Monday, September 17, 2012

Go swimming. You can do it

I find that, even though I have eczema, I can go swimming regularly. Swimming is good for my back problems. But I can’t be as casual about it as I could if I didn’t have eczema.

First, I have to consider whether my skin is in good enough shape. Eczema, of course, can leave your skin open in many places. Perhaps you’ve seen those signs that say that people who have open sores are not allowed in the pool. Why not? Really, the main reason is that nobody else in the pool wants to get infected by a blood-borne disease such as hepatitis or AIDS. You can’t blame them—neither do I. And even though I am pretty sure I don’t have any such disease, I am not absolutely sure. But I am sure enough that it doesn’t bother me morally to get in the pool.

However, am I sure that nobody else who has swum in that pool over the last month, say, has hepatitis or AIDS? That is a sobering thought, especially in San Francisco, where AIDS first broke the news in the 1980s. It is to kill the microbes that cause such diseases that public pools are chlorinated. I believe I am not putting myself at great risk, but again, I am not absolutely sure. It doesn’t matter which day it is, I’m going to have some cracks in my skin. I get in the pool anyway.

But before I get in the pool, I cover my dry and torn patches with Aquaphor ointment. (Vaseline would do just as well.)

I’ve found that chlorine, and possibly the pH of the pool (slightly alkaline), can irritate my skin. Afterward, for at least half a day, my skin is subject to an intense itch that I don’t get if I don’t go swimming. To try to prevent this, I make sure to shower well. I do a particularly thorough rinsing of my eyes, which can become puffy and red otherwise.

Of course, once you shower, you have to moisturize. I find Aveeno Daily Moisturizing lotion from a pump bottle best for this. It’s a bit embarrassing to be slathering on moisturizer when you’re sitting on a bench in the locker room with two or three other guys dressing or undressing a few feet away. There’s some macho thing that makes you want to pretend that you don’t need any girly moisturizing—but, I suppose, this is where it’s a blessing to be in San Francisco, where a man can be as girly as he wants.

The strange thing is that I’ve found that swimming doesn’t seem to make my eczema worse. It could be that the chlorine, although it irritates, also kills off bad bacteria on my skin. In effect I am giving myself regular bleach baths, which doctors often recommend for eczema.

As far as being embarrassed about my skin goes--when you're swimming, you're underwater, so nobody can see you! The locker room can be a trial, but the facility I use is popular with a lot of wrinkly, hairy old men who, on the whole, make me look like Brad Pitt. Who, as I read in a gossip mag, happens to have eczema.


  1. I too suffer with eczema and have most of my life. I stayed away from swimming for years, since the chlorine irritated my skin and dried it out. But then while pregnant in the summer, I tried it again for exercise. I found if I moisturized immediately afterward, the dryness wasn't so bad. Along with my eczema, I have for years been prone to some bad skin infections. Just as you say, like a bleach bath, the pool also helps keep the infections at bay. I've learned it can be okay and even helpful to swim with eczema!

  2. It does seem important to rinse every last bit of chlorine off--and then to do a decent job of moisturizing, rather than rushing and missing bits.

    I have heard of pools that use bromine rather than chlorine. I wonder what those are like.

  3. All my children have skin problems, eczema. When my older daughter had developed eczema following food related allergy, I have been very careful on my other 2 children during the pregnancy and after. They were kind of okay with slight/minor allergy, thought it was passed from our genes. However, after we moved to Britain 3 years ago, my younger son, who was considered to be the healthiest in terms of skin problem, had suddenly developed eczema caused by the grass in the park. He rolled over the grass whilst playing. Now he had an eczema problem. Surprisingly enough, I found after swimming the skin conditions improve dramatically. I apply thick moisturiser before swimming and after swimming straight to shower and emollient. If they had a flare on the skin and redness on the skin, it cools down and the appearance gets improved noticeably. So,now,I sometimes take them to swimming for treatment purposes.

  4. Hi! I chanced upon your blog as i am thinking of going back to swimming after a nasty bout of eczema. i only hit me about two months ago and it was awful! after doing the rounds of steroids and steroid cream, i experimented with apple cider vinegar with modest success but one day by accident saw a youtube video about a cream called Graham's developed by an australian couple. Well i hightailed to the store and bought it from its singapore distributor and my goodness, relief in one week. My hand eczema (pompholyx) and foot eczema (pedopompholyx) are both virtually gone. when there are small recurrences, i keep them in check by applying the cream. i have been recommending it to everyone with eczema since. you can find it at . Since then i also realised that australia apparently has a rate rate of eczema and there are more such Oz products including MooGoo and XMA. i am so grateful to these companies because the dermatologists seem to keep going the steroid route with no significant innovation in their treatment of eczema!!!! anyway, thank you for your blog - i have added it to my favourites list

  5. I have suffered with eczema my entire life. I was actually born with a patch of eczema on the back of my neck. One thing does help. I wear gloves and long sleeves to cover the eczema on my hands and arms. I give it no attention. Out of sight--out of mind. Believe it or not, it does quiet does fade away. Almost. I really believe that for whatever reason I keep the eczema in my life. Scratching that intense itch is so deeply satisfying. It's almost a form of cutting, tearing your skin in deep furrows. I wonder if there is not some correlation between cutting and scratching the deep itch of eczema. Just my thoughts. I'm not looking for believers. Just a fellow sufferer of eczema here trying to figure it out.

    1. Wow this is an older post but when I read this comment I felt like I could totally relate!! I have pretty bad eczema on my hand and I hate it but at the same time I feel like I don't want it to go away. Scratching it brings such an inexplicable satisfaction. It's like I am emotionally invested. Which kinda makes sense since stress factors can trigger eczema flare ups and once you scratch it, your brain releases feel good hormones. And after you scratch, you feel guilty/ bad which causes more stress and more itchiness! It's an addiction really, which is really bad and I need to stop!! Nice to know I'm not the only one who felt like this.

  6. It’s true that somebody can go swimming despite having this kind of skin condition. And yes, you have to moisturize your skin before diving in to prevent further irritation. However, if your condition is quite severe, it’s often suggested to do the activity moderately, because it might get worse due to itchiness caused by the chemicals in the pool and such.

    Mathew Triano

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  8. It’s good to hear that you were able to go swimming, despite your issue. Well, there really is nothing wrong with it, as long as it's done in moderation. Just be careful and be vigilant with your medications before plunging in, so that you don’t have to worry about itchiness or allergic reactions later on. Take care!

    Peter Weiderman @ Guardian Industries

  9. My son had terrible eczema from about 9 months - 4 years old. We did all the allergy tests and eliminated certain foods to no avail. Finally we noticed splotches on his face after drinking an electrolyte drink. We eliminated food dyes and have been eczema free for 2 years!!! It is hard because food dyes are in everything but the Drs don't test for that when they do allergy testing. I can't help but think we can't be alone in this.

    Hopefully this is the answer for many of you. Good luck!!!

    1. Wow, it is wonderful that you were observant and realized what was causing your son's problem. Good for you - - - good parenting!!!

  10. My son is 7 and has suffered from extremely bad eczema since birth...his diet is so strict because certain foods makes it worse... he's 7 now and it only seems to get worse as he gets older...he gets bad skin infections every other week and has missed so much school because of it...has anyone any advise on ointments, creams ect ect I'm at my wit's end and my heart is breaking for him 😞

  11. My son is 7 and has suffered from extremely bad eczema since birth...his diet is so strict because certain foods makes it worse... he's 7 now and it only seems to get worse as he gets older...he gets bad skin infections every other week and has missed so much school because of it...has anyone any advise on ointments, creams ect ect I'm at my wit's end and my heart is breaking for him 😞