Skip to main content
Medically Approved

Most common eczema triggers

twitter share buttonfacebook share buttonlinkedin share buttonemail article button
AllergiesExternal irritantsMental healthHealth conditionsSun exposureTreatmentSummary
Triggers vary depending on the type of eczema and individual factors but may include food allergies, sun exposure, and dust mites.
Medically reviewed by Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI
Updated on

Eczema is an umbrella term for a group of inflammatory skin conditions that lead to itchy and scaly rashes. Although its cause is not yet determined, a few internal and external factors can trigger eczema symptoms.

Eczema triggers may vary from person to person. While some people may experience symptoms from exposure to specific allergens, others may be affected by temperature, sun exposure, or underlying health conditions.

This article reviews the most common eczema triggers for people living with the condition.


Man with flowers wrapping up his leg
Jesse Morrow/Stocksy United

Many people who develop eczema also live with allergic conditions. Food and environmental allergies may trigger a skin reaction and cause an eczema flare-up.

External factors, such as pet dander and saliva, dust mites, or pollen, may lead to an inflammatory reaction in your body, which may manifest on your skin.

Direct contact with allergens and irritants may also trigger symptoms of contact dermatitis, a type of eczema that causes severe skin irritation and itchiness.

In some cases, you may develop symptoms 1 or 2 days after exposure to the allergen. This may make it challenging to identify what triggered the reaction.

Food allergies and sensitivities are also common triggers for eczema. Milk, eggs, peanuts, soy, and wheat are the usual culprits. Repeated exposure to the allergen may also worsen eczema over time.

Food allergies and intolerances are typically more common in children than in adults.

If your symptoms are triggered by an allergic reaction to food, you may also experience:

  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal pain
  • swollen lips or eyelids
  • hives on your skin

In severe allergy cases, you may start to have difficulty breathing. This is a medical emergency.

If you are unsure if your eczema symptoms are related to allergies or sensitivities, a healthcare professional can perform an allergy test to identify specific allergens you react to.

External irritants

Certain products and textures may trigger eczema symptoms by drying out or inflaming your skin even when you are not allergic to them.

Common skin irritants for people with eczema include:

  • perfumes
  • detergents
  • wool fabrics
  • cigarette smoke
  • hot showers or baths
  • tight clothing
  • salicylic acid (for acne treatment)
  • formaldehyde
  • skin care products that are high in alcohol and retinoids

Hot or cold weather may also cause skin dryness and trigger eczema symptoms like itchiness.

If you have eczema, you may consider using emollients to moisturize your skin daily and prevent it from drying.

Mental health

Mental and emotional health may play a role in eczema symptoms, while living with eczema may also increase your chance of having a mental health condition like depression and anxiety.

High stress levels may also trigger inflammatory responses associated with eczema.

Stress is one of the most common triggers for eczema flare-ups.

When you feel stressed, your body releases histamine and the hormone cortisol, which can trigger skin rashes and irritation. If you already live with eczema, this process may trigger your symptoms.

Stress may also slow down and prevent your skin’s natural ability to repair itself.

Mental health conditions like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may increase your stress response and lead to eczema flare-ups.

Other health conditions

People with other allergic and inflammatory conditions may have a higher chance of developing eczema, although the causal relationship is not yet understood. What experts know is that you may be more likely to develop eczema if you live with asthma, and vice versa.

Eczema may also make you more prone to developing skin infections. Bacterial and viral infections like herpes simplex and staphylococcus aureus may, in turn, also trigger severe eczema symptoms like itchiness, pain, and blisters.

Fungal infections, like candida albicans, also tend to worsen eczema symptoms.

Sun exposure

High temperatures and excessive sweating typically worsen eczema symptoms.

Although sun exposure itself does not typically cause eczema, spending time in the sun may lead you to experience more itchiness and discomfort if you live with the condition. Scratching an itchy rash may also cause more skin irritation and open sores.

For some people, ultraviolet light from the sun may be a trigger. Although rare, photosensitive dermatitis is a type of eczema where sun exposure causes your immune system to activate, making flare-ups more frequent and intense.

Ultraviolet light from the sun may also dry out your skin. Skin dryness usually triggers eczema rashes and symptoms.

Taking certain medications or undergoing medical treatments, such as antibiotics and antifungal therapy, may also increase your sensitivity to sunlight.

How is eczema treated?

No cure is yet known for eczema, but symptoms can be managed effectively.

Treatment may depend on your type of eczema and the severity of your symptoms.

Generally, in addition to avoiding potential triggers, eczema may be treated with topical and oral medications, including:

  • topical steroids to relieve itching and inflammation, like hydrocortisone and triamcinolone
  • topical creams to inhibit overreactive immune cells (immunomodulators), like tacrolimus and pimecrolimus
  • oral anti-inflammatories, like prednisolone (oral corticosteroid) and ruxolitinib (Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors)

If you need help covering the cost of medications, the free Optum Perks Discount Card could help you save up to 80% on prescription drugs. Follow the links on drug names for savings on that medication, or search for a specific drug here.

Pill bottle with text 'Starts at $4'

Free prescription coupons

Seriously … free. Explore prices that beat the competition 70% of the time.

Get free card


Allergies, harsh chemicals, stress levels, and health conditions may trigger eczema symptoms if you live with the condition. In the case of allergies, recognizing the trigger and avoiding exposure may reduce the chance of experiencing eczema flare-ups.

Download the free Optum Perks Discount Card to save up to 80% on some prescription medications.

Article resources