How Can Swimming Affect Eczema?

Eczema is an inflammatory, non-contagious skin condition that causes irritation, itching, blistering, and infections. People with eczema often experience periodic “flare-ups” during which their symptoms temporarily worsen. These flare-ups may be triggered by certain environmental factors that can irritate or dry out the skin.

While there is no definitive link between swimming and eczema flare-ups, elements found in most swimming pools can affect the skin in ways that can trigger or worsen the onset of symptoms. These include calcium chloride and chlorine.

Calcium chloride is added to pools to increase their alkalinity and stabilize pH levels. Generally, pool water is kept between a pH level of 7.2 and 7.8, making it slightly alkaline. Human skin, on the other hand, typically maintains a pH level between 4.1 and 5.8, making it more acidic. This acidity helps to maintain the skin’s moisture; if the skin’s pH level rises and becomes too alkaline, it can dry out, potentially irritating the skin and triggering eczema symptoms.

There is no definitive evidence that chlorine generally causes adverse effects in people with eczema. While it is capable of drying out the skin in a way that can cause irritation, its ability to reduce the amount of bacteria on the skin can also potentially improve symptoms. Similarly, there is no substantial evidence to indicate how elements of natural bodies of water, such as salt water, can affect people with eczema.

Barrier creams and ointments applied to the skin before swimming can protect your skin against potential irritants while swimming by retaining the skin’s moisture and infusing it with lipids and ceramides, which occur as natural protective substances in normal skin. Additionally, if you plan to swim outdoors, it’s recommended that you protect your skin against sun damage. Apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher and wear ultraviolet (UV) protective clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of 50 or higher.

If you experience symptoms of eczema, you can receive a diagnosis or treatment from a dermatologist at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center’s Ambulatory Care Center. To schedule an appointment, please call (718) 206-7001.

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.