Eczema is one of those skin conditions that most people know at least little something about. If you don’t suffer from it, chances are you know someone who does because it’s pretty pervasive affecting more than 31 million Americans. While most are aware that with eczema comes bothersome itching and irritation, of course there’s more to it. And the more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to live with it comfortably.
“Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that causes a rash which appears as dry, itchy patches on the skin,” explains Rosemarie Ingleton, MD, board-certified NYC dermatologist. Typically, eczema can show up on the face, neck, backs of legs, hands, and insides of the elbows. As for what causes eczema, experts aren’t completely sure, but here’s how it progresses. “Eczema results from a disruption of the skin barrier function and the exposure of the skin to an irritant or allergen that triggers and autoimmune response, leading to the rash that we see,” says Dr. Ingleton. Genetics can be a factor as well with atopic dermatitis, the most common of the seven different types of eczema, typically appearing during infancy, says Dr. Ingleton.
Everyone experiences eczema differently, some with subtle symptoms and some more severe. There can be the signature itch along with swelling, dryness, and scaliness. And while eczema can affect people of any skin color, it is more common in people with melanated skin and might look a little different. “The rash can appear reddish or dark brown, purple or even gray,” says Dr. Ingleton. “After the eczema resolves, it can leave melanated skin with dark marks or lighter marks on the unaffected skin.”
While eczema can’t be cured, as Dr. Ingleton said, flare-ups can be resolved and mitigated with treatment. Ahead, the most important things you need to know to take on eczema in the most informed and effective way.
- Eczema can be addressed at home
As with treating any chronic skin condition, much of your success lies in what you do once you leave the doctor’s office. Are you consistent with your medication? Are you adjusting your daily skincare? Are you creating extra irritation? Are you open to at-home remedies? One of the tried-and-true remedies is a warm bath with colloidal oatmeal powder added to the water to soothe itchy, eczema skin, says Dr. Ingleton. Using moisturizing coconut oil to calm dry patches can also help. Adding a quarter cup of bleach to bath water is another popular antidote to help kill surface bacteria that often colonize open areas within eczema patches and delay healing, she says. And let’s not forget regular proper skincare. “I usually recommend that my patients bathe with a hydrating body wash followed by a fragrance-free soothing body lotion.”
2. Eczema can be treated at the dermatologist’s office
Everyone’s experience with eczema is different, so a trip to the dermatologist can be crucial in determining how best to care for skin. “The most commonly prescribed treatment products are topical corticosteroid creams or ointments, topical non-steroids, immunosuppressant medications, injectable biologics that treat inflammatory conditions by targeting the immune system response, and the newest category of medicines being used to target specific immune elements in eczema skin,” says Dr. Ingleton. There’s also phytotherapy or light therapy using UVB and sometimes UVA rays to soothe itching, redness, and inflammation plus, alternative treatments like acupuncture and cryotherapy to consider.
3. Eczema can be dealt with differently for the face and body
A gentler approach is often needed for your face. “The thickness of the skin on the face is different from that on the body, and some medications have to be modified when being used on the face, like topical steroids, or not used on the face at all due to increased side effects like stinging and burning,” says Dr. Ingleton. As for skincare, the name of the game is to replenish the skin barrier with face creams or lotions that have nourishing and strengthening ingredients like ceramides and urea.
4. Eczema can be affected by allergies
The unfortunate news is that eczema likely won’t go away. But the promising bit is that eczema can have very long periods of remission, especially if known allergic triggers are avoided, says Dr. Ingleton. “Many eczema sufferers also have hay fever or asthma, and when those conditions flare up, so does the eczema in many instances,” explains Dr. Ingleton. “Treating and managing these other conditions can lead to longer periods of remission.”
5. Eczema can be improved by what you don’t do
What you aren’t engaging in can be just as if not more important than conscious steps you do take with treatment. “As a general rule, I recommend that people with eczema avoid fragranced product; long, hot showers; rubbing the skin with abrasive brushes and cloths; taking too many showers per day; and using too many different products to reduce the likelihood of being exposed to an allergen,” says Dr. Ingleton.