Scratching the Surface: Eczema and Skincare
With varying types affecting more than 10% of the U.S. population (that’s every one in 10 people), eczema is way more than “just dry skin”.
It’s a common scene for those familiar: just when you think you have your eczema finally figured out, your skin takes on a completely new, unexpected form, leaving you baffled and beat-down by the endless pursuit of comfort. Focusing on anything other than symptoms - much less trying to keep up with a regular skincare ritual - is extra challenging when battling a bad flare-up: the non stop itching, blistering, inflammation, and dryness are more than anyone should have to bear.
Along with physical effects, many people report dealing with emotional effects from eczema as well, expressing that they feel “ashamed” and “embarrassed” of their skin’s condition (we love you and all of your unique skin moods, Mirra Mavens💚💚 ). It’s especially difficult when trying to tackle other skin moods, like acne and wrinkles, as treatment options are limited to what will irritate eczema the least.
With a wide variety of symptoms, no concrete origin, and a habit of switching gears without notice, what I’m trying to say is this: when it comes to the relationship between skin care and eczema, it’s very complicated. Let’s demystify this topic and discuss finding a balance between all of your skincare needs.
What is eczema?
Even if you *think* you know what it means to have eczema, think again: when one person says they have eczema, they might have a completely different experience than someone else who has it, too.
Confused? Let me explain: the term eczema (eg-zuh-muh) is really just a blanket term used to describe the various types of the same skin condition, all of which result in different forms of dry, discolored, irritated, itchy and even blistered skin.
Developing in both babies and adults alike, eczema can appear at any point in many different forms, fluctuating in severity and developing on all different parts of our bodies: face/cheeks (common in babies), hands, feet, and behind the knees, to name a few. And if you’re wondering “is eczema contagious?”, the answer is no - contact with a child, friend or family member who has it won’t affect you.
However, the way eczema fundamentally develops is still unclear (weather, genetics and stress are all known triggers), although scientists recently linked a decrease in lipids, like ceramides, to cases of eczema. There is also no known cure, but there are a variety of treatments available, such as over-the-counter (OTC) remedies, topical and oral medications, phototherapy (meaning exposure to fluorescent light bulbs or other sources of light to combat flare-ups), immunosuppressants, and eczema home remedies, like apple cider vinegar or honey.
Types of eczema
The most common types of eczema are (2):
Atopic dermatitis - chronic itchy, inflamed skin (often interchanged with the term “eczema” since it’s so common, although it’s technically it’s own thing)
Contact dermatitis - a red, itchy, and burning reaction upon contact with an irritant such as cleaning products or chemicals
Dyshidrotic eczema - small, severely itchy, water-filled blisters that form a rash on the feet or hands
Allergic contact dermatitis - contact with “foreign” substances, like poison ivy or preservatives in creams/lotions, causing itchy, weepy skin
Nummular eczema - a coin shaped rash that itches, oozes clear liquid or becomes dry & crusty
Seborrheic dermatitis - yellowish, oily, scaly skin most common on the face & scalp
Stasis dermatitis - skin irritation on lower legs, generally linked to circulatory problems
Don’t have eczema but want to be an anti-itch ally? The next time someone tells you they have eczema, ask them which type they have (and if they aren’t sure, be a pal and send them our way 😉 ).
Skin care for eczema
Understanding what type of eczema you’re facing is one piece of the puzzle - the next step is figuring out what you need out of your skincare ritual, and how to be mindful of your eczema as you navigate all of the lovely skin moods life throws your way.
First and foremost: taking good care of your eczema is about maintaining moisture.
Although dry skin from eczema can appear due to a variety of factors despite your best efforts, keeping your body as hydrated as possible gives you the best chance of finding some relief during particularly severe skin moods. Drinking water, applying a fragrance-free ceramide moisturizer twice daily, and resisting the urge to scratch itchy skin are all fundamental in supporting a healthy skin barrier. Non-irritating moisturizing products that contain petroleum and heavier moisturizers for particularly dry skin are great during a flare-up as well.
But, sometimes… you scratch. HARD. Take a breath, and congratulate yourself for being human!
No one said this was easy, and we’re all far from perfect, so don’t beat yourself up if you scratch those gnawing eczema itches (just try not to make a habit of it, for the sake of your skin health).
The next time you have the urge to scratch, press a cold, wet towel to your skin for temporary relief. Keeping your nails short will also minimize damage done to your skin from scratching, if the mood so strikes. Again - scratching is completely understandable, and we're not here to tell you what to do! But if you're asking about what's healthiest for your skin, this is it.
If your scratching becomes fervent at some point, you may have some scarring as a result. Taking a lukewarm oatmeal bath to restore hydration is one soothing, effective treatment for relieving dry skin, while also reducing the appearance of eczema scars by minimizing discoloration (find the recipe here!).
Also, seek sensitive formulas that are free of parabens and other irritating additives, but contain vitamin C, Vitamin B3, shea butter, glycerin, lanolin, and/or aloe vera to aid in evening skin tone, increasing collagen levels and minimizing further inflammation. These ingredients are gentle enough to use on inflamed skin, but strong enough to penetrate your skin barrier and begin the real healing work within. Also, peeling off your dead, dry skin may sound helpful to replenishing a weakened barrier, but it’s probably best to avoid any scrubs (unless they’re really gentle, almost paste-like) so as not to further exacerbate inflamed skin!
Cardinal rule: avoiding irritating ingredients is required.
Products containing glycolic acid, salicylic acid and retinol are popular for acne treatment, but they also tend to dry out your skin, which is a huge no-no if you don’t want to irritate your eczema. With an already weakened skin barrier, these chemicals can more easily seep in and inflame the condition at the source, causing painful side effects.
Alternatively, 100% pure tea tree oil is a natural anti-inflammatory antiseptic that’s generally safer than harsher OTC acne-fighting alternatives - when shopping options, make sure there is at least 20-40% concentration of terpinen, the main source of antiseptic properties in tea tree and contains no additives (like this one). Endocrine-disrupting chemicals, like parabens, can also trigger irritation and cause further skin damage in the midst of a flare-up, so avoiding those as much as possible will help your cause.
Because of its strong chemical make-up, you’ll want to dilute the tea tree oil in either your moisturizer, or mix it with olive, coconut, or hemp oil (think 1-2 drops of tea tree oil mixed with ~12 drops of your carrier oil) (3). Even still, playing it safe is always, always best - spot check your mixture on your skin before applying all over to ensure these oils don’t accidentally trigger contact dermatitis!
However, the most poignant tip of all is actually quite simple: rotate your product priorities based on how your eczema is showing up that day.
Drier, flakier skin than yesterday? Pull out your heavier creams and serums chock full of hydrators like shea and aloe. Acne popping up amongst irritated, discolored patches? Use a gentle moisture-rich cleanser and sensitive spot treatment, like tea tree oil, to hydrate skin and ward off overproduction of sebum, which contributes to oily skin moods. With each day bringing a new mood, having an arsenal of sensitive formulas alongside your other non-irritating products is your best defense against those inevitable explosions of eczema.
HOT TIP: take a moment this week to spot check all of your current skincare products and check their ingredients to nail down which ones are ok to use during an eczema flare-up.
Struggling with your eczema? You’re not alone
An apple a day won’t keep the doctor away; and why should it? If you’ve been vigilant about hydrating your skin, listening to the signals your eczema is sending and are still suffering just as much as you were at first sign of symptoms, it’s time to make an appointment with a medical professional.
The best thing your doctor can do for you is prescribe a stronger cream or another form of treatment to combat eczema’s worst moods while you continue your regimen at home. They can also guide you in the right direction if you’ve “tried it all” and are unsure what to try next; be sure to be as specific as possible with your desires so they can prescribe a treatment plan accurately. Even without a cure, new treatment options and studies are being developed everyday.
Andddd one last, gentle reminder: if you are one of the three million people in the United States who are diagnosed with eczema every year, remember that you are never alone - don’t be afraid to speak up and seek guidance when you need it. Skin health isn’t just about how you look, it’s about how you feel from within. There are no guidelines to your own happiness, so take care yourself however you see fit!🙏🏽
Written by Adrianne Neal