- A key part of any skin care routine for eczema or atopic dermatitis is focusing on keeping skin moisturized.
- It’s also important to know which skin care ingredients and environmental triggers can cause flares so that you can avoid exposure.
- Sticking to a daily routine can help manage eczema symptoms like itchiness, dryness, and irritation.
If you or a loved one is living with eczema or atopic dermatitis, you probably know the importance of having a good skin care routine.
Eczema is a chronic condition that can flare when you’re exposed to environmental triggers. Atopic dermatitis is a type of eczema characterized by dry skin, scaly patches, itching, and sores.
Keeping the skin moisturized can help prevent eczema flares and provide some relief when flares occur. By developing a routine that works for you, you can help ensure that you keep the skin moisturized and protected against future flares.
Keeping your skin moisturized can help to prevent itching, irritation, and thickening of the skin. In fact, in mild cases, dry skin is the primary symptom of eczema, and a good skin care routine can help keep symptoms suppressed.
In other cases, managing symptoms may require additional precautions and treatments. Whether your eczema is mild or more severe, the starting point for most routines focuses on:
- locking in moisture
- soothing the skin
- avoiding triggers
One of the most important steps you can take is getting into the habit of moisturizing your skin immediately following a shower or bath.
According to the National Eczema Association, if you don’t immediately apply moisturizer after bathing, the water in your skin will evaporate. This will then cause it to dry out.
Showering or bathing
During a bath or shower, you should avoid hot water. Lukewarm water helps your skin absorb some of the moisture.
You should also avoid scrubbing or using harsh soaps on your skin. Then, apply moisturizer within 3 minutes of getting out of the shower to help create a barrier to lock in the moisture, per the National Eczema Association.
The American Academy of Dermatology Association doesn’t fully discourage baths, especially for children. They state that bathtime can provide an opportunity for parents and children to bond and can remove bacteria and dead skin cells.
However, you should keep baths and showers short. According to a 2018 review, researchers recommend daily bathing or showering that lasts between 5 and 10 minutes.
Avoiding and recognizing triggers
Eczema can get worse when you come in contact with irritants or triggers. One part of a good skin care routine should be taking active steps to avoid contact with known triggers.
If you don’t know what triggers you have, you may want to keep a journal to help you determine the possible cause of your flares. This way, you can potentially avoid them in the future.
Also, keep in mind that not all triggers come from chemicals or irritants.
For example, the National Eczema Association states that cold, dry air can trigger an eczema flare. During the winter, you may need to change your routine a bit to help keep your skin protected.
Experimenting with your routine
No two cases of eczema are exactly alike. As a result, what works for some people may not work as well for you, and vice versa.
In an article for the National Eczema Association, dermatologist Margaret Lee notes that you may find relief with products not specifically designed for eczema care. For example, you might find that vegetable shortening or petroleum jelly helps to rehydrate and relieve the pain and itchiness associated with a flare.
Once you’ve established a routine with one or more products that work, you should consider writing down the routine to help keep it going.
If you’re caring for a child with eczema, having the routine recorded can help in case someone else needs to take over responsibility for the routine.
Moisturizers are one of the most important parts of a skin care routine. But not all moisturizers are created the same way, and some provide better benefits than others.
According to the National Eczema Association, ointments and creams are the most effective moisturizers you can use for treating eczema. The reason is that ointments and creams have a higher oil content than lotions.
Oil has two effects on the skin. The first is that it keeps moisture in. The second is it helps keep irritants out.
Several brands, like Aveeno, offer moisturizers designed specifically for eczema. When looking for moisturizers, you should avoid ones that have added fragrances, dyes, or other ingredients that may irritate your skin.
You also want to include gentle cleansers, like CeraVe, in your routine. Keeping your skin clean will help prevent dry, cracked areas of skin from getting infected.
Finally, if you’re seeing a dermatologist for treatment, you should discuss which medications may be best for you and ensure that you use them according to the prescribed instructions for the best results.
Certain substances can make eczema worse. The National Eczema Association recommends avoiding skin care products with the following ingredients:
- Fragrances. Both synthetic fragrances and natural fragrances, including those from essential oils, can be highly irritating if you have eczema. Both types of fragrances can also trigger allergic reactions.
- Urea. While urea is a moisturizing ingredient, it may irritate skin if you have eczema because it’s an exfoliant that can harm the outer layer of skin.
- Lanolin. Lanolin is a popular ingredient in moisturizer that’s made from sheep’s wool. It can cause an allergic reaction and make eczema worse in some people.
- Retinoids. Acne products and products for mature-looking skin both often contain retinoids, which can be very irritating. A label may list them as “vitamin A.”
- Cocamidopropyl betaine. This is a foaming agent found in a lot of shampoos and soaps, particularly “no tears” formulas designed for children. However, it may be irritating to skin.
- Propylene glycol. This ingredient appears in a lot of moisturizers and creams but may cause an allergic reaction in some people.
- Ethanol. Ethanol is a form of drying alcohol found in many gels. Because it’s harsh and may dry your skin, it can cause further irritation.
When buying skin care products, check the labels to look out for the ingredients listed above. You can also look for a product with the National Eczema Association Seal of Acceptance on it. This will help you avoid products that contain these known irritants.
Outside of skin care, other substances you might come in contact with may make eczema worse. The National Eczema Association recommends avoiding the following common triggers:
- metals, especially nickel
- certain fabrics, like wool
- antibacterial ointments and wipes
- harsh soaps and household cleaning products
- dyes used for leather or temporary tattoos
While it helps to avoid topical substances and chemicals, remember these aren’t the only triggers. You may also want to avoid:
- very hot showers or baths
- dry, cold air
- any foods or airborne allergens that make your eczema flare
Your routine will vary based on your triggers and what you’re planning to do each day. For more specific guidance, talk with your dermatologist to see what they recommend for you.
You should aim to moisturize your skin
- Cleanse. If you shower or bathe in the a.m., you may not want to wash your face with soap. Instead, remove any oil gently with water and a soft cloth.
- Moisturize. Be prepared: You should have your moisturizer ready to go for after your shower. When you’re done washing, pat yourself dry and apply the moisturizer all over your damp skin. Even if you don’t shower, you should take the time in the morning to apply moisturizer to your skin.
- Treat. Apply any prescription creams. Spot-treat any problem areas with a thick, oil-based cream.
- Protect. If you plan to spend time outside, you should apply sunscreen before heading out. If it’s cold and dry, make sure you cover as much of your skin as possible.
Throughout the day
- Cleanse. Keep non-harsh soaps in your bathroom, kitchen, or at work to help protect your hands throughout the day.
- Moisturize. Apply lotion or moisturizing cream to your hands each time you wash them.
- Protect. Reapply sunscreen as needed.
- Cleanse. Before bed, wash your face with a gentle cleanser to remove any dirt and buildup from the day. If you plan to take a shower, keep the temperature lukewarm and limit the time to 5 to 10 minutes.
- Moisturize. Make sure you pat yourself dry and apply moisturizer to your body immediately after drying off. You may opt to use different moisturizers for your body and face.
- Treat. Take time to spot-treat any areas of concern with thick, oil-based creams, or apply prescription products as needed.
- Protect. Make sure that your nightwear and sheets are made of fabrics that won’t chafe or irritate your skin. Consider using a humidifier as needed for dry air. Keep your bedroom clean to avoid airborne allergens.
One of the most important parts of eczema care is keeping your skin moist. You should also take steps to avoid triggers, which can help you prevent flares.
Your skin care routine should consist of plans for when you’ll moisturize your skin as well as ways to help protect it. Your routine will likely differ from that of other people, depending on your current needs.
If you have trouble developing an effective routine, you should work with your doctor. They can provide you with more specific recommendations that may help your individual situation.