Vacation is supposed to be a period of fun and relaxation–we envision spending uninterrupted time with family and visiting new destinations. There’s never a good time for an eczema flare, but vacation is a particularly bad time to deal with itching, swelling, and rash. You might have noticed that your eczema seems to flare when you’re on vacation, though. If so, you’ve probably wondered: could traveling trigger eczema?
We hate to say it, but the answer is yes. In this post, we’ll tell you how experiences common to vacations–air travel, hotel stays, swimming, and new foods–can trigger an eczema flare for you or your child.
How flying triggers eczema
There’s no way around it; air travel is brutal for your skin. The optimal ambient humidity for our skin ranges from 30% to 50%. Compare that to 10.1-45% humidity in an airplane cabin!
There are some places that can only be reached by plane; does this mean your skin is doomed if you have to fly? Absolutely not! We are happy to tell you that there are things you can do to minimize drying and the risk of eczema flares:
Keeping yourself hydrated is key–that means inside and out. This starts before your flight!
In the run-up to your departure, be sure to cleanse and moisturize your skin at least twice a day. Use products containing humectants, as they draw moisture from the air. Hyaluronic acid is a great choice–you can use it as a serum or look for a moisturizer that contains it. Be sure that your moisturizer contains emollients such as ceramides to lock in the skin’s moisture.
Drink plenty of water. During your flight, apply your favorite facial moisturizer and body lotion at least once. Consider foregoing inflight tipples; alcohol dries the skin and mucous membranes, and the low humidity levels compounds its drying effects (it can also trigger inflammation). Enjoy your adult beverages on terra firma, instead.
Politely decline the plane’s travel pillows and blankets. Most of the time, these items are not replaced or washed between flights. That means your blanket and pillow could be teeming with bacteria that is harmful to your skin’s microbiome. They could also have been laundered with detergents full of fragrances and other potential triggers. Pack your own travel pillow and throw, instead.
When you disembark, moisturize once again and take another drink (or two) of water.
Planning for an eczema-free vacation
A spontaneous, unplanned getaway might sound charming, but people with eczema need to plan properly so they can avoid their triggers and ensure treatment if a flare occurs.
Good planning begins with knowing where you’re going. Sure, you bought the tickets. You can point out your destination on a map. But what do you really know about your vacation spot?
Do you know the average temperature and humidity levels? Do you know what kind of food is served? Do you know if doctors are easily attainable? These are just a few of the things that could factor into an inconvenient flare. Here are some other considerations to make before taking off:
- Learn about the climate and pack accordingly. Extreme heat and cold can both trigger eczema, as can rain. Pack clothing you can layer for changes in temperature. For extreme heat, consider packing a cooling towel; these lightweight towels wick perspiration away from your body. As it evaporates, it creates a cooling sensation.
- Learn about the cuisine. Is your destination renowned for its fine baked goods, or is it an island paradise famous for its seafood? If your eczema is triggered by food allergies or sensitivities, you need to know in advance how to find safe foods to eat. This includes knowing the words for both your safe foods and your trigger foods, so you can communicate clearly about the ingredients in prepared foods.
- Know your accommodations. Contact your host or hotel ahead of time to inquire about things like climate control and laundry. If your eczema is triggered by heat, you will want to be sure your overnight lodging is cooled. If your eczema is triggered by detergents or fragrances, you must avoid rooms scented with air fresheners and linens laundered in irritating detergents. Discussing these things ahead of time minimizes the risk of encountering triggers in your lodgings.
Pack Wisely With Eczema In Mind
Imagine your big day. You’ve finally arrived at your vacation spot, the sun is shining, the food is amazing, and everyone’s having a great time. While taking in the scenery, you encounter something that sets off your allergies. Your skin begins to redden and itch.
You know just what to do. If you address the issue now, you’ll be in the clear. You go up to your room to wash and find your antihistamines and eczema cream–only to find that you’ve left them back home. The area you’re visiting is charmingly remote. But that remoteness isn’t so charming when you consider that there’s no corner drug store to stock up on what you left behind.
You should be careful and intentional about packing for your vacation. Hastily stuffing your bags the night before departure is a recipe for disaster. Prioritize things you’ll need to prevent or treat a surprise flare. Make a list before you begin and check it when you’re done.
Here are some things you should not leave home without:
- Prescriptions top the list. Make sure yours are packed in your carry-on luggage, and make sure you have documentation of the prescription
- Sunscreen is critical no matter where you go. Even if you’ve chosen a mist-shrouded destination famous for its rainy days, a sunscreen with an SPF of 50 (at least) should be standard. No tan is worth a sunlight-triggered eczema flare.
- Antihistamines are good to have on hand even if you are not prone to allergies. If you’re traveling, you could come into contact with triggers you’ve never encountered before. Also, they are sometimes useful in treating itching caused by eczema flares.
- Hygiene/skincare products are essential. Don’t count on your hotel’s complimentary toiletries; they may contain fragrances and other ingredients that trigger you. Don’t count, either, upon being able to find what you need at local drugstores where you’ll be staying.
- Pack toiletries with which you are familiar and which you know will not aggravate or trigger an eczema flare. A good moisturizer is essential.
- Safe, portable, non-perishable food items guarantee that you (or a child you’re traveling with) have a readily available source of nutrition. You’ll be prepared for flight delays and restaurants that don’t cater to your particular triggers.
- Eczema cream should never be left behind. Even if you haven’t had a flare in months (lucky you!), the stressors of travel can trigger a flare. Being caught with no eczema cream relief on-hand will quickly ruin your vacation.
- Appropriate layers of clothing to ensure comfort for travel, indoor attractions, and outdoor activities.
In addition to these items, you might also want to bring a travel sheet, a travel towel, a small pillow (with a case), and a lightweight throw. These items can elevate your comfort on flights or train rides. They can also be used if you find that your hotel’s linens irritate your skin.
Having Fun and Managing Stress on Vacation
Like the Cat in the Hat said, “it’s fun to have fun, but you have to know how.” When you have eczema, a little mindfulness can prevent a flare from interfering with your good times. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you set out:
- Manage your stress levels. Missed flights. Lost reservations. Disagreements with travel mates. Traveling is stressful, even for long-awaited and well-earned vacations. Stress, though, is one of the most universal eczema triggers. Try to avoid overplanning, and leave a margin of expectation for SNAFUs. When you recognize tension creeping in, modulate your breathing. Focus on relaxing your muscles. Decompress by taking a brisk walk or journaling.
- Maintain your skincare regimen. When you’re free of workaday routines, it can be tempting to skip your skincare regimen . Don’t. Keeping your skin clean and well-hydrated is a big part of preventing eczema flares.
- Be moderate with sun and surf. Protecting your skin from UV radiation can prevent sunburn and eczema flares. It’s also an investment in your skin’s future health. Protecting your skin in water is likewise important. Swimming all day or soaking for hours in a hot tub can damage the skin barrier and (paradoxically) and dry your skin. After swimming, always wash off–this goes for both chlorine and salt water swims. Then apply moisturizer and lotion to your damp skin.
Managing your child’s eczema on vacation
Vigilance and forethought are even more important when traveling with a child with eczema. Make sure that you pack their prescription and preferred over-the-counter medications. Be ready to act at the first sign of a flare.
Some other tips for traveling with kids with eczema:
- Bring travel-friendly, allergy-friendly snacks. Our best laid plans are subject to chaos. Your flight could be delayed, or you could arrive at a meal to find that it’s full of your child’s trigger foods. This is stressful and uncomfortable for a child. By making sure that they have something to fall back on, you’re ensuring their health and also reminding them that you’re a solid, reliable constant in a new environment.
- Bring eczema-friendly clothing. You’ll follow the same guidelines for your child’s clothes as for your own–plenty of climate-appropriate layers in comfortable fabrics. Choose clothes made from sweat-wicking fibers; the longer sweat sits on the skin, the more likely it is to aggravate their eczema. Linen and cotton are good choices. Most synthetic fibers do not wick moisture well, but specially-engineered synthetics are sometimes used in athletic and outdoors clothing. Check the labels and the manufacturer’s website if you are unsure whether clothes will wick moisture or not.
- Prevent scratching. Eczema flares often happen regardless of our prevention measures. If this happens to your child, don’t let them fall prey to the dreaded itch-scratch cycle! Be prepared with a trusted eczema cream and antihistamines and use it at the first sign of itching. For infants, keep nails filed down and use scratch mittens so that they do not inadvertently scratch at lesions.
- Provide some predictability and routine. Traveling is stressful for adults; imagine it from your child’s perspective. Keeping up with some of your child’s usual routines can be grounding and reassuring. Stay faithful to their skincare regimen. Provide adequate sleep time. Bring a beloved plushy or favorite book (but keep up with it!). Exploring new environments is beneficial for children, but they also need a sense of stability to balance out change.
If you have a flare, don’t despair!
Before you leave, make a plan in case you or your child develops an eczema flare. Speak with your doctor about appropriate treatments, including prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines, and supportive self-care. They might recommend cool compresses, antihistamines, and healing ointment.
If your symptoms resist these treatments, locate a clinic where you can seek out additional treatment. Keep your skin moisturized throughout treatment.
Travel With Eczema Cream: Every Time
Eczema flares are the result of several different intersecting factors. A compromised skin barrier, an imbalance of the skin’s microbiome, and inflammation all figure prominently in the development of a flare. SmartLotionⓇ is one of the only eczema creams on the market that addresses each of these factors! Its prebiotic formula promotes a healthy microbiome and helps the skin barrier heal. A small amount of cortisone combats itchiness and inflammation.
SmartLotionⓇ will not cause topical steroid withdrawal, unlike most hydrocortisone creams, and it won’t cause skin atrophy. It can be used on its own to treat a mild flare; with your doctor’s supervision, it can also be used in conjunction with your prescription treatments. It can be used for skin conditions other than eczema, too, making it a truly versatile treatment.
SmartLotionⓇ was created by Dr. Steve Harlan, a board-certified dermatologist with years of experience treating eczema and other inflammatory skin conditions. Make sure it’s on your packing list before any trip!