Eczema is one of the most prevalent skin conditions known to man, but also one of the most poorly understood ones. It can appear on anyone regardless of age. From babies to teenagers, adults and all the way to senior citizens, eczema can both be insufferable and annoying. While it’s not very dangerous, it can cause a person tons of frustration, impacting not just the physical appearance of a person but also their emotional wellbeing. So what is to be done? Read on and discover how to take care of eczema-prone skin.
Let’s start from the beginning. Eczema is just a conventional, popular name of a class of skin disorders that are a bit of a puzzle to scientists. Dermatologists classify eczema as atopical dermatitis, meaning that it has no known cause. The “a” in “atopical” means it negates a “topical” (or local) cause of the disorder. Hence, there are no specific known irritants or substances that have come into contact with the skin to lead to the appearance of atopic dermatitis. In other words, it also means that almost anything can cause eczema or atopic dermatitis, based on a person’s individual genetics and surroundings.
But in order to understand eczema, or atopic dermatitis better, we need to look at its opposite - or what it is not.
Contrary to eczema, and other manifestations of atopical dermatitis, topical dermatitis always has a known cause. The causal factors are usually substances in the environment that have come into contact with the skin. These substances are known as irritants, or allergens, in the case where a contact dermatitis escalates to an allergic reaction. A good example of contact dermatitis would be the burning one experiences when they’re slicing lemons. The lemon juice, being highly acidic, comes into contact with the healthy, but probably sensitive skin, and causes irritation. This usually manifests itself as redness in the affected area, accompanied by sensations of burning or itching and so on.
Take everything about contact dermatitis, but remove the known, topical causes, and you have eczema - or atopical dermatitis. Medical professionals can’t really put a finger on what the underlying causes are, but they often suspect it is allergic in nature. That connection seems likely because eczema often appears in individuals who already have allergies, such as asthma, which is a respiratory allergy.
However, you should rest easy because eczema is manageable, and in some cases even treatable. It is important to act quickly and treat it as early as possible, which for around 90% of people is during their first 5 years of their life. This often means that the responsibility for treating eczema will obviously fall on the parents. Regardless of their diligence though, only around 40% of children rid themselves from eczema by the time they reach adulthood. This means that for the remaining 60% of people with eczema will still need to treat their eczema-prone skin in their adulthood. Which is, we hope, where this article becomes truly helpful.
Being a complicated skin condition with several symptoms, eczema requires treatment from many different angles targeting its different aspects. While there is no magical cure for eczema, and no one-size-fits-all solution to treating it, there are many ways in which you can alleviate it and make yourself feel better. To be clear, the following advice will work on almost anyone who suffers from eczema, but it’s mainly geared towards adults. Adult eczema can be more specific than its childhood version, but there are methods that can help with both. Let’s see how to take care of your eczema-prone skin.
Adult eczema brings its own challenges, which are usually not present in its version affecting children and youngsters. Most of the time, the number one problem that adult eczema presents for people is its location. As we age, our skin changes its thickness, and by the time we are adults, it’s the thinnest on our faces. And the skin is the most sensitive exactly where it’s thinnest, which makes the face one of the favorite spots for adult eczema to land on.
While it is atopical, meaning that the cause is undetermined, it also means that the cause can be anything. Often times, adult eczema is caused by this or that skincare product, makeup product, a hyped-up shampoo or a new type of soap. People who end up with adult eczema usually get it around their eyes, more specifically, their eyelids. You’ve probably experienced it yourself - everything’s fine, and then one day your eyelids start feeling dry and itchy. You check yourself in the mirror and they’re slightly rosy, or reddish in appearance. Congratulations, you now have eczema, caused by who-knows-what. It can be anything from a new cosmetics product, that new detergent, or the lining on your pillowcases. Whichever it is, you’ll need to treat your eczema, refrain from itching, and track down the cause of the irritation.
But adult eczema doesn’t only affect the face, it can also appear on random parts of the body, where it will usually make your skin more sore and thicker. That happens due to the persistent and unavoidable rubbing of your clothes against your skin. If not treated, this particular placing of the eczema inflammation can cause the area of the skin to darken, and develop scars due to the persistent friction.
Additionally, if you’re already experiencing eczema, which is considered to be an allergic reaction, chances are you can have it manifest on other areas of your body. One of the most common body parts that suffer the first after an initial bout of eczema are the hands. They are exposed to the greatest number of irritants and allergic triggers, from both natural and cosmetic sources. Excessive washing is not recommended since it chips away at the protective, surface layer of your skin, which, once damaged, can produce an almost irresistible sensation of itching.
First things first - the most annoying symptom of eczema, by far, is its unbearable, persistent itch. People often end up hurting themselves in an attempt to scratch the itch away, but all it achieves is additional soreness on top of the unbearable itch. Most times, it is exactly the sensation of itching that represents the first symptom of an eczema outbreak. Not only that, but eczema often causes flaking of the skin and sometimes, when you scratch too much, you can cause yourself wounds and scabs. The scabs will then - guess what? - itch even more.
And the scratching just makes it worse. When you scratch the area of the skin that’s affected by eczema, the scratching stimulates the nerve endings under the skin, which causes the area to be overstimulated and inflamed. This, in turn, fuels the already present inflammation from the eczema, intensifying the rash and causing even more intense sensations of itching.
So, long story short - itching leads to scratching, and if you scratch, you cause even more itching, which makes it even more tempting to scratch that eczema itch away.
More scratching leads to more eczema. And more scratching often leads to injuries, damaging your skin and inviting infection on your skin. If you want to make your health worse, add a bacterial infection on top of your eczema and cover your body in scars, then scratch away.
It just makes the entire situation worse, negating any progress you have already made in treating this type of atopic dermatitis. Not only that, but you’re also burning all the money you spent on anti-eczema creams and anti-inflammatory medicines.
All of this means that you really need to stop scratching that itch. But seeing as even people who don’t have eczema have difficulties in controlling their urge to scratch their own non-eczema itch, the advice one can offer in this case is kinda scarce.
You will need to find ways to train your mind in becoming more disciplined and do some research into how you can resist reacting to your itchy triggers. Most times, merely becoming aware of the phenomenon and the science behind it will make you aware of when it goes down.
Becoming aware of how it happens and when it happens to you can help you a lot. You can’t prevent what you’re not aware of, and once you become attuned to how your body and mind react at the triggers, you’ll be increasingly more able to stop yourself. This process takes time, however, and you will need to be very patient with yourself. You’re not alone in this since even people who don’t have eczema have other impulses and unconscious habits as well. The road to making those habits conscious, and eventually changing them takes time and, I won’t lie - hundreds of attempts.
One concrete piece of advice that doesn’t involve training your mind is the following. Whenever you feel an intense itch, or you can anticipate that your eczema itching, you can defuse it by applying some ice on the area.
Of course, this is not something you’ll be able to do anywhere and anytime, but you will probably be able to do it at home and at your own leisure. Simply take a couple of ice cubes and place them over the area of the skin affected by eczema. You can apply the ice in any shape or form you desire, in bags or not - whatever feels best for you.
But cooling the area has two very beneficial effects when defusing the eczema itch. First, the ice lowers the temperature of the skin and the underlying tissue, which calms the inflammation down reducing the itchiness. Secondly, the freezing sensation of the ice overloads your nerve endings, making them sort of unable to receive the sensations of the itch. In a sense, the nerves become so overloaded by the freezing cold that they become “numb” to most other sensations, including the itch. So, when it comes to beating eczema’s itch at its own game? Ice is your superhero friend that can snap its fingers at it. Thanos style.
When you have eczema, one of your main goals, besides resisting the itch to scratch, is to soothe your skin. This doesn’t just mean applying products or ingredients before going to bed, but it also means trying to avoid getting your skin irritated or dry in the first place.
As we mentioned above, one of the ways in which eczema can become worse is if your skin has already seen some amount of damage. You may not notice it, but every time we wash our hands, the surface layer of the skin, known as the epidermis, undergoes changes. For one, the protective layer of natural skin oil, called sebum, is significantly reduced, making your skin more vulnerable to the elements and random irritants.
Additionally, if we use strong soaps, body washes or shampoos, our skin is not only left without its protective layer of oil, that keeps it protected and elastic, but it’s also deprived of any moisture it possessed - moisture that kept it healthy, soft, and elastic. The takeaway here is to be careful what you wash your hands, body, and face with, and to avoid washing them too much or too often.
If you have eczema, or just eczema-prone skin, it is crucial to be mindful about the ingredients you are using in your skincare routine. I won’t mince words - most of the so-called normal skincare products will simply not be an option for you. You’ll need to use specific skincare products that are created for sensitive skin - and there are even some products available that are formulated specifically for eczema-prone skin.
But even when you find those, it’s very important to read the label carefully and avoid ingredients that are even mildly irritating. While such ingredients are appropriate for using on normal skin, they will aggravate your eczema-prone skin and make everything worse. The ingredients that you should avoid are retinol, salicylic acid (BHA), alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), Vitamin C, and every product that contains fragrances and perfumes, such as lanolin.
The bad news is that these ingredients are found in the vast majority of skincare and cosmetic products. But skincare products that are intended for sensitive skin should not have them, or if they do, that’ll be very little.
However, the good news is that, there are ingredients that can be perfect for your eczema-prone, sensitive skin. One of these is the naturally-based hyaluronic acid, which doesn’t cause irritations but still manages to moisturize your skin pretty well.
If you have eczema-prone skin, it’s important to be careful about showering and taking baths. Keeping your skin as clean as possible is crucial in order to prevent additional skin complications. Therefore, bathing (or showering) is essential, but you should be careful not to spend too much time in the shower. Too much water will remove the natural, protective layer of skin oil from your skin, which can make it unnecessarily dry. This dryness can exacerbate the symptoms of eczema or even lead to it. Additionally, you should avoid showering with hot water. It can make the symptoms of eczema, like the persistent itching worse, and you don’t want that. Keeping the shower temperature at 33°C or lower can prevent further inflammation. When drying, avoid rubbing your skin regardless of how soft your towel is - instead, you can try dabbing all the water away.
Clothing is probably the most overlooked factor when living with eczema and eczema-prone skin. The clothes you wear and the materials they’re made of can irritate your skin and contribute to itchiness. Fleece and wool are among the worst offenders, because these materials can irritate even normal skin, let alone a sensitive one.
Additionally, wool and fleece, and other materials, can sort of isolate your skin without allowing it to breathe. You may feel warmer and feel like they’re keeping your skin from drying out, but that just makes your skin cook and increase the itching. You should also be mindful about what sort of detergents you’re using to wash your clothes, since some chemicals can act as irritants to your skin. Detergents that contain lots of coloring agents or perfumes are some of the worst offenders, so if you’re struggling with eczema you should avoid them. Of course, it goes without saying that you should always try to keep your clothes clean.
One of the key roles in taking care of eczema-prone skin fall to using a quality moisturizer. But most moisturizers on their own will not be enough - it’s best to use them in tandem with a corticosteroid cream. Combining the two substances makes them both more effective, and reduces the amount of time you will need to use the corticosteroid cream. Corticosteroid creams are great, but using them for too long is generally not recommended. Although they combat itching and can effectively, reduce it, you should avoid using them more than twice a day, and never more than two weeks in a row. If you need to use corticosteroid creams for a prolonged period of time, taking at least a week off between two weeks of use is mandatory.
Emollient-rich moisturizers, that make your skin softer work very well too. Naturally-based, quality moisturizers protect the skin from drying by protecting and regenerating your skin’s surface layer. When you’re going shopping next time, be on the lookout for moisturizers that contain a substance called ceramide. Ceramide has shown very good results in patients who have to deal with atopic dermatitis, such as eczema, so you can give it a shot too.
If you’re also using a cleanser, make sure to apply a moisturizer right after cleaning your face. That will help your skin retain the moisture, and protect your skin from any dirt that might land after you’ve just cleaned it. A quality moisturizer will not only hydrate your skin, but it will also provide a protective layer over it in order to keep the water molecules in place.
Eczema is a type of atopical dermatitis, the specific causes of which are still unknown to modern medicine. While not a severe condition, eczema can be especially difficult to live with, since it manifests as excessive itching, dryness, flaking, and sometimes blisters on your skin.
However, despite that, there are many things you can do which will help you take care of your eczema-prone skin. Perhaps the most difficult thing to do is resist the urge to scratch its itch - scratching can make the condition worse, leading to bacterial infections, increased inflammation, and even more itching. Applying ice packs can be helpful to tone down the intensity of the itching sensations.
Additionally, wearing clothes made of soft, smooth fabrics can help reduce the irritation on your skin. Taking soothing, but short and lukewarm baths can also help calm your skin and reduce the appearance or intensity of eczema. While you should avoid most skincare products, you can harness the power of hyaluronic acid or naturally-based moisturizers to soothe your skin. These are widely available and often found in skincare products aimed at treating sensitive skin. Avoid rubbing your skin when drying, treat it gently and keep it moisturized, and sooner or later, the eczema will go away and your skin will love you back.
This information is meant to supplement, not replace advice from your doctor or healthcare provider and is not meant to cover all possible uses, precautions, interactions or adverse effects. This information may not fit your specific health circumstances, and its goal is to offer a general view of the subject. In case you are suffering from a severe case of acne, you should consult with a dermatologist or a certified medical professional.