Effective skincare is essential for individuals with eczema, a condition often associated with what some refer to as 'leaky skin.' This means that the skin's natural barrier function is compromised, leading to the penetration of substances into deeper skin layers, potentially triggering an immune response and flare-ups. Moreover, eczema-prone skin is more susceptible to losing essential moisture and natural oils, which can result in increased dryness and flaking.
To prevent flare-ups and alleviate itching, it's crucial to establish a skincare routine that prioritizes proper moisturization while avoiding ingredients that may inflame or harm your delicate skin.
Many conventional soaps, particularly detergent-based cleansing bars, tend to strip the skin of moisture, exacerbating eczema symptoms.
Opt for mild cleansers enriched with emollients that replenish lost moisture and nurture your skin rather than deplete it. Look for products labeled as fragrance-free, moisturizing, or suitable for sensitive skin.
If a product leaves your skin feeling tight, dry, or itchy, it may not be the right fit for you. Remember, the goal is not to achieve squeaky-clean skin but to cleanse gently, removing impurities while leaving your skin feeling refreshed and healthy. Your pharmacist or dermatologist can recommend suitable brands for you to explore.
Although it might seem counterintuitive, the simple act of applying water to your skin can have adverse effects. Water can evaporate after contact with your skin, leading to the removal of natural oils (known as the natural moisturizing factor, or NMF) intended to protect your skin. The more your skin is exposed to moisture, the drier and more damaged it becomes.
To protect your sensitive skin while washing:
- Use lukewarm water, as hot water can strip away more skin oils.
- Prefer showers over baths.
- Keep your showers brief (less than 10 minutes).
- Choose antibacterial gels for hand washing, as they don't interfere with NMF.
- Gently pat your skin dry with a towel instead of vigorously rubbing it.
Opting for eczema-friendly soaps or cleansers can help mitigate moisture loss during washing. However, if such products cause discomfort during an active eczema flare, it's okay to skip them. For infants, toddlers, and young children, you might consider using plain water baths only. Older children, teens, and adults can limit the use of soap to specific areas like the hands, armpits, and groin.
The Power of Moisturization
Regularly using moisturizing products is a cornerstone of managing eczema and preventing flare-ups. Moisturizers should be applied at least twice daily, but ideally, you should use them as often as needed to maintain your skin's moisture.
In particular, applying a good moisturizer within three minutes of washing your hands or body, while your skin is slightly damp, helps prevent moisture loss due to evaporation and locks in hydration.
When selecting a moisturizer, it's essential to choose one that does not contain perfumes, fragrances, or essential oils that could irritate sensitive or inflamed skin. Moisturizing creams are often more effective than lotions. Additionally, don't overlook the value of ointments like Aquaphor or plain Vaseline; they can effectively seal in moisture and safeguard your skin.
Different moisturizers serve different purposes:
- For scaly eczema, opt for moisturizers that address flakiness without irritating any open wounds.
- Emollient moisturizers are a wise choice during flare-ups as they are gentle and readily available in most drugstores.
- Ceramide moisturizers excel at soothing the skin and potentially expediting healing during flare-ups, although they can be more expensive.
Avoiding Irritating Cosmetics
Eczema-prone skin is particularly susceptible to irritation caused by cosmetic products, including soaps, lotions, perfumes, bath products, makeup, and aftershave. Cosmetics can trigger a flare-up, even in the absence of an active rash.
Select skincare products with care, prioritizing fragrance-free and hypoallergenic options designed for sensitive skin. However, even these products may not guarantee complete avoidance of flare-ups.
When trying a new product, conduct a patch test on a small, inconspicuous area (e.g., the forearm) and monitor your skin for any signs of irritation. Don't dismiss products you've used for an extended period; sensitivities can develop over time, even to products that were once well-tolerated.
If you're struggling to control a flare-up, consider the possibility of a cosmetic sensitivity.
Regardless of whether you have eczema, protecting your skin from the sun is always essential. Prolonged sun exposure can lead to premature skin aging and increase the risk of skin cancer, in addition to the obvious sunburn.
For those with eczema, sunscreen presents a unique challenge as it can sometimes irritate sensitive skin and trigger flare-ups. To minimize the risk of skin irritation:
- Choose sunscreen products designed for sensitive skin or infants.
- Look for sunscreens that utilize natural active ingredients like zinc