This article originally appeared in the 01 July 2020 edition of *Shape*
Written by Brittany Loggins
One in ten people will develop eczema at some point in their lifetime, so it’s ~a lot~ more common than you think.
If you’ve recently developed skin irritation in the form of redness or itchiness, you may be experiencing a frustrating (but common) condition called eczema, which can lead to super dry skin—and even blisters and sores in severe cases, or if left untreated. Dermatologists explain what causes eczema, why some people are more prone to getting it than others, and how to treat and control it.
What Does Eczema Look Like?
Clinically, it can look like inflamed red skin, dark-colored patches, scaly, rough or leathery skin or oozing crusting skin, says Marie Hayag, M.D., a New York-based dermatologist and founder of Fifth Avenue Aesthetics. “There are different types of eczema, but the most common type is atopic dermatitis or ‘classic’ eczema that usually presents with pink, itchy, dry, or inflamed skin,” she says.
How Is Eczema Diagnosed?
If you’re experiencing dry, itchy, or red skin and if you’re not sure if it’s eczema, know that there are areas of the body that are more prone to eczema over others. This skin condition usually crops up on faces, necks, and the insides of elbows, knees, and ankles, notes Dr. Hayag. “It is classically itchy and can be mild to severe.”
Who Is More Susceptible to Eczema?
If you or a loved one have recently been diagnosed with eczema, try not to worry, because it’s a fairly common skin condition. “One in ten people will develop eczema at some point in their lifetime,” says Dr. Hayag. What’s more, youngsters are more prone to getting eczema than adults, as it occurs in 25 percent of children and in up to 3 percent of adults, she points out.
Those who have a family history of allergies are also more susceptible to eczema, especially those who exhibit the “atopic triad” (aka allergies, eczema, asthma, which tend to appear together). “People with both eczema and allergies have a change to a gene called filaggrin, which is a protein in our skin barrier that keeps the skin moist,” explains Dr. Hayag. “People who don’t make enough of this filaggrin lose more water from their skin, which causes the dryness and itchiness of eczema. The lack of filaggrin also makes the skin let in more allergens, bacteria and viruses,” she adds.
How to Treat Eczema
If you suffer from eczema, opt for skin-care products with occlusives, humectants, and emollients, which can all help treat eczema.
- Occulisves: “Occlusives are a type of moisturizing agent that forms a protective coating on the surface on the skin,” says Dr. Hayag. Occlusive ingredients to look out for are petrolatum and silicone derivatives such as dimethicone, she says.
- Humectants: “Humectants are hygroscopic (or water-attracting) moisturizers that actively pull and absorb water and hydrate the outer layer of the skin,” says Dr. Hayag. Humectants, such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid, can be found in many of the skin-care products already in your arsenal.
- Emollients: Emollients are agents that help to prevent water loss, and also soften and soothe skin. Dr. Alexiades is a fan of emollient-rich ingredients, including glycerin, shea butter, cocoa butter, sunflower extracts, ceramides, and squalane.
Looking something to treat dryness, redness, or irritation on your face? Two other products that get her stamp of approval: Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Moisturizer (Buy It, $54.83, amazon.sg)—a face moisturizer that drastically improves hydration and leaves skin super soft—and Eau Thermale Avène Soothing Eye Contour Cream (Buy It, $33.60, watsons.com.sg), which features thermal spring water, antioxidants, and vitamin E to moisturize, soothe, and relieve irritation, redness, and puffiness.
When selecting skin-care products, choose moisturizers that have high oil content over water content, since this will draw more water into the skin and reduce water loss. An ointment is a far better option over a lotion, says Dr. Hayag. This is because ointments have the highest oil content of all, so they don’t generally burn when they’re applied to sensitive skin and are very good at sealing in moisture, she explained. “Creams are second to ointments in the amount of oil they contain and are also very good at sealing in moisture,” says Dr. Hayag. And since they contain less oil, they are also less greasy to the touch, if you hate the feel of sticky skin.
As for what to avoid, those with eczema should stay away from abrasive chemical exfoliators—such as alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) or beta hydroxy acids (BHAs)—and physical exfoliators, including scrubs and products with beads and textures, which could further irritate sensitive skin. Choose products made without sulfates, a chemical cleaning agent found in soaps, laundry detergents, shampoos, toothpastes, and more. Sulfates can strip skin of its natural oils and cause it to become even more dry, itchy and irritated, heightening eczema symptoms. And while you might love sweet-smelling beauty products, fragrance is not your friend. Fragrance can be harsh and irritating on eczema-prone skin, so be sure to opt for products with labels touting that they’re “fragrance-free” or safe for sensitive skin.
Is Eczema Curable?
Eczema can be a frustrating skin condition, and, unfortunately, there’s currently no cure. For many, eczema is a chronic condition that never fully goes away—most people with eczema learn to avoid triggers in order to keep their flare-ups at bay. And those that get eczema as children may experience improvements and milder symptoms as they get older.
The good news is that eczema can be controlled and treated using oral and topical medications, with proper skin care, avoiding triggers, and enlisting coping mechanisms (like exercising, which has been shown to decrease stress, which in turn can be helpful in managing eczema), notes Dr. Hayag. “The goals of treatment are to keep the skin moist, reduce inflammation and the risk of infection, and minimize the itch associated with the rash,” she adds.
If you have dry, red, or itchy skin and suspect eczema to be the culprit, a word to the wise: Dr. Hayag suggests making an appointment with your doctor so he or she can diagnose the condition, recommend next steps in treating your issue, and help you prevent future flare-ups.