For those who are struggling with eczema, enduring periods of itchy, dry, and inflamed skin across the body — and even the face and scalp — is a regular occurrence. But the worst part about dealing with eczema for most is the fact that these itchy rashes come and go as they please; you’ll rarely know when a new flareup is on its way, which can make treating common side effects all the more complicated. And if you’re one of the 32 million Americans affected by eczema that is searching for relief, you probably already know that dermatologists don’t have a permanent cure for the condition, as experts are still baffled by what exactly causes these temporary breakouts.
“Eczema is a condition where the skin barrier isn’t working as well as it should be; when the skin’s outermost layer develops microscopic cracks, the skin loses hydration and it becomes inflamed,” says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, the director of cosmetic and clinical research at the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. “Since skin barrier function is determined by your genes, some people are more susceptible to dryness and eczema overall.”
You’ll need to be ready to battle a “significant itch” at a moment’s notice, Zeichner says, but soaps and lotions can strip the skin of essential oils and throw off our skin’s acidity due to their alkaline markup. Professionals can prescribe topical steroids if the issue becomes unbearable on a daily basis, but if you (or your child!) need immediate relief and can’t make it to a professional, there are many over-the-counter products that can soothe your skin. Here, a panel of skin experts share the products they recommend to treat eczema flare-ups and why it’s their best pick.
Before we get started, there are a few things you can do to prevent a flare-up from happening.
While dermatologists don’t know the singular cause of eczema, but they’re clued into a few known activators and irritants that could put you at risk. The environment and air around you can obviously impact your skin: Cold, dry weather in the winter (as well as harsh winds) can “disrupt” your skin’s outermost layer, Zeichner says.
But the answer isn’t to turn up the thermostat or spend extra time in a hot shower, either. “For very mild cases of eczema, lifestyle modifications can sometimes be enough — short lukewarm showers with unscented soap and moisturizing twice a day, particularly after the shower, when the skin is damp,” says Cindy Wassef, MD, an assistant professor at the Rutgers University Center for Dermatology.
Believe it or not, your outfit may also have something to do with your skin’s irritation. Dendy Engelman, MD, a dermatologist at Manhattan Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery, says that certain fabrics may cause sporadic rashes, especially in the winter season. “Wear loose fitting clothes made of cotton, if possible, which will help your skin avoid irritation,” she says. “Don’t overdress as heat and excessive sweat can often trigger an eczema flare.”
You might be able to tell a serious case of eczema apart from occasional itchy skin by where the rash pops up. Shari Sperling, DO, a New Jersey-based dermatologist who practices at St. Barnabas Medical Center, says that there are two common areas on the body that are most often affected. “Eczema shows up more in patches, more commonly behind the knees and inside of elbows as well as on cheeks for babies,” she shares. “These patches are severely uncomfortable, dry, red, inflamed, and itchy.” In any case, all three experts agree that if you attempt to treat your eczema for more than two weeks with no improvement, it’s time to head to a dermatologist for clinical treatment.
And don’t forget these tips when you’re picking out the best lotion for eczema:
You’ll want to avoid creams that include irritants, such as perfumes and glycolic acids. Instead, find natural-based topical solutions that are supercharged with essential skin agents, such as ceramides. Wassef explains that our body naturally produces these fatty lipid molecules that help moisturize the skin. Some products pack extra ceramides into their formula to help your skin make up for any natural deficiencies — plus, there are a few more formula essentials to keep an eye out for.