Acne is a common cause of facial redness, swelling, and bumps. But if you’ve been treating these symptoms and haven’t been able to find relief, there’s a chance you’re experiencing a different skin condition altogether: eczema.
While some of the symptoms of acne and eczema overlap, they are very different conditions.
Acne occurs when hair follicles on your body, including those on your face, become clogged with oil and dead skin cells. Teenagers most commonly get acne, but it can affect people of any age.
Eczema is a genetic condition that makes your skin more prone to irritants and allergens. It also can affect people of all ages. While eczema usually comes and goes, sometimes it occurs again and again over time.
Eczema can affect skin on any part of the body, including the face. This can take an emotional toll. According to the National Eczema Association, people with visible skin conditions like eczema are more likely to experience anxiety and depression than those who don’t.
What’s more, the physical symptoms of eczema on the face can cause sleep problems, making it difficult to feel your best.
Treating your eczema and finding ways to cope can make living with this condition easier.
Eczema appears to be caused by genetics and often runs in families. Not all people who carry eczema genes develop the condition.
Irritants and allergens can trigger eczema, causing the skin to react.
Stress can also trigger flare-ups. Facial eczema in turn can lead to more stress, worsening the problem.
Common eczema triggers
- cigarette smoke
- cocamidopropyl betain (used to thicken shampoos and lotions)
- dry skin that’s brittle, scaly, rough, or tight
- fabrics such as wool and polyester
- food allergies
- formaldehyde, which is found in household disinfectants, some vaccines, and adhesive glues
- fragrances and perfumes
- household cleaners, detergents, and soaps
- isothiazolinones, antibacterial substances found in personal care products, such as baby wipes
- metals, especially nickel
- paraphenylenediamine, which is used in leather dyes and temporary tattoos
Eczema often acts and looks different in babies, children, and teens. People with genetics that make them prone to eczema usually show symptoms within the first six months through the first five years of their lives.
In babies, eczema appears mainly on the face and may look red and wet.
In toddlers, eczema on the face may start to look drier and scaly with deep lines.
In older children and teens, eczema is red and tends to be very itchy.
The first step to finding relief from eczema on your face is to avoid your triggers. A skin doctor, called a dermatologist, can help you identify the causes of your eczema and learn how to avoid them.
Besides avoiding triggers, treating eczema on the face requires other special care. The skin there is more sensitive than the skin on other parts of your body. You may need to use gentler treatments than you’d use on other parts of the body.
Here are some common treatments for this condition for adults and teens:
Your doctor may recommend antibiotics for any eczema that appears to have become infected. Open sores or cracks may make you more prone to infection.
Light therapy involves exposing the skin to controlled amounts of natural or artificial sunlight. It may be used alone or in addition to medications.
The entire body can be treated with this therapy. However, this treatment has potentially harmful effects, including early skin aging and an increased risk of skin cancer.
Because of safety risks, light therapy is less commonly used for young children and isn’t recommended for infants.
Moisturize your face with a fragrance-free cream several times a day, especially after washing your face or bathing.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
NSAIDs can help reduce the pain and inflammation associated with eczema on the face.
An oral antihistamine may help you control itching and inflammation. Take this at bedtime, as many of these medications can cause drowsiness.
For severe cases of eczema, your doctor may prescribe oral corticosteroids such as prednisone for short-term use.
Apply topical corticosteroids such as cortisone cream for several consecutive days when you experience an eczema outbreak. Topical corticosteroids may cause side effects such as thinning skin when overused. They also carry a risk of cancer.
Talk to your doctor about which types are gentle enough to use on your face. Don’t expose your face to strong sunlight after applying a topical corticosteroid.
Babies and children require even gentler care for eczema on the face.
Tips for children
- Avoid extreme temperatures.
- Bath them daily in warm water with mild soap. Keep baths limited to 10 minutes or less.
- Identify and avoid eczema triggers. You may find this easier with the help of a dermatologist. They may run allergy tests or recommend an elimination diet to determine if your baby or child has a food allergy that’s triggering their eczema.
- Keep their skin moist with bath oils, creams, and ointments. Be sure to choose products that are gentle and designed for babies and children.
- Use oral antihistamines, but only if recommended by a doctor.
Wearing makeup during an eczema flare-up is possible. The key to avoiding further skin irritation is to use the right makeup and application techniques.
It’s important to keep your skin moist. This can help treat your symptoms, including inflammation, and also keeps skin looking its best.
Instead of using brushes to apply makeup, wash your hands and use your fingers to apply products. This helps prevent bacteria and old makeup from aggravating your eczema.
For sun protection, choose only products that contain zinc and titanium sunscreens, which protect your skin without drying it out.
You should also stick to products free of dyes, fragrance, and alcohol.
For a list of makeup and beauty products safe for people with eczema, check out the National Eczema Association’s Eczema Product Directory.
Avoid any known triggers, including irritants, stress, and allergens. Don’t over-wash your face, and avoid soaps and cleansers with fragrance and harsh chemicals.
Avoid scratching your eczema when it’s itchy, so you don’t worsen it or cause infection or scarring. Instead, take an antihistamine if your skin is itchy.
Prevent eczema by keeping your face moist. Do this by applying a moisturizer to your skin at least twice a day. You can also keep your skin moist by installing a humidifier in your home. Avoid extreme temperatures and wetness, which can dry out your skin.
You should see a doctor for eczema on the face that doesn’t respond to home treatment. Make a doctor’s appointment right away if you or your child shows signs of infection, including fever and redness, swelling, or pus on the skin.
A primary care doctor will likely recommend a dermatologist. They will perform a visual exam to rule out any other skin problems. They may also run allergy tests to help pinpoint triggers. Lastly, they will recommend a treatment plan based on the severity of eczema.
More aggressive cases of this condition may require more aggressive treatment.
Finally, if you’re experiencing anxiety, depression, or sleep problems, tell your doctor. They may refer you to someone who can help with these issues.
Though facial eczema isn’t an easy condition to cope with, help is out there. Try these home treatments and preventative measures, and seek a doctor’s help when necessary.