Sport and eczema: Exercise is good for your health but not always so good for your eczema

15 October 2013

Physical activity promotes health and prevents disease

Sport and exercise are well-recognised ways to maintain and enhance good health.1 People who exercise regularly have a lower risk of many chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and some cancers and research has shown that physical activity can also boost self-esteem, improve sleep quality, increase energy levels and reduce the risk of stress, depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.1

Being physically active is vitally important for the healthy growth and development of babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers.2 The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends that children less than five years of age and who can walk on their own should be physically active for at least three hours every day.2 Active play such as climbing, running, riding a bike, dancing, gymnastics and ball games are the best ways for this age group to be physically active.2 NICE further recommends that in order to maintain a basic level of health, children and young people aged 5 to 18 need to do at least an hour of physical activity every day, which should be a mix of moderate- and vigorous- intensity aerobic activities such as running, dancing, gymnastics or playing football.3

Sport and eczema 

Every child, young person and adult should be able to enjoy their lives to the full, which means being able to take part in any sport they like as much as they like. Unfortunately, eczema does not always make it easy for children or adults to participate in activities and can often make playing sports uncomfortable.

During sporting activities a person is exposed to environmental factors such as high temperature, allergens and irritants. These, in association with excessive sweating, can irritate the skin and lead to eczema flares.4,5

Sweat as an exacerbator

Sweating (or perspiration) is a natural process that helps to reduce the body’s temperature when it gets too hot; it is the body’s way of cooling down during physical activity and exercise.6

Sweating caused by exercise, fabrics and hot weather is the most frequent cause of exacerbations (flares) in patients with eczema, and it has been shown that exercise, heat, and sweating are the most common aggravating factors in children with eczema.4,5,7,8

Sports clothing is often made of synthetic materials that make the skin sweat even more. Wearing loose cotton clothing, natural fibres or biofunctional garments such as imuDERM will help your child keep cool and avoid contact with sweat and other irritants. 

Other triggers

Sweating is not the only eczema trigger encountered during exercise and sporting activities. Here is a list of other factors commonly associated with exercise and sport that can irritate the skin and lead to eczema flares:

·         Synthetic sports clothing

·         Hot showers after exercise; the hot water dries the skin further

·         Excessive showering; showering too often can dry out the skin

·         Chemical based and/or perfumed shampoo and soap

·         Swimming pools; chlorine causes further skin irritation

·         Bacteria; changing rooms are a haven for microorganisms that can cause infections in damaged skin

·         Inadequate skin care; not showering enough after sweating can damage the skin

Moderate exercise can help 

Although sweat and other factors associated with sport and exercise are often associated with eczema flares,4,5 there are a range of potential benefits associated with physical exercise and regular sports may be of therapeutic value in eczema patients.9 Team sports have been shown to decrease depression, emotional upset and increase the life quality in patients with eczema.4 A recent scientific study has clearly shown that mild exercise suppresses the exacerbation of eczema and has identified the underlying biological mechanisms responsible for these benefits.10

Eczema is not an obstacle to an active lifestyle

When patients with eczema undertake exercise the itch often gets worse due to sweating,7,11 and it is a common assumption that people with eczema do not exercise because of itching. This has recently been shown to be untrue and patients with eczema have the same level of, and attitude to physical exercise as the normal population.6

The fact that eczema patients do not perceive their physical performance differently supports the view that eczema is not, and should not be considered to be, an obstacle to an active lifestyle. 

Top tips

Excessive sweating and irritants can exacerbate eczema.5  Your child will benefit immensely from wearing the correct types of fabrics and clothing while playing sports. It is important to avoid synthetic fabrics as much as possible as these encourage excessive sweating and can in themselves be an irritant to the skin. Wearing loose cotton clothing, natural fibres or biofunctional garments such as imuDERM will help your child avoid contact with sweat and other irritants.

When your child plays sport there are several other top tips to help you and your child deal with their eczema. These include applying emollient to ensure the skin stays hydrated, drinking lots of fluid and showering immediately after sport. 

Top tips to help you and your sporting child deal with their eczema
  • Avoid synthetic sports clothing. If you feel that your child’s sports clothes are causing irritation, try finding cotton clothes either to wear underneath or to replace the normal sports clothes. Wearing loose cotton clothing, natural fibres or biofunctional garments such as imuDERM will help your child avoid contact with sweat and other irritants 
  • Apply emollient a short while beforehand to keep the skin well hydrated

  • Ensure your child drinks plenty of fluid to stay hydrated
  • Ensure your child showers immediately after sport with an emollient bath or shower product and then apply more emollient

  • Grass can be a trigger and is often a problem for people who have eczema. Take a jumper, coat or blanket if your child needs to sit on the grass

Keep exercising!

Exercise and taking part in sporting activities are essential for your child’s physical health and social well-being. Keeping the skin well moisturised, the body well hydrated and wearing suitable clothing can help keep your sporting child comfortable, healthy and happy despite their eczema.

If your child is have trouble playing sport at school because of their eczema, it is important to make the teachers aware of the situation. If you feel your child’s eczema is stopping them doing the sports and activities they love, you should visit your doctor or nurse who will be happy to discuss how they can help.

Combining eczema and sports can be a challenge, but don’t let it get in the way. Just find ways around it.

ImuDerm and CliniSupplies are supporters of The British Skin Foundation. 


1.      NHS choices. Benefits of exercise. Available online at http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/whybeactive.aspx

2.      NHS choices. Physical activity guidelines for children (under 5 years). Available online at http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/physical-activity-guidelines-for-children.aspx.

3.      NHS choices. Physical activity guidelines for children and young people. Available online at http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/physical-activity-guidelines-for-young-people.aspx.

4.      Karamfilov T, Elsner P. Sports as a risk factor and therapeutic principle in dermatology.  Hautarzt. 2002;53(2):98–103.

5.      Leung DYM. Chapter 139 - Atopic dermatitis (atopic eczema). In Kleigman: Nelson textbook of paediatrics. 19th Ed. Saunders, 2011.

6.      Lonne-Rahm SB, Sundström I, Nordlind K, et al. Adult atopic dermatitis patients and physical exercise: A Swedish questionnaire study. Acta Derm Venereol. 2013 Aug 27. [Epub ahead of print]

7.      Williams JR, Burr ML, Williams HC. Factors influencing atopic dermatitis – a questionnaire survey of schoolchildren’s perceptions. Br J Dermatol 2004;150:1154–1161.

8.      Tay YK, Kong KH, Khoo L, et al. The prevalence and descriptive epidemiology of atopic dermatitis in Singapore school children. Br J Dermatol 2002;146:101–106.

9.      Salzer B, Schuch S, Rupprecht M, Hornstein OP. group sports as adjuvant therapy for patients with atopic eczema. Hautarzt 1994;45:751–755.

10.  Hiramoto K, Kobayashi H, Sekiyama A, et al. Mild exercise suppresses exacerbation of dermatitis by increasing cleavage of the β-endorphin from proopiomelanocortin in NC/Nga mice. J Clin Biochem Nutr. 2013;52(1):58-63.

11.  Stern UM, Salzer B, Schuch S, Hornstein OP. Sex-dependent differences in sweating of normal probands and atopic patients in cardiovascular stress. Hautarzt 1998;49:209–215.


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