Did you know that over 31 million Americans have some form of eczema in the Skin? Yep, you read that right. That means every one-in-ten people deal with eczema in the Skin daily ranging from mild to severe. If you are one of the 31 million Americans, know you are not alone. Both adults and children have to tackle the physical symptoms of itching, blistering, inflammation, and dryness. On top of physical symptoms adults and children may have to tackle emotional symptoms, such as embarrassment and shame arising from their skin condition. Regardless of what unique skin mood(s) you have, know that you are loved and celebrated.
Finding a skincare ritual that works for those with eczema proves to be a complicated task time and time again. Just when you think you’ve got the reigns; your eczema may take a complete 180-degree turn, leaving you frustrated and baffled. Coming from someone who has dealt with eczema since childhood, I get it. Finding what works for your unique eczema experience can be draining which is why we’re here to demystify what eczema really is and cover practices that can help soothe symptoms and flare ups. Let’s jump in.
What is Eczema?
The term eczema, pronounced (eg-zuh-muh), names a group of conditions that causes the skin to become itchy, inflamed, or have a rash-like appearance. Or the term is used to describe only one of the conditions in the group. This definition of eczema is one we all probably encounter during day-to-day conversation when someone says, “Oh I have eczema!” instead of saying “Oh I have atopic dermatitis!”. Neither definition or usage is wrong, it’s just important to know that the broad generalization of the term may lead people to think they know what it means when someone says they have eczema, when in reality eczema takes shape in several different forms and one person may have a totally different experience than someone else who has it, too.
Eczema can occur at any point in a person’s lifetime, proven by the development in both babies and adults. Severity of eczema fluctuates for every person and it develops on all different parts of the human body, including but not limited to hands, cheeks, elbow creases, and behind the knees. Some people may only have it in one place while another may have it in multiple. Not sure what to look for with eczema? The most common symptoms include itch, dry sensitive skin, inflamed patches, rough, leathery, or scaly patches, and areas of swelling.
The good news is that eczema is not contagious. The bad news is that even though we know environmental factors, genetics, and stress are triggers, the way eczema fundamentally develops is still unclear to doctors and scientists. There is also no known cure for the skin condition. Treatments include but are not limited to over-the-counter remedies, prescribed topical treatments, immunosuppressants, and at home remedies.
Types of Eczema
There are several types of eczema but the most common two are atopic dermatitis, chronic itchy and inflamed skin, and contact dermatitis, a red, itchy, and burning reaction upon contact with an irritant.
Other types include dyshidrotic eczema, hand eczema, nummular eczema, seborrheic dermatitis and stasis dermatitis. Check out the American Academy of Dermatology Association for more information about the various types of eczema.
10 Tips for Managing Flare Ups, Itch and Inflammation
Understanding eczema, it’s effects, and what kind you have is one piece of the puzzle – the next is figuring out what your skin needs in order to manage flare ups, itching, and inflammation. Here are 10 tips for managing flare ups, itch, and Inflammation.
- Pin Down Your Triggers
This task is easier said than done and may take time along with trial and error, but pinpointing triggers of eczema flare ups and minimizing exposure to these triggers can lead to a severe reduction in flare ups and alleviate symptoms. Common triggers are dry skin, stress, and irritants. The most common irritants and the easiest to test are soaps and household cleaners, fragrances and perfumes, certain fabrics like wool and polyester, and the thickening agent of shampoos and conditioners cocamidopropyl betaine. As a rule of thumb, people with eczema should avoid heavily fragranced and scented soaps, lotions, and detergent.
- Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
As previously mentioned, dry skin is a common trigger of eczema which is why it’s crucial to keep the skin hydrated. Drinking lots of water and using a fragrance-free ceramide moisturizer or an ointment or cream are ways to maintain skin hydration. The National Eczema Association recommends leaving the skin slightly damp when applying moisturizer because water softens the skin and enables it to better absorb any medication or moisturizer that will be applied.
- Shower Power
Believe it or not, showers can play a huge role in managing eczema flare-ups. It’s recommended by the National Eczema Association to take at least one 5-10-minute shower or bath daily using lukewarm, not hot, water. Hot water can lead to dry skin and exacerbate eczema flare-ups and symptoms. Many dermatologists find it beneficial to shower at night before bedtime. The skin is more likely to lock in moisture while keeping irritants out at this time. The product used while showering is important too. A gentle cleaner for sensitive skin with no added fragrances or dyes is recommended. The cleanser should also have a low PH, below 5.5
- Wet Wrap it Out
Wet wraps are extremely beneficial for retaining moisture and reducing itching during a flare-up. A wet wrap should be applied after bathing, moisturizing, and applying medication if applicable. Wrap a moist bandage around the affected area(s), followed by a dry wrap over the moist one(s). Then put-on clothing and keep the bandages safe and undisturbed. You can keep the wrap on overnight or for several hours.
- DIY Oatmeal Bath
Colloidal oatmeal baths have been shown to protect the skin and soothe itching and irritation from eczema. Colloidal oatmeal is just oatmeal grounded into a fine powder, so it doesn’t sink to the bottom of the tub. Check out this recipe and make sure you grind the oatmeal into a fine, consistent powder.
- Keep Nails Short
We’re all human and we will scratch if something is itchy. It’s advised to resist the urge to scratch itchy eczema but if you do, don’t beat yourself up, just try not to make a habit of it! Keeping nails short will help minimize damage done to the skin from scratching.
- Wash Everything that is New
When getting new clothes, towels, sheets and blankets it’s so important you wash them before use. The items may have an irritant on it you are unaware about and could potentially cause a flare-up. It’s better to be safe than sorry (and sanitary) by washing everything new before use.
- Shower Immediately after Swimming
Chlorine found in pools and hot tubs can be extremely irritating and drying to the skin. Showering immediately after exposure to the chemical and applying moisturizer can reduce the likelihood of an eczema flare-up.
- Avoid Sunburn
Sunburns inflame and dry out skin, which can lead to an eczema flare. Using sunscreen with SPF 20 or higher on the face and body, along with wearing hats and protective clothing can reduce risk of sunburn.
- Seek Medical Help
If you feel as though you have done everything you can to manage eczema by yourself, seek medical help from a dermatologist. They will be able to help you find the best course of treatment for your individual experience.
Even though there is no cure for eczema, new treatment options and studies are being developed every day. Remember that through this journey we are all human and we’re bound to mess up. If you accidently use something that irritates your skin or scratch an itch, it’s okay. All that matters is that we do our best every day. Cheers to eczema for making us unique, even if it is a pain in the butt to manage!