If you’re living with eczema, you probably already know that moisturizing is the name of the game.
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But with so many skin care products available, how do you know what’s actually going to do the trick for your dry, itchy skin? What can make it worse? And on top of slathering yourself in moisturizer on the regular, what else can you do to care for your skin?
We’ve got you covered. We talked with dermatologist Kathryn Anderson, MD, about eczema skin care — what to use, what to avoid and just how much your daily habits matter.
“Some people think of caring for their skin as a matter of what products and ingredients to use, but that’s just part of it,” Dr. Anderson says. “When you’re living with eczema, it’s also important to build healthy skin care routines that help lock in the moisture and keep your skin barrier hydrated.”
The products you use and how you use them can help keep eczema flares at bay. Your management plan should also include eczema treatments to minimize the effects when — even despite your best efforts — eczema rears its itchy, scaly head.
But some skin care products can cost a fortune. And who knows if they’ll actually work?
Dr. Anderson shares that brands like CeraVe®, Eucerin® and Cetaphil Eczema® tend to run less expensive than most beauty store brands. They’re also more likely to contain research-backed ingredients that are safe and effective for managing eczema. And they’re less likely to contain ingredients that can irritate eczema-prone skin.
“How your skin will react to different products and ingredients can vary from person to person. So, I always recommend patients with eczema to run their skin care products by a dermatologist,” Dr. Anderson advises.
Generally speaking, though, some products and ingredients are most likely to help manage your eczema. And others can make it worse. Let’s take a look.
When you’re shopping for face wash, body wash or hand soap, your best bet is to stick to products that are mild. And opt for liquid cleansers over bars of soap.
“Bar cleansers typically are higher in chemical compounds called surfactants, which are great at removing dirt, but also great at removing moisture and oil from the skin, which can exacerbate eczema,” Dr. Anderson explains.
Packaging and claims on skin care ingredients can be tricky. It’s tough sometimes to know what exactly a product contains (and doesn’t).
When choosing a cleanser, look for words like:
Moisturizing is a key part of your eczema skin care. And using the right moisturizer for eczema can help hydrate your skin to prevent dry patches.
There’s no shortage of moisturizing products on the market, but for managing eczema, you’ll want to stick with a cream or ointment, rather than a lotion.
“Lotions have a higher water content and a lower oil content. So, they typically aren’t as good at hydrating. The low oil content keeps them from locking in as much moisture,” Dr. Anderson explains. “Compared to ointments, lotions may have more preservatives to increase their shelf life. Those preservatives can burn on eczema-prone skin.”
Ointments will have an even higher oil content than creams. Many people like to use them all over, as they’re the best at locking in moisture. But because ointments can often feel greasy and rub off on your clothes and sheets, some people may prefer to use them as a spot treatment.
When picking an eczema cream, look for buzzwords like:
Dr. Anderson also recommends creams that include ceramides.
“Ceramides are a natural moisturizer that our bodies produce. But patients with eczema can have less ceramides in their skin,” Dr. Anderson shares. “So, using a moisturizer with ceramides can help to replace some of those.”
When it comes to cosmetic skin care products and facial acids, like retinol, salicylic and others, Dr. Anderson stresses caution if you tend to have eczema flares on your face.
“Many facial and anti-aging skin care products and acne treatments can be very irritating for many people with eczema,” she warns.
Facial acids and serums are exfoliants. Their job is to turn over dead skin cells quickly to make room for brighter, healthier ones. They force skin cells to turn over more quickly. Even for people who don’t have dry or sensitive skin, that process can sometimes cause irritation.
If you’re living with eczema and other skin care concerns, like acne, aging skin or redness, talk with a dermatologist about your best options.
Sure, sometimes it’s nice to add a little scent to your skin care. But for people with eczema, products containing fragrances can be irritating to more than the nose. They can cause allergic reactions and eczema flares. So, people with eczema are best off with fragrance-free skin care products
“People with eczema have damage to their skin barrier. It’s not entirely intact,” Dr. Anderson points out. “So, fragrances are able to get into the skin and can lead to a lot of irritation.”
It’s easy to fall into the trap that “natural” products are better for your skin. But that’s not always the case, especially for eczema skin care. Natural doesn’t always mean better.
“I always recommend that people with eczema be wary of natural skin care products,” Dr. Anderson states. “A lot of natural ingredients can still be irritating to the skin.”
Some ingredients people with eczema should be particularly wary of include seed oils, citrus oils and tea tree oil.
But that’s not to say that anything natural is bad for eczema. Colloidal oatmeal is a fairly common ingredient in some eczema skin care products that has shown some potential benefits as an anti-inflammatory. Unprocessed virgin coconut oil may also be a helpful ingredient.
Now that you have your products all lined up, it’s time to put them to use as part of an overall eczema skin care routine.
Here’s what that looks like.
Some people will tell you that if you have eczema-prone skin, you can’t shower daily.
Dr. Anderson disagrees. “You can still wash every day if that’s your preference, but you want to keep your showers short and lukewarm.”
Aim for about 10 minutes or less in the shower. Get in. Get clean. Get out. This is not the time to belt out Elton John’s greatest hits.
Why? Remember that keeping in the moisture is the key to eczema skin care. The problem with long, hot showers is that prolonged exposure to heat can cause more water to evaporate from eczema-prone skin. So, you want to keep your exposure to hot water to a minimum.
And if you enjoy baths, the same rules apply. Keep it short and not too hot.
That nice eczema-friendly cream you picked out? Let’s put it to use.
After getting out of the tub or shower, dry off just so you’re not dripping and get to moisturizing right away. Dr. Anderson suggests moisturizing within three minutes of getting out of the shower. “Rather than let the water evaporate or toweling it all off, you want to lock in that moisture fresh out of the shower or bath.”
OK, so the idea of sitting in a bathtub of lukewarm water and bleach might sound harsh. But bleach baths may actually help soothe your skin.
“Bleach baths can help decrease inflammation and prevent infections in people with eczema,” Dr. Anderson shares.
Bleach baths may not be right for everyone, though, so talk with your provider before trying it out. If they agree a bleach bath may improve your eczema, mix 1/2 cup of regular household bleach (6%) into a full, lukewarm bathtub.
Your hands are one of the most common places for eczema flares to pop up. If dry, cracking, itchy hands have you down, it might be worth it to try wearing gloves at night. They may also benefit people who scratch in their sleep.
Here’s the idea: Moisturize before bed, then slip on a pair of white cotton gloves and keep them on all night. That helps keep the moisturizer on your hands from coming off on your sheets to keep your hands moisturized all night. It also keeps your nails from being able to dig into any other itchy patches while you’re off in dreamland.
“If patients are scratching a lot at night, you kind of get on this hamster wheel of an itch-scratch cycle,” Dr. Anderson explains. “You’re itchy so you scratch, which makes you itchier, so you scratch more. If we can break that cycle, a lot of times we can improve eczema.”
Eczema is a chronic condition, but proper skin care and other home remedies can make a difference for a lot of people.
“Understanding what to expect when you’re living with eczema is important,” Dr. Anderson emphasizes. “Unfortunately, we can’t cure eczema, but finding a maintenance treatment — like good skin care — can help keep flares as minimal as possible.”