Eczema: A Genetic or Environmental Skin Disorder?

Genes play a big part in the development of eczema

Genetics and environmental factors play a role in the development of eczema. Typical symptoms include redness, itchiness, and swelling.

This article discusses the genetic and environmental causes of eczema and what you can do to treat and manage the condition.

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Eczema Has a Definite Genetic Link

While eczema possesses a genetic component, not everyone has a family history or inherited genes that can cause it to develop. The inflammation that sets off eczema can be associated with specific gene mutations. One specific gene involved in eczema development is the CARD11 gene. The CARD11 gene instructs the body to create a protein that helps with immunity.

Specific immune cells, known as lymphocytes, rely on the CARD11 protein to activate and attach to other proteins so that cells in the immune system can signal one another properly when faced with a foreign threat. When the gene mutates, the immune system doesn’t function as it should, and it can lead to eczema.

More commonly, eczema development occurs because of other genetic changes. One of the most common genetic changes occurs in the FLG gene, which plays a role in the structure of the outer layer of skin. Its job is to provide instructions to create profilaggrin, a protein that helps keep in water and repels foreign substances. When the skin's structure is compromised because of a lack of this specific protein, allergens, and other substances can infiltrate the layers of the skin easier, causing a reaction.

Genetic vs. Hereditary

Genetic and hereditary diseases are similar in the fact that they can both be passed down through families. However, not all genetic diseases are passed down. A gene mutation can cause some that neither parents have. Eczema can be both hereditary and genetic because it can be passed down, but it can also develop in people without a family history of the disease.

Children of Parents With Eczema

In most cases, eczema develops in infancy and can worsen as a child grows. Most children that develop eczema grow out of it as they get older. However, it can continue into adulthood. Research estimates that children born to parents with the condition have a 75% chance of developing it themselves. If both parents have eczema or allergies, a child is far more likely to develop the condition than if it was just one parent.

How Does a Parent with Allergies Pass Down Eczema?

Research is still exploring the connection between allergies and eczema. Because of that, medical researchers aren’t exactly sure why a parent allergic to something seemingly non-related passes down eczema to their child. However, allergies develop when the immune system reacts to a foreign pathogen, such as a protein in a food, bee venom, or pollen. The immune system is the link between the two conditions.

Environmental Causes

Environmental causes refer to a group of outside factors that influence the development of eczema. These factors also play a role in the severity of eczema. They include:

Types of Environmental Factors Specific Factors Affecting Eczema Development
Social: A person's social and societal life and surroundings High social status
Being of black ethnicity in a socioeconomically disadvantaged area
High stress levels
High pressure to meet beauty standards that cause psychological distress
Medication cost and accessibility
Family and personal relationship conflict
Workplace stress
A lack of social support 
Anthropogenic: The natural environment around you Living in urban areas with less exposure to immune-stimulating organisms
A lack of contact with nature, which depletes the microbiome and function of the immune system against pathogens
Dysbiosis (imbalance) of the skin microbiome due to a lack of exposure to varied organisms
Harsh chemicals in detergents and other cleaners that increase skin sensitivity
Exposure to air pollution 
Diet and Nutrient Intake: What you put into your body A lack of vitamin D during fetal development
Being weaned off breast milk before 4-6 months of age
Imbalanced gut bacteria due to a lack of pre- and probiotics in the diet
Omega-3 deficiency during development

Treatment and Management for Genetic Eczema

Eczema cannot be cured, but it can be treated and managed effectively. A person can utilize four basic management techniques to keep eczema at bay, including:

  • Knowing what triggers flare-ups
  • Develop a bathing and moisturizing routine that helps keep the skin healthy and protected
  • Use prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) eczema medications as directed
  • Keep the area clean and ensure infection doesn’t occur by monitoring for pain, heat, or redness in the area

If eczema is severe, finding the proper treatment is vital to ensure the integrity of the skin barrier and rid yourself of unwanted symptoms. Some medications used to treat the disorder include:

  • Antihistamines, such as Benadryl, Claritin, or Unisom
  • Pain relievers such as Tylenol, Advil, or Aleve
  • Topical hydrocortisone creams that contain a low dose of steroids to reduce inflammation in the skin
  • Oral or topical JAK inhibitors that work to inhibit the action of the immune system by reducing overactivity
  • Topical calcineurin inhibitors that prevent cells in the immune system from turning on and attacking the skin
  • Topical PDE4 inhibitors that block a specific enzyme that works with the immune system to produce inflammatory cells
  • Topical cortisone creams that work by reducing inflammation and itching on the skin
  • Biologics that reduce levels of an inflammatory protein that is released and causes inflammation of the skin
  • Immunosuppressants that hinder the action of the immune system to stop it from causing inflammation
  • Phototherapy, which uses ultraviolet (UV) on the area to help prevent and clear up symptoms

When to Contact your Healthcare Provider

Sometimes, eczema can be managed effectively with OTC remedies and by avoiding triggers. However, that is not always the case for everyone. If your eczema is so severe it hinders your daily activities, comes with a lot of pain, or covers a large area of your body, contact your healthcare provider. They will be able to work with you to create an effective treatment plan.


Eczema is a condition that develops because of both genetic and environmental factors. When it comes to genetics, specific gene mutations take place, causing eczema to develop. These gene variations can develop in a person without a family history of eczema, but they can also be passed down from parent to child.

Environmental causes also influence what triggers an eczema flare-up and its development. They can include stress, where a person is born, socioeconomic status, and exposure to natural elements and organisms.

A Word from Verywell

Eczema can be difficult to cope with because of its irritating symptoms, and it’s impossible to determine if you will develop the condition based on genetic and environmental factors. Both play a role in its development. There’s nothing you can do about your genetics and if you’re predisposed to the condition, but if you have eczema, there is good news. Treating and managing the symptoms is easy and can be highly effective in most cases.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are children born with eczema?

    It is possible to be born with eczema. That said, the condition typically appears within the first few months after being born. Babies with eczema most often develop rashes that cover their faces and neck.

  • Does eczema reduce immune system functioning?

    Eczema and the immune system are closely linked. However, having the condition does not necessarily mean that you also have a weak immune system. It points to a more sensitive immune system rather than a weak one.

  • Does eczema ever go away?

    There is no cure for eczema. However, the symptoms can come and go sporadically. Flares of symptoms can occur when someone is exposed to an environmental trigger or goes through a period of stress. Treatment can help manage how often flare-ups occur.

7 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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By Angelica Bottaro
Angelica Bottaro is a professional freelance writer with over 5 years of experience. She has been educated in both psychology and journalism, and her dual education has given her the research and writing skills needed to deliver sound and engaging content in the health space.