergic to nuts.” Dr. Yu points out that cocoa beans may be high in nickel, but “this is rare and if you haven’t had an issue with it in the past, there shouldn’t be a need to avoid chocolate now.” So, as always, consider your own medical history and any allergens your loved ones may have, and, if chocolate has been a good gift for you in the past, it remains an eczema-friendly tradition come Valentine’s Day.
Many members of our NEA community mentioned an additional, new eczema-friendly Valentine’s Day tradition: alone time. That’s it. Plain and simple. In a year of crowded homes and online school, it may be that the best gift you can give your loved ones is the relaxing gift of a little quiet time alone. Take the kids, take the dog, take on your partner’s share of the household chores, and give your loved one a few hours to relax, unwind and soak up the “me time.”