Tips, products, and hacks for soothing that itch you can’t scratch.
Eczema is a condition that causes the skin to become red, itchy, and inflamed. If you have it, you know how much it sucks — and while there's no cure, eczema is treatable.
No, it isn't contagious, in case you were wondering. Eczema is a sensitivity disease between the skin, immune system, and environment, says Dr. Dawn Davis, dermatologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. "There's an immune overstimulation which causes inflammation and breaks the skin's barriers down, so you get red, irritated, itchy skin," Davis says. Eczema can be an uncomfortable and painful condition — skin can crack and weep or become infected.
There are eight different types of eczema and it can range from mild to severe or affect various parts of the body. The most common type, atopic dermatitis, is more common in families with other allergic conditions, such as allergies and asthma. Some people have had eczema since they were babies; others don't develop it until later in life. The cause of eczema is unknown, but there are certain things that can cause it to flare-up or get worse. "Common triggers include very dry environments, hot and humid environments or sweating, irritants like chemicals or friction on the skin, and when the body is put under medical or psychological stress," says Davis.
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So we asked the BuzzFeed Community and Dr. Davis to tell us about their favorite ways to manage eczema, soothe dry and itchy skin, and make flare-ups a little less annoying.
First, you need to see a dermatologist to make sure you actually have eczema. You may also need an allergy test to find out if the eczema is a reaction to certain chemicals or ingredients. And you may need additional allergy tests in the future, Davis says, because you can become sensitized to ingredients (even compounds in your prescription creams) and develop a new allergy over time.
Many people with eczema will rely on prescription treatments or creams from their dermatologist (those aren't on this list) to reduce symptoms. However, making certain lifestyle changes is a big part of managing eczema, too — such as choosing eczema-friendly products and adopting certain bathing and skin care habits. That's why we spoke to both a dermatologist and also people who have eczema, because the latter can be a great resource for products and tips to use in your daily life.
Every person is different so what may help one person might not work for another, but we hope these tips are a good place to start. Treating eczema is a lot of trial and error, so always stop using something if it's bothering your skin. Always talk to your dermatologist before starting a new treatment regimen or if you have any questions about treating your eczema.
All the products included in this list have the National Eczema Association's seal of acceptance unless noted otherwise.
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When choosing products, use this mantra: the fewer ingredients, the better.
"The less ingredients, the better. And don't be fooled by the 'all natural' label, because there are there are plenty of irritants in nature, such as poison ivy," Davis says.
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Go for "fragrance-free" instead of "unscented," because unscented products may actually still contain fragrances.
"People often think unscented has less chemicals, but sometimes it just means they added a 'masking fragrance' in addition to all the other scents so you can wind up getting more chemicals — look for 'fragrance free' instead," Davis says.
"I've found that washing with fragrance-free soap, and moisturizing with fragrance free lotion and/or ointment does help in managing and preventing flare-ups. Aveeno works best for me. Avoid fragrances at all costs!"
If you find a moisturizer that works, use it consistently — or at least two times a day.
"When you find a moisturizer that works for you, USE IT CONSISTENTLY. I used to only moisturize sometimes, which didn't do much. Now I moisturize when I wake up in the morning and after taking a shower at night with a moisturizing cream specifically for eczema. My skin is so much softer now."
"We advise patients to moisturize at least two times a day, or more if needed," Davis says.
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When you need something more heavy duty than lotion, slather on products like Aquaphor healing ointment.
"Aquaphor healing ointment is my go to! I’ve suffered eczema since I was a baby. This product is super moisturizing and really helps."
"At this point I've given up on lotion. I coat up with Vaseline before bed and apply some to flares during the day. Keeps my skin moisturized, though I have to be careful with the Vaseline on flares on my face."
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Get a humidifier for your room to increase the amount of moisture in the air.
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Wear cotton gloves at night to keep your dry hands moisturized AND prevent scratching in your sleep.
Cotton gloves are gentle on the skin, Davis says, and if you wear them to sleep they can help dull the effect of scratching if you tend to do it in your sleep. If you slather your hands with lotion or emollient before you put the gloves on, they'll stay moisturized all night, too — killing two birds with one stone!
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Keep a bottle of lotion in the fridge for when you need instant, cooling relief for an extra itchy flare-up.
"Put a bottle of fragrance-free lotion in the refrigerator. When you get a scratch attack, put a dollop of cool lotion on the spot to help soothe the itch."
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Avoid super hot, long showers; keep the water warm instead.
"I've had dermatologist-diagnosed severe eczema all over my body my entire life. I'm 22. Never take hot showers or baths. Lukewarm water is best and try only to stay in for 5 minutes (sounds crazy, but it's possible)."
If keeping your water warm or lukewarm makes you take shorter showers, even better. "Excessive exposure to water can irritate your skin," Davis says.
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Apply your moisturizer right after bathing, when your skin is still damp.
"Put your lotion or prescription ointment on when you are still wet/damp from the shower! That'll help retain the moisture and works wonders!"
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Try cutting down or avoiding foods rich in histamines, which can stimulate your body's immune response.
When it comes to food, everyone is different and there isn't one "diet" for eczema. However, histamine-rich foods may be a problem for people with eczema because they can trigger an immune response. "Histamines are released in the body when you have an allergic reaction — so if you have eczema, foods rich in histamines may make you feel more itchy," Davis says. These foods include tomatoes, chocolate, alcohol, shellfish, fermented and pickled foods, aged cheeses, smoked meats, etc. But this doesn't necessarily mean you're allergic — you'd still need an allergy test to confirm any food allergies.
That being said, the link between eczema and food is still complicated and not well-understood. "If you're already allergic to a food and you ingest it, then yes this could make eczema worse because it puts your body under medical stress, which is a known trigger — but allergic reactions can also cause a skin reaction that isn't eczema," Davis says. The issue is similar with gluten. "If you're truly gluten intolerant, this can cause an itchy rash called dermatitis herpetiformis, but it's actually a completely separate skin disease, not eczema," Davis says. In any case, you'd need tests to confirm what's causing your rash.
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Keep a small tube of your favorite moisturizer with you at all times so you don't get stranded.
"Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize! Keep a tube of whatever works in your school or work bag! Do it in the morning! Do it in the night! Come up with a schedule! Bring your own products if you have to and don't use new skin products."
Put your moisturizer into travel-size tubes to bring on longer trips where you are staying in hotels or new places and it's a bit more difficult to keep up your routine.
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Try Vanicream moisturizing cream or other eczema-friendly products.
"Vanicream. They make a huge range of products (including a bar soap, face cleanser, lite lotion, etc). This stuff is a miracle, and it's available nearly everywhere (Walmart, Target, CVS, Walgreens, etc)."
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Wear gloves to do chores like washing dishes, which can irritate and dry out the skin.
"My hands flare up so badly, especially when the weather is dry, so latex gloves are my best friend. I use them any time I do chores to keep my hands away from water and soaps. If I know I'm going to have them on for a while, I'll coat my hands with petroleum jelly before I put them on for extra soothing and protection."
Just make sure you aren't allergic to latex.
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Cut your nails short so if you do scratch, it doesn't to as much damage to the skin.
"We'll tell many patients to keep their nails short if they have a problem with scratching or tend to do it in their sleep," Davis says.
"Keeping your nails short helps a ton, or even acrylic or gel nails will lessen the impact on skin. Loved getting fake nails in high school because if I scratched my skin, my nails would just glide over and not dig into my skin. Sounds weird, but it was a bit of relief."
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Make sure your shampoo, conditioner, and other hair products are eczema-friendly, too.
If you're allergic to any chemicals and fragrances, don't forget to check that your shampoo, conditioner, and other leave-in hair products don't contain it either.
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Opt for hypoallergenic makeup, and stop using it if it makes your eczema worse (even if it looks cute).
"If you develop any kind of sensitivity or rash from your cosmetics, you should go into your dermatologist for a patch test to find out which chemical is causing the reaction," Davis says. That way, you don't have to keep guessing which product is giving you a rash or toss out all your makeup — once you know exactly what you're allergic to, it will make buying makeup so much easier and cost-efficient.
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Take off your makeup using Albolene or coconut oil, which moisturize your skin at the same time.
"I use Albolene's moisturizing cleanser as a makeup remover (which is amazing), and I've found it really helps to keep moisture in. When applying, a little goes a long way, and I love the way it melts into my skin and that I can wipe as much or as little as I want, depending on my needs that day. This can be bought online or at Walgreens or Rite Aid."
"And always remove all your makeup before you go to bed — the less contact with products, the better," Davis says.
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Try First Aid Beauty ultra repair cream, which many people with eczema swear by.
"I've been suffering from eczema my entire life and finally, at 35 years old, I've found that First Aid Beauty's Ultra Repair Cream (and really, their entire line) has been the only non-prescription product that has worked. It is soothing, moisturizing (but not greasy), and the jar lasts a long time."
"It literally got rid of my eczema OVERNIGHT! I know that everything reacts differently on people so I would recommend getting a small tube off of Amazon before splurging for the $30 one."
This product doesn't have a seal from the National Eczema Association yet, but it was recommended by many contributors.
Try wet wraps at night to combat unbearably itchy, dry flare-ups.
"I do hand wraps. If my eczema is really flared up, I soak my hands in clean, warm water. I put a very heavy cream or ointment and sometimes my prescription steroid cream. After which I wrap a layer of wet wrappings (clean and cotton) and then a final layer of dry cloth. That’s before bed. It’s really helped my skin heal when it’s falling apart. My eczema wrappings were part of the recommendations from my doctor."
"You can also try dipping the cotton wrap in a diluted white vinegar solution, which really helps for some people with eczema," Davis says.
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Bleach baths can help reduce the risk of skin infections — but only do them under the guidance of a doctor.
"When I get bad flares, I take a bleach bath. The bleach kills that staph that lives on the skin. Studies have found eczema sufferers carry more staph than normal. You only need about 1/4 to 1/2 cup depending on your tub size. Makes a huge difference."
"For some patients with eczema, if you add a small amount of bleach to bath it helps change pH of the water to kill the bacteria that grow on the skin, which can cause a secondary infection where the skin is broken and open from eczema. Usually bleach baths one to two times a week will help keep flora levels down to reasonable levels — but this should only be done under the guidance of a healthcare provider," Davis says.
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Keep your stress down with meditation techniques, breathing exercises, and yoga.
Yes, stressing out can make your eczema worse because it can trigger the nervous system and cause the release of cortisol which in turn can cause inflammation, Davis says.
"I try to manage my stress by exercising, yoga, meditation, stuff like that."
"My eczema is usually triggered by stress, and I have an anxiety disorder so I have to manage that to manage my eczema, too."
Drink more water.
"I know everyone says that but damn it is true. Considering eczema is related to dry itchy skin, keeping hydrated from the inside out is the best favor you can do yourself."
Bring a big reusable water bottle around with you if it helps remind you to drink water all day.
Remember, you are not alone.
According to the National Eczema Association, over 30 million Americans have some form of eczema.
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