Eczema is a force to be reckoned with, of course, but the right level of care can make it manageable. The first stop should be educating yourself about the topic, before you try and treat the skin condition yourself. New York-based dermatologist Dr. Janet Prystowsky MD, PhD, and president of Livad Skin Care gives a little a background on what eczema is and the reason why it can be so aggressive.
"The real cause of eczema isn't completely understood at the moment, but the tendency is genetic," she says. That said, while there is not a cure or easy fix to the condition, you can abate the red, itchy patches.
"The easiest way to think about what happens with eczema is that the outermost skin barrier is weak compared to normal barriers," she says. "This allows allergens from your environment to get into your skin deeply enough to cause your immune system to react." Some of the allergens Dr. Prystowsky references include pollen, mold, dust, animal dander, plants, chemicals, and harsh soaps—basically, things that you're constantly surrounded by, all day, every day.
The aforementioned irritants aren't the only things that exacerbate eczema flare-ups, according to New York dermatologist Dr. Marnie Nussbaum, the chief medical ambassador for skincare brand Sebamed. "Long, hot showers significantly worsen eczema," she says, adding "rough clothing and harsh climates can also worsen the condition." Inflammation can happen in any environment with dramatically hot or cold temperatures, in fact.
It's difficult to avoid environmental factors like climate and pollen, but there are ways in which you can reduce the intensity of eczema-related symptoms. Follow these tips and treat your skin to the relief it deserves!
1. Take Note of Product Ingredients
Carefully scan your current skin care lineup and see if there are any chemicals you shouldn't put on your skin. "Harsh chemicals that strip the skin of its natural oils should be avoided," says Dr. Nussbaum. Steer clear of chemicals such as sodium lauryl sulfate (known as sulfate), parabens, and phthalates, as they can weaken the skin, making it more susceptible to irritation.
Dr. Prystowsky also lists fragrances and dyes as known irritants, so unfortunately, your signature perfume might have to take a backseat for a while. "Learn which sunscreens, insect repellants, and other common summer skin products you tolerate well," says Dr. Prystowsky.
When shopping for alternative products, look for gentle formulas. "Use a cleanser with a low pH—there are plenty of pH-balanced or non-alkaline cleansing products," Dr. Prystowsky recommends, adding to use gentle moisturizers, too. In general, it's wise to try to find items that are soap-free—don't worry, you'll still get a good clean!
A rule of thumb: if a product is hypoallergenic, chances are it's safe for people with eczema.
Address Your Allergies
Dr. Prystowsky notes that dietary and outdoor allergies can cause eczema to worsen, so make note of what you're allergic to. "Not everyone who has eczema will be triggered by a food allergy. However, some common food allergies associated with eczema include milk, eggs, wheat, fish, and nuts," Dr. Prystowsky says.
For those of you with seasonal allergies, make sure to regularly take an antihistamine.
3. Treat Every Day, From A.M. to P.M.
Set up a daily routine and stick to it—that way your skin will stay hydrated to protect against added irritation.
"In the morning, wash the area gently and apply a daytime moisturizer with anti-inflammatory properties to soothe and calm the skin," Dr. Nussbaum recommends. If it's warm in your part of the world, alter the clothing you wear during the day. "Hot weather and sweating both exacerbate eczema symptoms. Wear light, loose clothing to minimize sweating," says Dr. Prystowsky.
At night, get a little soak in before you go to sleep. "Take lukewarm baths using minimal amounts of cleanser and only use mild cleansers like Dove," Dr. Prystowsky says. You can mix your bath water with colloidal oatmeal, which has soothing and hydrating properties.
After a bath (or warm shower), make time to moisturize. "Eczematous skin should be treated twice daily with emollients not containing fragrance or dyes—one time being post-shower after patting the skin dry," Dr. Nussbaum says. Coconut and sunflower seed oils are also great moisturizers for sensitive skin.
Talk to your dermatologist or primary care doctor about prescribed steroid creams and over-the-counter anti-itch ointments to see which option is best for you.