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Eczema Causes and Triggers

What causes eczema?

We don’t know what exactly causes eczema. However for most types of eczema, researchers believe a combination of genes and a trigger are involved.

People with eczema tend to have an over-reactive immune system that when triggered by a substance outside or inside the body, responds by producing inflammation. It is this inflammation that causes the red, itchy and painful skin symptoms common to most types of eczema.

Research also shows that some people with eczema have a mutation of the gene responsible for creating filaggrin. Filaggrin is a protein that helps our bodies maintain a healthy protective barrier on the very top layer of the skin. Without enough filaggrin to build a strong skin barrier, moisture can escape and bacteria, viruses and more can enter. This is why many people with eczema have very dry and infection-prone skin.

Eczema triggers

Working to keep your symptoms under control is important to staying healthy and comfortable while living with eczema. When trying to identify potential triggers, keep in mind that an eczema flare can appear some time after exposure. This lag time can make some triggers challenging to detect.

It’s important to remember that eczema affects everyone differently, and that one person’s triggers may not be the same as another’s. You might experience eczema symptoms at certain times of the year or on different areas of your body.

Here are some everyday things that can trigger an eczema flare or make it worse:

Dry skin

When your skin gets too dry, it can easily become brittle, scaly, rough, or tight, which can lead to an eczema flare up.

Learn more about the importance of moisturizing skin to manage eczema flares.


There are everyday products and even natural substances that can cause your skin to burn and itch, or become dry and red.

chemicals and eczema

Chemicals all around you can affect your eczema

These could be products that you use on your body or in your home — hand and dish soap, laundry detergent, shampoo, bubble bath and body wash, or surface cleaners and disinfectants. Even some natural liquids, like the juice from fresh fruit, vegetables, or meats, can irritate your skin when you touch them.

Some common eczema irritants include:

  • Metals, in particular, nickel
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Soaps and household cleaners
  • Fragrances
  • Certain fabrics such as wool and polyester
  • Antibacterial ointment like neomycin and bacitracin
  • Formaldehyde, which is found in household disinfectants, some vaccines, glues and adhesives
  • Isothiazolinones an antibacterial that is found in personal care products like baby wipes
  • Cocamidopropyl betaine used to thicken shampoos and lotions
  • Paraphenylene-diamine, which is used in leather dyes and temporary tattoos, among others

Read how one mom helped her son’s eczema by changing her laundry routine.


Emotional stress considered an eczema trigger, but we are not exactly sure why. Some people’s eczema symptoms get worse when they’re feeling “stressed.” Others may become stressed, just knowing they have eczema, and this can make their skin flare up.

Learn more about how stress and eczema are related.

Atopic dermatitis: all in the family?

Children who come from families with a history of atopic dermatitis (AD), asthma or hay fever, are far more likely to develop eczema.

  • Learn about the “atopic triad,” and what it has to do with your child’s chances of developing atopic dermatitis (AD)
  • Get the facts on triggers like dry skin, stress, allergens and sweating and what you can do to help manage them
  • Discover what pests like dust mites may have to do with your flare-ups
  • Understand the powerful mind-body connection and how stress can cause your symptoms to worsen

Climate and sweating

Many people with eczema become itchy, or experience a “prickly heat” sensation when they sweat, or get too hot. This can happen when you exercise or wear too many clothes to bed. During the cold winter months, your skin may also get too dry — leading to irritation and an eczema flare up.

Your eczema also may flare when the air is too dry or too humid. Or if you take long, hot showers or baths.

Ten Ways to Tackle Eczema in the Summertime.


Your eczema can become infected with bacteria or viruses that live in the environment. Staphylococcus aureus (“staph”) is one of the most common types. The molluscum virus, herpes virus (fever blisters and cold sores), and certain kinds of fungus (ringworm or athlete’s foot) are other common triggers for infection. It’s important to know the symptoms of these different infections and what causes them, so that your eczema does not get worse.

More about the different types of infections people with eczema can get.


Pollen, eczema trigger

Pollen can trigger eczema or make it worse

There are everyday materials in the environment that can cause you to have an allergic reaction and trigger an eczema flare up. Some of the most common are: seasonal pollen, dust mites, pet dander from cats and dogs, mold and dandruff.

Allergens that cause symptoms to stick around a lot longer, or to come back, are much harder to pinpoint. It’s important to know the allergens that could cause a flare up, so that you can help keep your symptoms under control.

Five Environmental Allergies and How to Manage Them.


Hormones are substances produced by the body that can cause a wide variety of symptoms. When the levels of certain hormones in your body increase or decrease, some people with eczema (especially women) may experience flare ups.

Learn more about how to control the most common eczema causes and triggers.

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