How Sweat and Saliva Trigger Eczema

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: December 2023 | Last updated: December 2023

Many things can trigger a flare-up of atopic dermatitis (eczema). Some triggers are well known, like irritants in detergents or itchy fabrics. Other irritants, like sweat and saliva, are not talked about as often. But for some people, sweat and saliva can trigger eczema flare-ups just as easily.1,2

Sweat and eczema

Sweat plays an important role in water balance and maintaining body temperature. But when it dries, it can leave a sticky residue on the skin that acts as an irritant. The salt and sugar that sweat contains can cause itching.1,3-5

Sweat on skin that is already irritated due to eczema can quickly become unbearably itchy. Some experts also think that people with eczema produce and store sweat differently than other people, which can make symptoms worse too.1,3-5

In addition, people with eczema often have a weakened skin barrier. This means the skin loses more water and dries out more easily. When they sweat, their skin loses even more of this moisture. This process makes skin cracking and itchiness even worse.1,3-6

Excessively dry, cracked skin also makes it easier for germs and other irritants to enter the body. This can further lead to eczema symptom flare-ups.1,3-6

Tips for managing sweat

Being outside and exercising regularly have benefits for overall health and well-being. They can help you manage stress and improve your immune system, both of which may help control eczema symptoms. But managing sweat during these times can be tricky.1,6,7

Some common tips for controlling sweat and preventing the irritation it can cause include:1,6,7

  • Exercising in well-ventilated gyms, and taking breaks regularly
  • Bringing your own supplies when you exercise, like workout mats or towels
  • Cleaning any shared gym equipment thoroughly before using it
  • Wearing loose-fitting clothing made of non-irritating fabrics (like cotton) when working out or in the heat
  • Carrying a towel to dab off sweat when it starts collecting
  • Showering with cool water shortly after sweating, being outside, or exercising to avoid sweat sitting on the skin
  • Going outside during the early morning hours or evening, when the temperature is cooler
  • Using both air conditioning and a humidifier in your home to keep air cool and moist
  • Drinking plenty of water

Saliva and eczema

More than half of all cases of eczema are first diagnosed in babies before their first birthday. More than 80 percent of cases are diagnosed by 5 years old.6

These are periods when kids are drooling, teething, and learning to eat. During these times, their bodies produce more saliva, which often sits on the skin around the mouth, chin, and nose. Just like with sweat, saliva can act as an irritant. It can lead to eczema flare-ups on the face, especially for young children.2

Protecting against saliva

Of course, it is impossible to prevent babies and young kids from drooling. But there are some ways to limit the likelihood that it will trigger eczema. Carrying a soft, cotton cloth to dab away excess saliva from your child’s mouth can be helpful. In some cases, putting a layer of petroleum jelly or other moisturizer around their mouth can provide a barrier.2

Not all creams are safe to apply around the face, however. Talk with your doctor if you notice that saliva is an issue for your child. They can recommend options that are safe and effective.2

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