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.