Itching. Scaly skin. A red, irritated rash that doesn’t seem to go away. If any of this sounds familiar to you, you might just be dealing with eczema. And you’re not alone: nearly 32 million people in the United States suffer from this uncomfortable skin condition.
While it unfortunately can’t be cured, it is a highly treatable ailment, as long as you adopt the right regimen and avoid common triggers. We spoke with two board-certified dermatologists who shared their best tips for managing eczema, ranging from avoiding abrasive clothing to slathering on ceramides. Keep reading to learn all about this condition and how to keep your skin in check.
What exactly is eczema?
Before we dive into triggers and regimens, let’s first walk through some cursory information. Eczema — medically referred to as atopic dermatitis — is a chronic skin condition that usually presents in childhood and can continue through adulthood.
“Eczema presents as pink or red scaly patches on the skin [that are sometimes dry or cracked], usually on the face, scalp, or backs of arms in children and on the center front of the arms and behind the knees in adults,” says Caren Campbell, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in San Francisco, California. Often, these patches can be extremely dry and irritated. The most severe cases of eczema could result in these patches cracking and oozing.
What causes eczema?
While the precise cause of eczema is still unknown, we do know that it’s ultimately the result of an impaired skin barrier that is then worsened by environmental factors. Because the skin barrier is compromised, those with eczema are unfortunately more susceptible to allergies and environmental irritants compared to those who don’t have the condition. One of the best ways to curb flare-ups is to be aware of all potential triggers — of which there are many.
“Usually, eczema is triggered by things that, for other people, may be harmless,” explains Gretchen Frieling, MD, a double board-certified dermatopathologist in the Boston area. “Things like dust, cleaning substances, abrasive clothing, products with fragrances, certain foods, pollen, pet dander, rugs, heat, certain metals, and even stress itself can cause an eczema rash to appear.” These flare-ups can worsen if the trigger isn’t eliminated, or if the rash is picked at or itched.
Dr. Campbell adds that patients with eczema have also been known to get infections within their patches, because the skin itself is compromised. These infections range from common viruses and bacteria like staphylococcus (staph) to herpes. However, don’t panic! This tends to happen more when eczema is being poorly managed, demonstrating the value of monitoring your skin and working with a dermatologist on a treatment plan.
How to Manage and Treat Eczema
While eczema isn’t curable, it is, fortunately, highly treatable. Because the condition is the result of a compromised skin barrier, the solution is to restore said barrier as best as you can.
The first step is to avoid all the triggers we outlined above. Step two is to invest in a rich, fragrance-free moisturizer and use it often — especially after you shower. “I recommend using a cream that contains ceramides or filaggrin, [the latter of] which can help restore the skin’s proteins,” notes Dr. Campbell. Two of her favorite options with these ingredients include CeraVe® Eczema Creamy Oil ($14) and Cetaphil® PRO Restoraderm® Eczema Soothing Moisturizer ($12). We’re also fond of Dr. Jart+® Ceramidin® Cream ($48), which comes in a travel-friendly tube.
For flare-ups, you can find over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream at pharmacies to treat mild cases, but for more severe flare-ups, you may need a prescription steroid cream. Depending on the body area and severity of the eczema, different strengths and formulations can be prescribed. All that said, if you suspect that you do have eczema, then it’s best to seek medical guidance right away.
[Editor’s note: As always, talk to your doctor before starting any new treatment.]
“It’s important to speak to your doctor when you think you have any condition that is not easily or effectively eradicated through over-the-counter products,” says Dr. Frieling. “Your doctor will help you contain the condition, and learn to sustainably and effectively manage it throughout your life.”
Product prices may vary from the time this article was written.
Allergan® may receive commissions for purchases made through links in this article.