Your Seasonal Allergies Might Be Wrecking Your Skin
Don’t worry, there’s plenty you can do.
Of all the things that can get in the way of our quest for flawless skin (lack of sleep, hormones, and low water intake, to name a few), seasonal allergies are one that’s slightly less expected. Think about it: It’s the onset of allergy season, and you’re experiencing your usual bouts of watery eyes and sneezing. What’s more—your skin is itchier, your complexion redder. It makes sense, really, that what triggers allergy symptoms (namely, airborne substances like pollen) could potentially affect the skin in the form of red patches and irritation, too.
The good news? Your skin is not completely defenseless against seasonal allergies. We tapped into two industry pros to gain some intel on the best ways to help increase skin tolerance and combat skin sensitivity: Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, and Dr. Marie Hayag, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Fifth Avenue Aesthetics. Find out everything they had to say about seasonal-allergy-related skin-care issues (and solutions) below.
How Allergies Affect Skin
As much as we find ourselves waiting for temperatures to spike, for those with seasonal allergies, the changing of the weather can be a double-edged sword. According to Dr. Zeichner, people with seasonal allergies are more likely to experience dry, itchy, irritated skin. He says, “In predisposed people, exposure to allergens in the air can lead to widespread allergic skin rashes.”
Dr. Hayag agrees, stressing how important it is that people be aware of other allergy symptoms that may not be as common as sneezing or a runny nose. “Our skin can also react to allergens, causing hives, scaly patches, and eczema,” she notes. “These skin reactions may be painful and itchy, causing you to scratch and damage your skin, which can lead to scarring or prolonged skin sensitivity.”
But what’s the science behind it all? Says Dr. Hayag, “Things like dust and pollen, which we breathe in, are common allergens that cause a chain-like reaction. This reaction sparks the immune system to protect the body, which produces certain antibodies that stimulate chemicals such as histamine into the bloodstream. Histamine causes inflammation, which can cause the skin to become more sensitive.” Depending on the individual, the inflammation triggers allergy-related skin reactions such as redness, itching, and irritation.
Seasonal Allergies & Eczema
If you struggled with eczema during childhood and developed seasonal allergies later on in life, chances are you can chalk it up to genetics. Studies have shown that eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is often found in people with a family history of allergies. Says Dr. Zeichner, “We know that there’s a link between sensitive skin and eczema, asthma, and seasonal allergies. These three conditions genetically run together and are known as an atopic diathesis.”
Dr. Hayag adds: “The atopic triad of allergies, eczema, and asthma are often found together in individuals and families. Therefore, there is most likely a genetic component as to why there is a correlation between eczema development and having allergies.” While more testing needs to be done, knowing the causes of such skin issues can be helpful in managing your skin-care routine.
For those who have both eczema and weather-related allergies, you can thank a lack of filaggrin—a protein that’s responsible for keeping the skin hydrated—for your dry skin. Dr. Hayag explains, “Those who don’t make enough filaggrin lose more water from their skin, causing dryness and itchiness due to eczema. The lack of filaggrin also makes skin more susceptible to allergens like dust and pollen.” She adds that eczema has a tendency to come and go over time, and flare-ups can depend on whether you’ve been exposed to allergens.
Luckily, both experts concur that there are actions you can take to alleviate allergy-related skin issues. While it’s impossible to avoid pollen altogether (amidst outdoor movie nights and routine outings to the farmers’ market), you can take precautions to lessen your exposure to it—this can mean staying indoors when pollen counts are high or keeping windows closed and air-conditioning on to keep pollen out of your house. To combat dust mites, Dr. Hayag recommends washing your sheets and pillowcases in hot water every week and placing dust-mite-proof covers on your mattresses. The main offender of many health-related issues can wreak havoc here too: stress. “Stress can cause an increase of histamine in the body, which can create more adverse allergic reactions,” notes Dr. Hayag. We know how difficult it can be to find ways to manage stress, but some essential oils and a little downward-facing-dog action can help.
When it comes to the products you choose for your skin-care routine, our experts highlighted the importance of avoiding certain harmful ingredients. Says Dr. Zeichner, “If you have skin allergies, stick to fragrance- and dye-free products, which are known to cause allergic skin reactions. Some people may also have sensitivities to certain preservatives like parabens. I typically tell my patients to avoid harsh ingredients like retinoids, alpha and beta hydroxy acids, gritty scrubs, and even some acne-fighting ingredients like benzoyl peroxide.” Also, trying to exfoliate already compromised skin can oftentimes lead to more harm than good.
While it’s easier said than done, Dr. Hayag urges those with dry, itchy skin to minimize scratching as much as possible, as this can release more histamines, cause further irritation, and lead to infection. Instead, she encourages those with seasonal-allergy-related skin issues to take frequent baths with the goal of lessening skin reactions. Both derms recommend Dove’s Sensitive Skin Unscented Bar Soap—it’s mild, free of fragrances, and formulated with compromised skin in mind. Also, Dr. Zeichner says that moisturizing with products that work to protect and repair the skin is key. “When the skin barrier is disrupted, it develops microscopic cracks, loss of hydration, and inflammation. If you see dryness or peeling of the skin, give the skin what it needs: hydration.” He recommends Kate Somerville’s DeliKate Recovery Cream, a soothing cream that builds the skin barrier and is formulated to provide relief for dry, red skin.
For severely itchy skin, Dr. Hayag and Dr. Zeichner both tout hydrocortisone as a remedial course of action. The Aveeno 1% Hydrocortisone Anti-itch Cream, as suggested by Dr. Zeichner, can be applied to the itchy areas twice daily for up to two weeks to calm inflammation.
As a final thought, if you’re suffering from seasonal-related skin issues and at-home remedies aren’t cutting it, Dr. Zeichner encourages a visit to a board-certified dermatologist, as patch testing (a procedure that can help determine the specific ingredients you’re sensitive to) may be necessary.
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