National Eczema Week: The Best 15 Tips We've Ever Heard From Experts
This week marks National Eczema Week, focusing on an inflammatory skin condition that affects about one in 10 individuals in the U.S., according to the National Eczema Association. That's roughly 31.6 million individuals who have to deal with it in some form or another, be it small facial flare-ups or full-body patches. And if you are an individual who does deal with it, you likely know how challenging it can be: Not only do people have a wide variety of triggers, but not everyone takes to the same treatments. The confusion can make living with the condition challenging at times.
Here, we rounded up the best advice we've received from research, dermatologists, physicians, estheticians, and even more. If you are looking for tips to manage and tend to your condition, start here:
Finding your skin care routine will take some guesswork.
Eczema, especially that of the delicate face, is a game of guess-and-test. "You never know what your trigger is going to be, so you might have to experiment," says board-certified and holistic dermatologist Alan Dattner, M.D., who is also the author of Radiant Skin From the Inside Out: The Holistic Dermatologist's Guide to Healing Your Skin Naturally. "I usually recommend oils. Creams are obviously sensorially appealing, but you just want to make sure that you're not allergic to the preservatives in those. Again, most people aren't, but you need to know your own skin."
When you don't know where to begin product-wise, listen to the derms.
Listen: When you have eczema, there are a lot of topicals that are, um, off-limits. But there are several ingredients derms approve of to use—that also happen to be formulated into sensorially appealing commercial products.
For example, "Sunflower oil is rich in linoleic acid, which is anti-inflammatory for the skin. It helps repair the skin barrier and reduces transepidermal water loss," says Cybele Fishman, M.D., a holistic dermatologist. Or "Coconut oil is a great natural moisturizer for the skin, especially for patients with eczema. However, it can lead to acne breakouts, so be careful if you're acne-prone," says Jaimie Glick, M.D., board-certified dermatologist.
For more derm-approved selects, see our list here.
Tend to your skin microbiome.
The emerging research on the skin microbiome suggests that having a balanced skin flora is essential to limiting flare-ups. Two strains, in particular—Staphylococcus aureus and Staphylococcus epidermidis—are shown to be associated with the condition, although more research needs to be done.
See our selects on the best microbiome-boosting products. However, be sure to read the individual ingredient labels and spot-test, as noted above. As everyone has different triggers, you'll want to ensure there are no additional ingredients that are irritating to your skin; everyone is different.
Understand that flare-ups may just be unavoidable.
"I think most people think that if they work really hard at it—skin moisturization, diet change, allergen avoidance—they can control eczema and eliminate flare-ups," says double-board-certified dermatologist Latanya Benjamin, M.D. "Initially, I teach my families to expect occasional flare-ups, despite their best care. Even when the skin is under better control, eczema can still flare for many reasons, including catching a common cold, battling a skin infection, or becoming overheated during play."
Mind your makeup.
For those with easily irritated, red, and inflamed skin, makeup is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it covers up flare-ups. But on the other? It can be the reason for the irritation in the first place. That's why those with eczema, or just sensitive skin in general, need to be especially careful with their skin care and makeup choices. But don't worry: "Careful" doesn't need to mean boring. Just check out the eczema-friendly products here.
Your very chapped lips may be eczema.
"Lip eczema is characterized by dry, chapped, and peeling lips and, sometimes, painful breaks of the lips," explains board-certified dermatologist Charlotte Birnbaum, M.D. In other words, the same common symptoms of eczema—red patches, cracked skin, flaking, and general dryness—also hold true for the lip area. But how do you know you've crossed the line into this skin condition? If the skin on the lips becomes significantly cracked to the point of becoming painful, and if no amount of over-the-counter ointments (such as oils, butters, and waxes) seems to help, then you might be dealing with a case of eczema.
If this is you, stop licking your lips stat. Sometimes, "lip eczema can be caused or worsened by lip licking," Birnbaum says. "Patients with lip eczema try to moisten their lips by licking them, but it turns out this actually makes things worse, as saliva is very irritating."
If you wear polish, stop touching your eyes.
"The most common type of facial eczema is contact dermatitis—this is a form of eczema that comes from irritation from products, like perfumes or skin care topicals," says Dattner. "It's most often found around the eyes and eyelids."
And why does this happen around the sensitive eye area? Dattner says it may be caused by your polish. "It's like poison ivy; you don't have to rub it in; you just have to touch it," says Dattner. Even if you're on your best behavior, he says, it can happen during the most innocent of circumstances, like when you're sleeping. And from the initial contact, it becomes a vicious cycle. "So you touch your eye, it becomes irritated and starts itching, and you're likely tempted to go back and scratch it again," he says.
Strengthen your skin barrier.
Those with eczema have a compromised skin barrier (the two go hand-in-hand). A compromised skin barrier is one that no longer serves as a guard between your body and the outside world An overly permeable skin barrier is what holistic board-certified dermatologist Mamina Turegano, M.D., refers to as a "leaky" skin barrier—sort of like a leaky gut—and it can act as an underlying cause of inflammatory skin conditions like, yes, eczema.
Even if you don't have chronic eczema, strengthening your barrier is a good idea: "It protects us from mechanical injury, low humidity, cold, heat, sun, wind, chemical exposure, bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other pathogens," explains board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, M.D., stating that, "a healthy barrier is critical to normal skin function."
Check out our guide to strengthening your barrier here.
Take an apple cider vinegar bath.
OK, so back to that skin barrier. It needs an acidic (low) pH not only to protect against bacteria but to retain moisture too. However, scientists have found1 that people with eczema tend to have higher skin pH levels than those without. Plus, in folks who do have eczema, skin lesions usually have a higher pH than unaffected skin. Studies have shown that lowering the pH reduces the inflammatory TH2 response and speeds up barrier function recovery2, both of which are key drivers in eczema.
Theoretically, apple cider vinegar could help soothe eczema by lowering skin pH. And while scientists haven't specifically tested it out, the National Eczema Association says it has potential. An apple cider vinegar bath may be just what you need to naturally control eczema flare-ups.
Read more about using apple cider vinegar baths for various skin conditions.
Yes, you can get it in the weirdest of places—like your brows.
Eczema does not discriminate between areas. You can get patches on your lips, scalp, elbows, hands, trunk, and, yes, even brows.
"This falls under the umbrella that is seborrheic dermatitis (this is a form of eczema). Regarding the cause of seborrheic dermatitis, the exact cause is unknown but is associated with an irregular immune response and the presence of yeast3. It's found in sebum-rich areas of the skin, including the trunk, scalp, and face. Flakes can occur anywhere you have hair-bearing follicles," says board-certified dermatologist Keira Barr, M.D. "It's really not that uncommon to get it in your eyebrows."
Take a probiotic.
We know that probiotics are good for a number of reasons, thanks to their ability to support your gut microbiome. See, when your gut microbiome is healthy, you'll see less inflammation in the skin—and therefore fewer inflammatory skin conditions like acne and eczema. "This connection between the gut and the skin isn't just true for acne; it also applies to eczema. In children, L. rhamnosus4 has shown some efficacy in reducing signs and symptoms of eczema4, which is a very common inflammatory skin condition. One study suggested that L. rhamnosus5 HN001 might be especially beneficial in preventing eczema in children5. That said, a September 2018 systematic review suggested that Lactobacillus rhamnosus6 GG was not effective in reducing eczema6, and the authors of the study refuted the guidelines that suggest using probiotics to reduce the risk of eczema—unless specific strains are able to be indicated7," writes integrative gastroenterologist Marvin Singh, M.D.
Indulge in colloidal oatmeal.
It's a little different from regular oats, which have the ability to decrease inflammation8 in their own right. Oats contain different types of phenols that have their own antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, says board-certified dermatologist Zenovia Gabriel, M.D., FAAD.
But when you finely grind and boil oats, you can extract colloidal material; this gel-like substance has a rather high lipid content (30%, to be exact). "These are the same moisture-trapping molecules that are plentiful in prepubescent skin," says board-certified dermatologist Loretta Ciraldo, M.D., FAAD. In other words, colloidal oats aren't just regular oats—they have significant antioxidant properties that are unique to their makeup.
And these help soothe dry, itchy, inflamed skin—and do so by helping the skin retain moisture. "Moisturizing and protecting the barrier of the skin is paramount in dry skin conditions like eczema (atopic dermatitis) and psoriasis," says Gabriel.
Avoid stress as much as you can.
Stress does a number on your skin, from inducing breakouts to contributing to fine lines and dullness. For those with a genetic predisposition to eczema, periods of stress can cause flare-ups.
"Normally, cortisol levels oscillate in response to the circadian rhythm; however, stress can significantly disrupt the cycle," explains dermatologist Keira Barr, M.D. "During periods of increased stress, cortisol levels rise significantly, which can have a major impact on your immune system."
"Cortisol both decreases the barrier function of the skin and increases the sensitivity of nerve fibers in the skin," says natural skin care expert and founder of Osmia Organics Sarah Villafranco, M.D. "It also activates a local stress response system within the skin, causing mast cells to release histamine and cytokines, which translates to itching, redness, and swelling."
If you opt for an exfoliator, stick to lactic acid.
Often those with easily irritated skin steer clear of exfoliators, especially potent acids. Overall, a wise choice. However, if you are one who wants some gentle exfoliation (when skin is not flaring up, of course), you can safely opt for lactic acid. The alpha-hydroxy acid not only helps slough off excess dead skin cells, but it's hydrating as well.
See, lactic acid has one of the larger molecules in the group, which means it can't penetrate as deeply as others. This means all of the hard work of the acid happens on the surface of the skin, which decreases the amount of irritation and helps to protect the skin barrier.
"Lactic acid helps to dissolve the plug of skin cells that build up about the hair follicle, which will smooth out the dryness of eczema and psoriasis," says board-certified dermatologist Ellen Marmur, M.D.
Find a good hand cream.
Hands are particularly susceptible to eczema, as they are often exposed to the elements, as well as potentially irritating soaps when washing. Since we're all likely doing that a bit more lately, it's a good idea to invest in hand cream.
"It's essential to moisturize as often as possible to restore those lipids and encourage the regrowth of healthy bacteria," says board-certified dermatologist Whitney Bowe, M.D. "I carry a hand moisturizer with me at all times and apply it within moments of washing or sanitizing my hands throughout the day. If you wait too long, you miss that narrow window of opportunity to really trap and seal those nourishing ingredients in the skin before all the water evaporates off the surface, further compromising your skin."
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.