Overcoming the Eczema Stigma

Eczema is a chronic skin condition that affects around 7.5% of Americans. Though most cases of eczema are considered mild, people with moderate or severe cases often experience a low quality of life due to symptoms like redness, swelling, and itching; poor self-esteem; and the stigma that comes with the illness.

This article discusses the adverse effects of eczema-related stigma, the sources of stigma, and ways to overcome eczema stigma's mental health impact.

Young woman itching her forearm, looking unhappy and distressed.

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Negative Effects of Eczema Stigma

Experiencing eczema-related stigma can impact a person socially, psychologically, financially, behaviorally, and even sexually. In severe cases, eczema can cause visible redness, inflammation, and lesions on the skin. This can lead to self-withdrawal and isolation as well as to others withdrawing. The effects of this isolation can include the following:

  • Loss of friendships and relationships
  • Low self-esteem and low confidence
  • Difficulty finding a job
  • A lack of physical closeness and touch
  • Feeling tired due to difficulty sleeping

Stigma in Children With Eczema

Research shows that children and adolescents with eczema experience a significant impact on their quality of life and mental health. They are more likely to undergo bullying, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts than children without eczema.

Sources of Eczema Stigma

Eczema-related stigma can come from strangers, peers, and family, or it may even be self-imposed.

Strangers, Peers, or Family

People with eczema often face judgment and may be on the receiving end of bullying, unkind words, and unwanted staring or gawking. Stigma can also be expressed less obviously through avoidance and separation from people with eczema.

Those who experience stigma from friends and family might attempt to prevent unwanted negative attention by covering their skin with clothing or avoiding others, creating further isolation and loneliness.

When people do not fully understand how bad another person's eczema can be, it can also cause harm. Dismissing a severe case as mild can make people feel overlooked and misunderstood.

Systemic

In a society in which beauty is assigned to those with clear, smooth skin, people with eczema are likely to feel different, unsupported, and isolated. Research shows that systemic stigmatization, which is stigma embedded in a culture, is likely linked to a lack of education and understanding about eczema and a fear that others can catch it through skin-to-skin contact.

Internal

Internal, or self-stigma, can cause people to self-isolate due to their own belief that they are not wanted or are unattractive due to their eczema symptoms. This can affect relationships and cause loneliness, depression, and anxiety.

Alternatively, if someone believes that they are more beautiful and desired when people cannot see their eczema, they might choose to cover their skin in social situations. Doing so may make them feel more accepted and, thus, happier and more social. This reinforces the belief that people are only desirable if their eczema is not showing, creating a false yet self-fulfilling prophecy.

Stigma vs. Self-Stigma

Though many people experience external stigma initiated by others' judgment, cultural expectations, and societal pressures around beauty, some people experience self-stigma. Self-stigma occurs when a person's appearance is not in line with their own expectation of how a person should look. This can create internally derived stress and lead to mental health problems.

Racial Stigma About Eczema

Racial stigma related to eczema also exists and is associated with systemic stigma. For example, advertisements for treatments are disproportionately directed toward White people. This has led to more White people and fewer Black people seeking treatment.

Also, research has shown that representation in advertisements for eczema treatments leads to better relationships with healthcare providers and less stigma for those traditionally underrepresented populations. This underscores the importance of people who experience racial stigma related to eczema to seek out peer and other types of support.

Overcoming Stigma Around Skin Health

Over time, people will likely develop ways to cope with eczema and its stigma. The more time a person lives with the condition, the better they may become at handling the stress that comes with it. Still, some people may not develop healthy coping styles without help. Seeking support is one way to work through the effects of eczema-related stigma.

Who Experiences the Worst Stigma?

Research shows that young people and those newly diagnosed with eczema are likely to experience the worst effects of stigma. This is because as people learn to live with the condition, they develop coping mechanisms to handle symptoms and the stigma that comes along with their conditon.

Individual Support

Speaking to a mental health provider can help with processing the emotions and reactions necessary to cope with eczema symptoms and stigma. Professional counseling can also provide one-on-one support, stress-management tools, and a treatment plan for any psychological symptoms related to anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions.

Support Groups

Seeking advice from others who have eczema can also be a helpful way to bring about connection and feelings of normalcy or acceptance. Support groups can provide validation and reduce embarrassment and harm from stigma.

Connecting with others allows for shared experiences, resource information, and a safe space to ask and answer questions. Medical and mental health professionals are often a good place to start when seeking out local support groups.

Medical Support

Seeking treatment from a knowledgeable healthcare provider can help you manage symptoms and develop a treatment plan. However, not all medical professionals have extensive experience helping patients through eczema-related stigma. Provider searches, such as the one provided by the National Eczema Association, can help you find support.

Spreading Awareness

Part of overcoming stigma involves educating others about the condition. Finding peers and organizations that help do this can provide information about eczema, what it is, how it develops, and educate that it's not contagious.

Educating yourself and others about eczema, what it means, and that it cannot be passed from person to person allows for normalization and acceptance.

Summary

Though eczema is relatively common, it still carries a stigma based mainly on a lack of education and awareness about the condition on the part of other people. Eczema-related stigma can affect relationships, cause difficulties in finding a job, and bring about loneliness, low self-esteem, and stress.

The stigma around eczema can come from various sources, including family members, friends, peers, societal norms, and even yourself. In addition, racial stigma around eczema exists, causing further challenges for those in minority racial groups.

Overcoming stigma can be challenging, but working through its effects with a mental health professional, in support groups, or by educating others can help.

A Word From Verywell

If you are living with eczema and are experiencing adverse outcomes from the stigma surrounding it, try connecting with others who understand by joining a support group. Being around people with similar experiences can provide you with support, connection, new ideas, and a safe place to share your concerns.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is there a psychosomatic aspect to eczema?

    Though eczema is not caused by stress or mental health conditions, these conditions can exacerbate eczema symptoms. Eczema flare-ups have a cyclical relationship with stress, lack of sleep, anxiety, and depression, in which symptoms cause stress and mental health problems, and mental illness worsens eczema symptoms.

  • In what ways does eczema stigma impact someone socially?

    Eczema can negatively impact relationships, causing isolation and loneliness. A negative social response toward those with eczema often results from not understanding the illness, thinking it's contagious, and perpetuating societal norms around beauty.

  • Are emotions the sole cause of eczema?

    The exact cause of eczema is unknown; emotions and numerous other factors can contribute to its cause and symptom flare-ups. Eczema is likely attributed to genetics, environmental factors like allergies, and psychological symptoms such as stress and anxiety.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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