Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, is a chronic condition that causes dry, red, itchy skin.
This condition can affect any part of your body, such as the inside of your elbows and behind your knees. But it typically appears on your face.
Some people may develop irritation on their forehead or cheeks, while others have a rash around their eyes or behind the ears.
Learn some tips for identifying atopic dermatitis on your face, plus find out what commonly causes this condition and how to treat it.
The most common symptoms of atopic dermatitis on the face include:
- redness (on skin with more pigment, eczema can cause darker brown, purple, or gray patches)
- patches of dry skin
- stinging or burning sensation
Keep in mind that symptoms can differ from person to person. While many people experience skin dryness and discoloration, others might also feel a stinging, burning sensation.
Atopic dermatitis might first appear on the cheeks and forehead, then gradually spread to other parts of the face or body.
Atopic dermatitis symptoms can range from mild to severe:
- Acute or mild flare: skin can feel itchy, dry, and irritable
- Severe flare: skin can crack and bleed
Sometimes, repeated scratching can also cause skin thickening. And if your skin cracks, there’s a risk of infection.
Other types of dermatitis
You can also develop other types of dermatitis, including:
- seborrheic dermatitis, a common cause of dandruff
- contact dermatitis, a rash that happens when you’re exposed to certain substances or toxins, such as plants like poison oak or allergens
- phytophotodermatitis, light-sensitive dermatitis triggered by sunlight
The following gallery includes pictures of atopic dermatitis on various parts of the face and on different skin colors.
The exact cause of atopic dermatitis is unknown, but it’s believed to result from an overactive immune system.
Your immune system triggers an inflammatory response that affects the skin. This causes irritation, dryness, itchiness, and a rash.
According to a 2019 review, a gene mutation makes some people susceptible to atopic dermatitis. But this isn’t the only factor.
Other external factors that can trigger facial eczema include:
- changes in the weather or local climate
- air pollution
- pet dander
- chemicals in household cleaners
- certain foods (peanuts, dairy, etc.)
- facial products
One effective method to manage your symptoms at home is to identify your triggers. Keep a record of your activity, emotions, and foods eaten prior to a flare to help pinpoint your triggers.
Reducing your stress level can also help. Getting enough quality sleep can lower stress, as can knowing your limitations and eating a healthy, balanced diet.
Other tips to soothe skin irritation include:
- Moisturize your skin daily, especially after taking a shower or bath.
- Apply a cool compress to irritated skin to reduce inflammation.
- Take a warm oatmeal bath to calm itchy, irritated skin.
- Use oils, such as sunflower seed oil, to help relieve eczema-prone skin.
- Avoid scratching your skin, which can cause cracking, bleeding, and skin infections.
- Avoid fragrances and dyes in your skin care products, cosmetics, detergents, and other daily items.
You may also want to try limiting sun exposure. But keep in mind that sunlight affects people with eczema differently. You might notice an improvement in skin after exposure to sunlight, but others may experience more severe symptoms.
Contact a doctor if…
- Your symptoms don’t improve, or if they worsen even after treatment with home remedies.
- Severe eczema on your face causes pain and itchiness, making it difficult to sleep or go about everyday activities.
- You have symptoms of a skin infection.
There’s no cure for eczema, so you might have periodic flares that you’ll need to manage as they arise. Treatment and other remedies can reduce the frequency of flares.
Over-the-counter topical steroid creams can relieve symptoms of atopic dermatitis like itchiness, redness, and dryness. For severe symptoms, you might need prescription-strength treatment, such as:
- prescription corticosteroid creams or gels applied to the skin
- oral corticosteroids to reduce inflammation
- light therapy
If your skin doesn’t respond to these treatments, you may want to ask about biologics. These medications work by targeting specific parts of your immune system to reduce inflammation and ease skin irritation.
Other conditions can mimic atopic dermatitis on the face. If your symptoms don’t improve or worsen, a doctor can take a biopsy of your skin to confirm a diagnosis or rule out other skin conditions.
Conditions that have similar symptoms to atopic dermatitis include:
- pityriasis rosacea
- lichen planus
- squamous cell carcinoma
There’s no cure for atopic dermatitis, so the condition can start in childhood and continue through adulthood. Some people may outgrow it, but other people experience symptoms of atopic dermatitis throughout their lives unless it’s treated or managed.
For those who experience frequent symptoms, identifying and minimizing triggers can result in less skin irritation. Try to control the sources of your stress, and keep a journal to see whether certain foods or skin care products worsen symptoms. If they do, eliminate those triggers from your life, if possible.
Practicing good skin hygiene can also help reduce symptoms. This can involve bathing regularly in warm water with fragrance-free and dye-free cosmetics, as well as keeping your skin regularly moisturized with topical gels and creams.