How Eczema Is Treated

Woman using eczema cream
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There is no cure for eczema, but there are treatments that can help manage it. Mild eczema can often be controlled with over-the-counter therapies like emollient products and hydrocortisone creams. Moderate to severe cases need prescription medications. Regardless, good self-care is important as it helps heal existing eczema rashes and prevent eczema flareups.

Home Remedies and Lifestyle

Paying careful attention to your skincare routine and being mindful of what comes in contact with your skin goes a long way in treating eczema. In some cases, good self-care can almost eliminate eczema flareups.

Eliminate Triggers

Triggers are anything that causes itching or irritation of the skin. Avoiding them should be the first priority if you have atopic dermatitis.

Some big culprits that are within your control:

  • Clothing: Avoid wool, nylon, and stiff or otherwise irritating clothing that may irritate your skin and promote sweating. Instead, wear cotton or other soft, breathable fabrics.
  • Laundry detergents: Wash your clothing in a mild detergent such as Dreft or Ivory Snow and/or or use a double-rinse cycle. Use caution with fabric softeners, which may irritate your skin.
  • Keep nails trimmed short: Avoid traumatizing your skin by keeping your fingernails short and your hands clean to avoid scratches that can trigger flares.

Maintain Good Skincare

Good skincare starts with adequate moisturizing and hydration, which decreases itching and formation of eczema. Pay careful attention to everything that you put on your skin. Fragrance-free, hypoallergenic products are generally better for people prone to eczema because they're less likely to cause irritation.

Keep Your Skin Moisturized

Hydration of your skin is maintained by the regular application of skin moisturizing creams. Apply moisturizing creams at least twice daily, but as often as necessary to keep skin moisturized.

If you need help choosing a product, your doctor can suggest some brands to try.

Soaps and Cleansers

Many soaps, cleansers, and body washes on the market are too harsh for eczema-prone skin. Look for fragrance-free, lipid-free products because these are less likely to dry or irritate your skin. If your skin feels exceptionally tight and dry after use, it's probably not the right product for you.

For babies, toddlers, and children, you can skip cleansing products altogether and just use plain water. Teens and adults may need to use cleansers in choice areas only (like the armpits and groin area) and use plain water everywhere else.

If even gentle cleansers burn, sting, or dry out an active eczema rash, you can avoid using them in that area altogether.

Watch for Other Irritating Cosmetics

Anything cosmetic products need to be carefully chosen when you have eczema. Even if you don't currently have an eczema rash, an irritating cosmetic product can trigger a flareup.

Makeup can trigger a flareup for some people. And if you're prone to eczema around the eyes or on the eyelids (a very common place for eczema breakouts for adults) pay careful attention to your eye makeup or eye cream.

Perfumes and colognes can also be irritating to the skin.

When using a new cosmetic product, you may want to test it in a small area a watch for irritation. Surprisingly, though, it's not unheard of to develop a sensitivity to products you've used for years. Consider that possibility if you're having trouble getting a flareup under control.

Bathe Correctly

Bathing can be helpful if you do it the right way and harmful if you don't. Avoid extremely hot or cold water showers or baths. Try to bathe daily, and soak in the water until your fingertips start to wrinkle.

Blot your skin dry with a towel (rather than rubbing), and apply a moisturizing cream from head to toe. Focus on problem areas and apply moisturizers liberally there.

The key is to apply moisturizers within three minutes of getting out of the bath or shower, while your skin is still moist.

If your skin is allowed to air-dry before the moisturizer is applied, your eczema could get worse. Always apply moisturizers immediately after bathing, as well as every hand washing.

Watch Humidity

Keep your house at the right humidity. In the summer months, using an air conditioner prevents sweating and removes excessive humidity. In the winter months, use a humidifier to prevent your skin from getting dried out.

Protect Your Skin From the Sun

Avoid getting sunburned, and use sunscreens. There are many sunscreen products on the market today that are formulated for sensitive skin. These are a good place to start. Still, test a new sunscreen on a small area for a few days to ensure it won't irritate your skin. If you need help choosing a sunscreen, ask your doctor for recommendations.

Be aware that many of the prescription medications, such as topical steroids, may make your skin more sensitive to the sunlight and therefore worsen your eczema.

Get Tested for Allergies

If you have significant atopic dermatitis, you should be evaluated for allergy testing to common aeroallergens and common food allergies.

Avoiding allergens such as animal dander, dust mites, and cockroaches can improve your atopic dermatitis. Eliminating foods to which you are allergic will also improve your eczema.

Over-the-Counter Therapies

Many cases of eczema can be successfully controlled with over-the-counter (OTC) treatments.

Emollients

As mentioned before, keeping the skin hydrated is key in treating and controlling eczema. Emollients are products that contain ingredients that soothe and soften the skin.

These include creams and ointments like Keri, Lubriderm, Nivea, Nutraderm, and Eucerin. Less expensive moisturizers include generic forms of Johnson and Johnson’s Baby Lotion, which is actually more of a cream.

Lotions aren't always the best choice. They contain too much water, which results in drying out your skin. The difference between a lotion and a cream is that cream has a slightly greasy feel to it even after it has been applied to your skin.

When choosing a moisturizing product, look for ingredients such as ceramides and urea. These have been shown to improve hydration and help heal active eczema rash. 

Vegetable shortening such as Crisco, or plain coconut oil, can also be used as inexpensive emollients because they form a thick barrier on the skin. They're a good choice for babies or toddlers hands and face; little ones are always putting their hands in their mouths and these oils won't harm them.

Always get your pediatrician's OK before putting any home remedy on your child's eczema.

Pure petroleum jelly can also be used, although it doesn't work as well unless placed on top of a moisturizer or moist skin. It will work best as an occlusive agent, to help seal in existing moisture.

Over-the-Counter Hydrocortisone

If eczema isn't improving with moisturizing creams, over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream can help. Hydrocortisone helps relieve itching and inflammation.

OTC hydrocortisone is sold at the drugstore in strengths of 0.5% to 1%. After cleansing, apply a thin layer of the medication to the rash and gently rub it in. Low-strength hydrocortisone can be used on the face, but keep it well away from the eyes.

Before using OTC hydrocortisone on babies or toddlers, get advice from your child's pediatrician.

OTC hydrocortisone shouldn't be used continuously for more than four weeks. Instead, use it just when you're having a flareup.

If you find you have to apply hydrocortisone constantly to get relief, or if you're using it regularly with no improvement, it's time to talk to your doctor. You may need a stronger steroid or a different treatment altogether.

Antihistamines

Your itching may be at least partially controlled with the use of antihistamines.

During the day, opt for non-drowsy options such as:

  • Zyrtec (cetirizine)
  • Allegra (fexofenadine)
  • Claritin (loratadine)

Sedating antihistamines such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine) or Atarax (hydroxyzine) can be used at night.

Diluted Bleach Baths

If your atopic dermatitis is severe, your doctor might recommend that you take a bath in diluted bleach twice a week to help control your symptoms, particularly if you keep getting skin infections.

For safety, it's important that the bleach bath be carefully drawn so as to use a small amount in a tubful of bathwater. (The end result is water that's similar to chlorinated pool water.)

Don't use diluted bleach baths to treat your or your child's eczema unless recommended to do so by a doctor. Always follow your doctor's recommendations for dilution and bathing time.

Prescriptions

If your eczema has worsened and the above remedies don't provide relief, medications are likely needed. Topical medications are used for all but the worst eczema flares and include topical steroids and a new class of medications called topical calcineurin inhibitors.

Topical Steroids

Topical steroids are the first-line therapy for atopic dermatitis and are available in lotions, creams, ointments, and solutions (for the scalp). In general, medications in ointment forms are stronger than cream forms, which are stronger than lotion forms.

Topical steroids should be used in the lowest strength possible for the shortest time possible, as side effects such as thinning of your skin, pigment changes in your skin, and absorption into your body are possible.

Topical Calcineurin Inhibitors

Elidel (pimecrolimus) and Protopic (tacrolimus) are approved for short-term use in children older than 2 years of age for atopic dermatitis. These drugs do not cause thinning of the skin or pigment changes and can be used safely on the face.

These medicines can help reduce the number of topical steroids needed when used for mild symptoms.

Oral Steroids

Rarely, short courses of oral steroids are required to achieve control of a severe flare of atopic dermatitis. Extreme caution should be used, however: While eczema typically gets better on the oral steroids, a “rebound effect” can occur when the drugs are stopped, leading to a worsening of your symptoms.

If oral steroids are required, the dose should be tapered slowly to minimize this risk.

Oral and Topical Antibiotics

In some cases, worsening atopic dermatitis can be a result of a skin infection or colonization with a common bacterium, Staphylococcus aureus, and a course of antibiotics against this type of bacteria is required. It's usually safe to continue the use of topical steroids even if the eczema is infected.

Topical antibiotics are typically enough for localized infections of eczema, while oral antibiotics may be needed for infections involving larger areas of skin.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

Although natural remedies don't have as much scientific backing as conventional treatments do, there are certain therapies that hold some promise. Consider these as add-ons to your current eczema treatment.

Coconut Oil

As mentioned before, coconut oil is sometimes suggested as a moisturizer for eczema for a variety of different reasons.

Obviously, because of its consistency, it acts as an occlusive agent to seal in moisture. Studies have also shown coconut oil to have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.

A study published in 2014 in the International Journal of Dermatology found that children with eczema had improved skin hydration after applying virgin coconut oil to the skin for eight weeks.

While this doesn't mean coconut oil cures eczema (remember, there still is no cure) it suggests that coconut oil may be a good moisturizer for treating eczema.

Other oils, like sunflower and shea butter, also may have moisturizing qualities. Olive oil, on the other hand, may actually cause the skin to dry out.

Probiotics

Probiotics are found naturally in certain fermented foods, like yogurt and kefir. They're also found in the digestive system.

Studies on probiotics and the effect they have on eczema have yielded mixed results. Some have found that taking probiotics can help reduce eczema symptoms. Others, though, show that probiotics caused no improvement.

Whether or not probiotics will help improve your eczema symptoms is unclear, but they may have additional health benefits beyond clearing eczema. If you're interested in supplementing with probiotics, ask your doctor for guidance.

As always, seek advice from your healthcare professional before trying any alternative treatment for eczema.

A Word From Verywell

Although eczema can't be cured, it can be successfully controlled with the right treatment. Careful skincare with a consistent moisturizing routine is a big part of treatment. Medications, both OTC and prescription, can be used to help treat eczema flares. Your doctor can help guide you in developing an appropriate skincare regimen and treatment routine.

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Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Koppes SA, Charles F, Lammers L, et al. Efficacy of a Cream Containing Ceramides and Magnesium in the Treatment of Mild to Moderate Atopic Dermatitis: A Randomized, Double-blind, Emollient- and Hydrocortisone-controlled TrialActa Derm Venereol. 2016 Nov 2;96(7):948-953. doi:10.2340/00015555-2395


  3. Varma SR, Sivaprakasam TO, Arumugam I, et al. In vitro anti-inflammatory and skin protective properties of Virgin coconut oil. J Tradit Complement Med. 2018 Jan 17;9(1):5-14. doi:10.1016/j.jtcme.2017.06.012


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