Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a noncontagious skin condition that can cause dry, cracked, itchy rashes on the hands and feet, the face, inside the elbows, and behind the knees. Scratching the affected areas can lead to more swelling, itching, and redness.
Although the cause of eczema is unknown, you are at a higher risk of developing eczema if you have asthma or allergies. Eczema is a treatable condition, but there is no cure.
This article will examine how chlorine, other pool chemicals, and ocean water affect eczema, how to prevent flare-ups, and how to treat them.
How Does Chlorine Affect Eczema?
Chlorine is the most common disinfectant used in swimming pools. Chlorine acts as a sanitizer, eliminating algae and illness-causing bacteria and germs. Skin and eye irritations can occur when chlorine levels in a swimming pool are too high or too low.
If you have eczema, you may experience skin dryness after a swim if the chlorine levels are raised. While environmental irritants can lead to an eczema flare-up, not everyone with eczema shares the same experience.
Bleach, which has the same chemical base as chlorine, can also cause dryness. However, studies show bleach baths may be safe on the skin, improving clinical symptoms of atopic dermatitis and restoring the skin’s surface by killing bacteria. As favorable as the effects of bleach are on atopic dermatitis, more research is needed.
Other Pool Chemicals
Other chemicals used in swimming pools include bromine, ozone, and ultraviolet (UV) radiation. These disinfectants can be used alone or in combination to kill bacteria by disrupting the organism’s biomolecules that are needed to survive. Calcium carbonate is also used in swimming pools to maintain water hardness.
Reactions to these chemicals are similar as those to chlorine. People with eczema may or may not be affected, yet calcium carbonate could hurt the skin barrier (stratum corneum, the outermost part of the epidermis), causing dryness and irritation.
Ocean Water and Eczema
Salt water, whether from the ocean or used to fill a swimming pool, can either cause dry, itchy, and irritated skin or it can soothe the skin. The way your skin reacts to the salt water depends on the severity of your eczema.
Currently, there is only anecdotal evidence on the benefits of salt water for those with eczema. More research is needed.
Causes of Eczema Flare-Ups
There are several things that can cause eczema flare-ups (worsening of symptoms), including:
- Irritants like soap and detergents
- Allergens (dust mites, pet fur, pollen, and mold)
- Common food allergies (milk, wheat, eggs, soy, and peanuts)
- Certain textiles made from wool or synthetics
- Hormonal changes
Treatments to help alleviate eczema flare-ups include:
- Use mild soaps and other products that are fragrance free as well as free from dyes and alcohol. Look for products labeled “fragrance free,” “hypoallergenic,” and “for sensitive skin.”
- Choose skin products that contain ceramide. These moisturizers replace the barrier missing from your skin.
- Apply cortisone creams and ointments. They may help control the itching and redness.
- Take over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines for severe itching.
- See your healthcare provider. A physician may prescribe steroid creams, pills, and/or shots. Long-term use may cause side effects like high blood pressure, weight gain, and thinning of the skin.
- Try phototherapy. Ultraviolet light waves found in sunlight have been shown to help certain skin disorders, including eczema. Phototherapy uses light, usually ultraviolet B (UVB), from special lamps.
To prevent eczema flare-ups, it’s important to first identify what’s causing them. Below are easy-to-follow steps that will help alleviate the symptoms:
- Wash clothes, bed coverings, or other skin-contacting fabric with an unscented, clear detergent. This will remove chemicals that may cause irritation.
- Avoid dry air caused by heating and air-conditioning systems. Use a humidifier.
- Use air filters to help keep your home free of dust, dander, and hair. Make sure that furnace, air-conditioning, and vacuum filters are cleaned weekly.
- Moisturize your skin daily after you shower.
- Avoid tight clothing that can cause irritation. Avoid fabrics like wool and other scratchy textiles. Instead, choose soft fabrics like cotton, and keep them loose so your skin can breathe.
Eczema is a skin condition that can cause dryness, itchiness, and swelling, and its severity depends on the individual. Certain environmental pollutants, pet hair and dander, soaps and detergents, and tight scratchy clothes may aggravate the condition.
Individuals with eczema who either swim in a pool or in the ocean may be affected by either the chlorine, pool chemicals, or salt water. For relief of eczema, keep skin moisturized, use products with ceramide, and apply cortisone creams and ointments to control the itch and redness. If your eczema worsens, see your healthcare provider for a prescription medication.
A Word From Verywell
Eczema is a skin condition where its causes are unknown. Eczema can be uncomfortable, but it is not life-threatening. If your condition doesn’t improve with the tips provided above, make an appointment to see your healthcare provider for an assessment of your condition.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is salt water good for eczema?
Yes, in some people. It depends on the severity of the individual’s eczema, though. Some anecdotal studies show that salt water can alleviate some of the symptoms, but more research is needed.
How long does it take for eczema flare-ups to go away?
Eczema is a lifelong skin condition with periodic flare-ups. Once treated, it can take several weeks for the symptoms to clear up. The best way to avoid flare-ups is to manage what can trigger them.