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What You Should Know About Swimming and Eczema

A leisurely dip in the pool is a welcome respite from the heat in the dog days of summer. If you have eczema or care for someone who does, though, you’ve likely heard that you shouldn’t take long baths and showers. These prolonged soaks can dry out your skin, worsen symptoms, and sometimes trigger flares. 

What does that mean for swimming, though? Is swimming out of the question if you have eczema? 


Swimming With Eczema: The bad news

Swimming can certainly aggravate eczema. Chlorine and salt water can both dry the skin. Moreover, chemicals used in chlorine pools can cause contact dermatitis. Freshwater swimming can expose your compromised skin barrier to opportunistic bacteria. This can further damage the skin’s delicate microbiome, potentially triggering a flare–but it can also cause potentially serious infections in broken skin (such as dry, cracked eczema lesions).

Furthermore, most of us expose a lot more skin than usual when we swim–which subjects us to the hazards of UV radiation. Finally, soaking draws much-needed moisture from your skin cells. All totaled, a swim can become a perfect storm of conditions ripe for an eczema flare. 


graphic depicting chlorine and saltwater which is bad for eczema

Swimming With Eczema: The good news

The hazards mentioned above are not the final word on swimming and eczema. Some people find that swimming in chlorinated pools improves their symptoms, with effects similar to those of a bleach bath. Others find that swimming relieves stress, a major eczema trigger. 

In addition, there are ways to protect your skin and minimize your chances of a swim-triggered flare. So, what should you do if you suffer from eczema and would like a cooling summer swim? 

Swimming with eczema

Like many other aspects of living with eczema, prevention is key to enjoying pools or surf. Swimming is certainly not something you should do without forethought and precaution, but some pre-planning can help minimize the chances that your swim will trigger a flare. 

When and where to swim if you have eczema

  • Don’t swim if you have an active flare. If your skin is inflamed, swimming can definitely worsen your symptoms. Anything that potentially dries the skin–and swimming definitely does–should be avoided where possible during flares. Tender, irritated skin and small scratches are also subject to infection with any of the pathogenic bacteria that might be lurking in your chosen watering hole. 

    • Choose a good place to swim. Freshwater sources–lakes, ponds, creeks, rivers–are not always optimal for people with eczema. If you swim in a lake or a river, make sure that it is clean and has recently been tested for coliform bacteria and pollutants.

      Natural saltwater can potentially dry your skin. The combination of sun, abrasive sand, and saltwater can be irritating to skin that is already sensitive. There are people who report that their symptoms improve with a dip in the ocean. Once again, be sure you’re swimming in clean, safe water

      Chlorine can irritate eczema-prone skin, but like we said earlier, it can be soothing for many, akin to a bleach bath. Saltwater pools use special generators known as “salt cells” to convert the sodium in salt water to chlorine. It’s typically less irritating to people with sensitive skin, and it does not bleach clothing. 

    Once you know where you are going, you’ll want to know how to take care of your skin before, during, and after your swim. 


    Before Your Swim

    • About an hour before your swim, moisturize your entire body, using a product with humectants (glycerin and hyaluronic acid are two excellent ingredients to look out for).that will draw moisture into your skin cells. 

    Formulated with glycerin, natural ceramides, and coconut oil, HarlanMD’s new Perfect Repair moisture cream is an excellent option for those with eczema. Glycerin acts as a humectant, drawing moisture into thirsty skin cells; ceramides, meanwhile, repair the damaged skin barrier. Perfect Repair™ incorporates a prebiotic strategy to reduce harmful bacteria and yeast in the skin. It’s ideal for those who would like to indulge in a swim.


    example of a good lotion to use post swimming for eczema

    • After applying your routine moisturizer, apply a layer of heavier, ointment-weight moisturizer with occlusive properties over it. These products often contain petrolatum (petroleum jelly), squalane, beeswax, lanolin, shea butter, or other lipids–all of which lock in moisture and prevent it from evaporating from your skin cells.

      AquaphorⓇ and CeraVeⓇ both make highly regarded healing ointments that are useful for this application. You can also use a thin layer of petroleum jelly. 

    • Apply a sunscreen with an SPF of.at least 50. Choose one that you know will not aggravate your skin; mineral sunscreens are sometimes better for sensitive skin than chemical sunscreens.

      Mineral sunscreens use zinc or titanium oxide–or a combination of the two–to reflect the sun’s rays off of your skin. By contrast, chemical moisturizers absorb and diffuse sunlight. The ideal coverage would include both chemical and mineral sunscreens, where tolerated. 

    During your swim

    • Take a break from the sun and water every 30 minutes. Shower off during these breaks, then reapply your moisturizer, ointment, and sunscreen to your damp skin before going in again.

    • Keep yourself well-hydrated, drinking plenty of water. If alcohol is available, partake sparingly. Alcohol causes inflammation and is also drying. If you do drink, be sure to up your intake of plain water to offset some of these effects.

    • Watch for signs of sunburn; you will not immediately feel the tell-tale sting when your skin first begins to burn. If your skin is pinker than usual, get out of the sun. 


    graphic for showcasing swimming with eczema

    After Swimming

    • Shower thoroughly. Do not use hot water, and do not shower for longer than 20 minutes. When you have finished, reapply moisturizer while the skin is still damp; use more than usual. Once again, add an occlusive moisturizer over this for maximum rehydration. 

    • Launder your swimsuit. It should be washed clean of sweat, body oils, chlorine, saltwater, and bacteria after every swim. It should then be dried thoroughly without either crimping or folding the suit. This prevents potentially irritating molds and bacteria from multiplying in the fabric. 

    • Immediately treat any signs of eczema or sunburn.  Available without a prescription, HarlanMD’s SmartLotionⓇ eczema cream uses a low dose (.75%) of hydrocortisone to target inflammation and itching. Like Perfect Repair,™ it has a prebiotic formula that promotes healing. To treat redness and itching from sunburn or eczema flares, apply it in a thin, disappearing line after moisturizing the skin. 


    Don’t feel you have to choose between your skin’s health and a fun day at the beach or the pool. As long as your eczema is not actively flaring, you can safely swim as long as you choose a sanitary swimming spot and practice some basic prevention. 

    Moisturize before you swim, and reapply moisture frequently while you’re at the pool. Use sunscreen. Shower off when you finish swimming, and moisturize again.

    Use Perfect Repair™ before, during, and after your swim. Its fragrance-free, prebiotic formula makes it a perfect option for those who want to protect their sensitive skin from bacterial overgrowth and dryness.

    Keep SmartLotionⓇ on hand and use at the first signs of sunburn or eczema flares. Backed by a money-back guarantee, SmartLotionⓇ is a safe and effective way to manage skin inflammation.

    Don’t deny yourself the simple joy of a summer swim. By planning your outing carefully and using Perfect Repair™ moisture cream, you can protect your skin against irritation and dryness. If you do experience eczema symptoms, don’t fret; SmartLotionⓇ is there to relieve your symptoms and help your skin heal quickly.



      Cee Van

      Medical Writer




    Ashley - Customer Support

    Hi Marion,
    Yes, SmartLotion® is 100% safe to apply to the most sensitive areas of the body when used as directed – The face, skin creases, even the eyelids and inside of the ears. For sensitive areas, Dr. Harlan typically recommends 2x applications per day for up to 2 weeks, and as much as 1x per day after that indefinitely. He also allows his patients to increase from 1x per day to 2x per day for a few days to manage any flare-ups. The link to our condition protocol for eczema (atopic dermatitis) is below if you’d like to take a look. You can also reach out to us at support@harlanmd.com if you have any more questions :-)


    Marion olson

    I have eczema is in my ears. It is miserable. Can I get rid of it. And how? Thanks Marion

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