How to Care for Your Skin When You Have Eczema

Itching in a woman

BSIP / UIG / Getty Images

In This Article

Smart skin care is essential for those with eczema. The condition leads to what some call 'leaky skin,' meaning that the barrier function does not work as it should. Because of this, anything applied soaks into deeper skin layers, which can inadvertently trigger an immune response and flare. The skin is also more prone to losing both water and the natural oils that normally moisturize it, leading to greater cracks and flaking.

Without careful consideration, the skin care regimen you follow may not be caring for your eczematic skin at all. To avoid flare-ups and painful itching, work to design a skincare routine that ensures both proper moisturization and the avoidance of ingredients that can inflame or damage your delicate skin.

Soaps and Cleansers

Most soaps, especially detergent-type cleansing bars, strip the skin of moisture and dry it out, which can exacerbate eczema.

Choose gentle cleansers that contain emollients to replace lost moisture to feed, rather than strip, the skin. Look for products that are fragrance-free or labeled 'moisturizing' or 'for sensitive skin types.'

If your skin feels tight, dry, or itchy after using a particular product, it's not the right cleanser for you. Remember, squeaky clean is not what you're going for. Instead, the cleanser you choose should gently wash away dirt, oil, sweat, etc. and leave your skin feeling clean and healthy. Your pharmacist or dermatologist can recommend brands to try.

Washing Up

You would think that the simple act of putting water on the skin would be a good thing, but the opposite is true. Water evaporates after coming in contact with skin and takes away many of the natural oils (known as a natural moisturizing factor, or NMF) meant to protect it. The more you soak your skin, the drier and more damaged it becomes.

When you wash, keep the following in mind to protect your delicate skin:

  • Keep water tepid, as hot water strips more skin oils.
  • Favor showers over baths.
  • Keep your showers short (less than 10 minutes).
  • Use antibacterial gels for hand washing, as the alcohol base does not bind with NMF.
  • Pat the skin dry with a towel, rather than rubbing it vigorously.

Choosing an eczema-friendly soap or cleanser can help mitigate moisture loss related to washing, but know that it's OK to skip such products if they burn an active eczema flare. For infants, toddlers, and young children, you may choose to avoid cleansing products altogether and opt for plain water baths only. Older children, teens, and adults may also avoid all-over soap-ups and use it only on the hands, armpits, and groin area.

Moisturizing

Regular use of moisturizing products is a key component in treating eczema, as well as preventing flare-ups. Moisturizers should be applied, at the very least, twice daily. Ideally, you should apply them as often as necessary to keep the skin moisturized.

In particular, use a good moisturizer within three minutes of washing your hands or body (while the skin is still slightly damp). This prevents water loss from evaporation and seals in moisture.

When choosing a moisturizer, it is important that it not contain perfumes, fragrances, or essential oils that can irritate sensitive or inflamed skin. Moisturizing creams may also be more effective than lotions.

While they tend to be a bit heavy and sticky feeling, don't discount ointments such as Aquaphor and even plain Vaseline. These help seal in moisture and protect the skin.

All moisturizers have their pros and cons. Depending on the condition of your skin, you may want to consider the following:

  • Moisturizers for scaly eczema are a good choice if you have a lot of flaking but no breaks in the skin (they can sting if there are any wounds or openings).
  • Emollient moisturizers are a good option if you are in the middle of a flare-up. They are non-irritating and readily available in most drugstores.
  • Ceramide moisturizers are excellent options because they both soothe the skin and help it heal faster during a flare-up. However, they're generally quite costly.

Avoiding Irritating Cosmetics

Eczema-prone skin is especially vulnerable to irritation caused by cosmetic products (including soaps, lotions, perfumes, bath products, makeup, and aftershave). Cosmetics can trigger a flare even if you don't currently have an active rash.

All skin care products must be chosen with care. Again, opt for fragrance-free, hypoallergenic products designed for sensitive skin. These are less likely to cause a flare, although even that is no guarantee.

When trying a brand new product, test it in a small, inconspicuous area first (like the forearm). Monitor your skin for irritation.

Don't discount products you've used for a long time, either.

It is entirely possible to develop a sensitivity to cosmetics that you've previously used with no issues, even to products you've used for years.

Consider this possibility if you're having trouble getting a flareup under control.

Sun Protection

Whether you have eczema or not, sun protection is always an important skin care step. Besides the obvious sunburn, excessive sun exposure can cause premature aging of the skin and can lead to the development of skin cancer.

Sunscreens pose a special challenge for those with eczema, though, because they often can irritate eczema-prone skin and trigger a flare. To reduce the chance of skin irritation:

  • Choose a sunscreen product formulated for sensitive skin or for babies.
  • Look for sunscreens that use natural active ingredients such as zinc oxide.
  • Test any new sunscreen on a small area of skin to ensure it doesn't irritate your skin before using it over your entire body.

If you need help choosing an appropriate sunscreen product, ask your doctor for recommendations.

Also, be aware that heat, humidity, and sweat can be an eczema trigger for some people. Spending too much time out in the sun may initiate or worsen a flare.

A Word From Verywell

Proper skin care is a huge part of managing eczema. Because the skin barrier is compromised, it is incredibly sensitive to any skin care or cosmetic product that is used. Finding the right products for your skin, or your child's skin, can take some trial and error. Your physician can help guide you in creating an appropriate skin care routine for eczema.

Was this page helpful?

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.