Imagine your ideal look. Perhaps it’s a simple black dress paired with a dazzling set of earrings. Maybe it’s a head-to-toe athleisure with a swipe of burgundy lipstick. Whichever ensemble makes you feel your absolute best, we’re betting that red, itchy skin didn’t make the cut. Unfortunately, a striking estimated 35 million Americans — across all ages, races, and genders — are affected by eczema. “[The condition] does not discriminate!” asserts Dr. Nashimeh Yazdani, founder of natural skincare brand, Seaside Medical Technologies. If you suffer from eczema, you might have noticed that it tends to flare up as the temperature drops. And that’s not a coincidence.
For one, your skin fluctuates, notes NYC-based dermatologist and founder of Russak Dermatology Clinic, Julie Russak, M.D. “As the temperature starts changing, it takes time for the skin to readjust how much oil and proteins it produces,” she says. “The composition of the top layer of the skin is different during the summer when it’s hot and humid versus when it’s cold and dry, so the skin is more vulnerable during this time.”
On a similar note, cold air is significantly more dry than (naturally) warmer air, Yazdani explains. When moisture levels in the air deplete, our skin’s own moisture levels follow suit. But it’s not just about temperature; in fact, cranking up the indoor heater (to accommodate for said temperature change) can further deplete dry us out. Bottom line: drier conditions can aggravate drier skin and, ultimately trigger eczema.
Though dry air is one of the most common triggers, “eczema affects everyone differently, and one person’s triggers may not be the same as another’s,” says Russak. In addition to environment-related dryness, she cites common food groups like dairy, gluten, and soy as potential triggers, along with stress and smoking. Be sure to check with your doctor if you suspect one of these is affecting your skin.
While angry skin can make you, well, angry, there are a myriad of topical treatments to soothe skin — and even help restore it back to a healthy, glowing state. Below, what to load up on — and what to avoid at all costs.
Avoid: Expired Products
When itchy skin strikes, your first inclination might be to slather on the nearest lotion in reach. But not all lotions are created equally to treating eczema-prone skin! “You should carefully sift through your entire cosmetic and makeup counter and toss out anything older than a couple of years or past the expiration date,” Yazdani says. Your skin will thank you!
Avoid: Irritating Ingredients
Even if your products are perfectly unexpired, there are certain ingredients contained in many lotions that can aggravate eczema flare ups. We hate to say it, but that ultra-fragrant body butter you love might just be doing more harm than good.
Yazdani and Russak both point to fragrances — along with artificial dyes — as no-gos for eczema-prone skin. We know — unscented products can be decidedly less sexy-looking than their more clinical counterparts, but choosing a more bare-bones formula (such as the Eucerin® Eczema Relief Body Cream, $10) can help you skin itself look better.
Avoid: Irritating Ingredients (That You Might Not Be Able to See or Smell)
Unfortunately, some potentially eczema-triggering ingredients are not quite as easy to detect with the fives senses. To sniff them out, be sure to flip over the label and read. If you see parabens, dimethicone, petrolatum, solvents, and formaldehyde, Yazdani advises steering clear. These ingredients are known to irritate sensitive skin. The Seaside Medical Technologies Antioxidant Concentrate ($32) provides intense skin-softening benefits for face and body with a simple, non-irritating ingredients list to boot.
Avoid: (Excessive) Hand Washing...and Hand Sanitizer
Winter just so happens to be cold and flu season — which means, yes, you should be washing your hands all the time. That said, if you have eczema, the frequent hand washing can increase dryness. “Evaporating water will dry up the skin,” says Russak. Her suggestion: apply a ceramide-spiked lotion directly post-handwashing, when skin is still damp (try Eucerin Advanced Repair® Hand Cream, $5). This will help to lock in moisture.
Furthermore, as tempting and convenient as hand sanitizer might be, avoid it at all costs! These formulas contain alcohol, which — in addition to sanitizing — can also have an extremely drying effect on skin.
Try: Oat Proteins and Almond Oil
In short, beeline for non-irritating, skin-soothing ingredients. More often than not, these ingredients happen to be natural (though not all “natural” ingredients are skin-soothing!). According to NYC-based dermatologist, Dr. Gary Goldberg, ingredients like sweet almond oil and colloidal oatmeal are particularly helpful for moisturizing and calming eczema. (Don’t miss the Skinfix® Extra Strength Soothing Body Cream, $25, which contains both.) Long Island-based dermatologist Dr. Kavita Mariwalla, agrees. “The [aforementioned] actives combined with the right mix of humectants and occlusives really heal and repair the skin’s barrier.”
According to Russak, “keeping the skin’s moisture intact is one of the best ways to control eczema.” Ergo, ceramides — which help to maintain and strengthen the skin’s protective barrier — are an excellent choice, she explains. Her pick: the Eucerin® Eczema Relief Body Cream ($10), which is loaded with ceramides in addition to soothing colloidal oatmeal.
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Products were gifted to the author for the purpose of writing this article.