Environment and Your Skin

Many people are never told that their environment has a profound effect on their skin. Where you live can make a big difference. You may not be ready to move, but, there are things that you can do:

Control the Humidity in Your House

A lot depends on where you live. Do you need a humidifier or a dehumidifier or both? Both extremes of humidity can harm the skin, so you need to work on controlling the environment to get things ‘just right’.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers recommends keeping humidity between 30% and 60%—and under 50% to help control dust mites, which we will discuss later on this page.

Most modern humidifiers and dehumidifiers have read-outs that will tell you the current humidity and allow you to set the desired humidity also.

If you have low humidity it simply means there is less moisture in the air. This not only dries out your skin, but also it makes your skin more susceptible to all other allergens. When the skin is very dry its barrier function is weaker. People with eczema and psoriasis already have a weakened skin barrier. This can happen in the winter when heat systems dry out the air (i.e. forced hot air) or even in the summer when air conditioning can excessively dry the air. Do you get cracked hands in the winter? Does your scalp get more flaky? Does your psoriasis or eczema get redder, more itchy? Low humidity may be the problem.

In a study published by the British Journal of Dermatology in 2002, air conditioning was cited as one of the main causes of contact dermatitis- a common skin irritation from exposure to allergens or other irritants (link at the bottom of the page). Your skin works best when it is not overly dry. If you live in a very dry place or see your dry eczema or psoriasis symptoms worsen seasonally you need to consider using a humidifier. You may have to experiment a little to get what feels right to you, but I would suggest setting the humidity between 35-45% and see how that affects your skin. Stay well hydrated too, by drinking enough liquid.

If you have high humidity it means there is too much moisture in the air. That has a few obvious effects on your body and skin. We control our body temperature by sweating. When there is excess humidity, our sweating does not cool us off as well. The air around us is already full of water, so it does not evaporate away our sweat, so we feel and get hotter. Our sweat also stays in contact with our skin longer. Both of these things are not great for the skin. We can get red, irritated patches, and the sweat that stays there can irritate and clog pores and get itchy and rashy. In very damp climates people often get weepy or oozing skin conditions, from all that excess dampness, showing up on your skin. This is why conditions like athlete’s foot or jock itch or even weepy rashes are often worse in humid weather.

So, when it is damp you need a dehumidifier. Try to get the humidity in your living space down between 40-50%. You can do this with air conditioning, but don’t get it too low, or you’ll have other problems (see above). Try to keep yourself cool by using a fan and dressing in fabrics that breathe and if you are still suffering, gently wipe away excess perspiration so it does not sit there and irritate your skin.

Control Your Exposure to Allergens

A lot of people with eczema and other skin issues have allergies and may not even know about it. Does your skin flare seasonally or with certain foods? If you are not sure you might look into allergy testing.

If you know allergies are a part of your skin troubles there are a few things you can do to quiet things down:

When possible, avoid the triggers. If you are allergic to animals, do not pet them. If shrimp give you a rash, do not eat them. If certain plants cause your eczema to worsen, try to stay away from them.

If you can’t avoid them, wash them off. When your skin gets exposed to an allergen you should wash it off (see our washing page). When you get home, change your clothes, and wash off your skin.

Keep your environment clean. One of the most common allergens is dust mites. They live anywhere they can find skin cells to eat and many people are allergic to their droppings. You can keep them away by cleaning regularly. They also do not do well if the humidity is below 50%. Keep your living area at 45% humidity or below. Wash your bedding regularly in very hot water. Try not to have carpets in bedrooms. Use an air filter if needed.

If you know that it is allergies that is driving your skin crazy, get professional help. See a qualified acupuncturist, or herbalist, or dermatologist. Also educate yourself about self care for allergies. There are a lot of resources on the web. We’ve put a few links below.

Control Your Exposure to the Sun

A little is good for you, but just a little. If you get burns regularly, that could really come back to haunt you in the future. Not only will your skin look like a lovely leather handbag, but you will be more likely to have issues with skin cancer. If you are going to be out in the sun use a simple, effective sunscreen with a high SPF. If you live in a place that is always sunny, consider clothes and hats that help with SPF blockers in the fabric. Be safe, be reasonable. Don’t expect your skin to be healthy if you fry it regularly.

Additional Gems

Here is the summary of that British Journal of Dermatology study about air conditioning and low humidity being one major cause of contact dermatitis:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?db=pubmed&term=12174098

More info on dust mites and controlling them can be found here:

http://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheets/hgic2551.htm

Recent research in 2008 about cockroach and dust mite exposures causing flare-ups of symptoms for many people with eczema:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23392655

Feeling scientific and curious? Here’s a good article on Humidity found on Wikipedia. Love the Wiki:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humidity

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