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When you have eczema, you think twice before using any product that will come in contact with your skin. Experience has taught you that the wrong hand soap, facial cleanser, or bodywash can intensify eczema symptoms.

With eczema, your skin has a hard time protecting itself from the environment. The wrong product can dry or inflame your skin. When you wash, you need a soap that will clean your skin without causing irritation.

Finding a soap or cleanser that works for you has a number of challenges, including:

  • Skin changes. The effectiveness of the product can change as the condition of your skin changes.
  • Product changes. It’s not unusual for a manufacturer to periodically change product formulations.
  • Recommendations. What works for one person may not work for you.

While some recommendations may not work for you, it’s still a sound idea to tap into the vast knowledge of your doctor, dermatologist, and pharmacist for suggestions and detailed information.

One place to start your search is checking product labels and descriptions. Some of the things to look for include:

  • Allergens. Make sure you’re not allergic to any of the ingredients. If you aren’t sure what you’re allergic to, you may have to systematically test certain soaps and ingredients to discover which ones cause irritation. Instructions on how to do this are below.
  • pH. pH balanced formulas, claim that the product has the same pH as your skin, which 5.5 (slightly acidic), but this is more of a marketing ploy. Most soaps are pH balanced. Generally stay away from alkaline soaps. They can impair skin barrier function by increasing the skin’s pH.
  • Harsh cleansers and detergents. Look for soap made for sensitive skin with mild, gentle cleansers that don’t damage the skin’s natural moisturizing factors. The NEA offers a list of what ingredients to avoid in a soap. Some of the ingredients that can be harmful to your skin are formaldehyde, propylene glycol, salicylic acid, and fragrance.
  • Deodorant. Avoid deodorant soaps, as they typically have added scents that can irritate sensitive skin.
  • Fragrance. Look for fragrance-free or scent-free soaps. Fragrance can be an allergen.
  • Dye. Look for dye-free soaps. Dye can be an allergen.
  • Third-party endorsement. Look for endorsements from organizations such as the NEA. The NEA evaluates and recognizes products that are suitable for care of eczema or sensitive skin.
  • Industrial cleansers. Avoid industrial cleansers. They commonly contain strong or abrasive ingredients, such as petroleum distillates or pumice, which are very rough on skin.

Once you’ve made your selection, test it before you use it. You can do a “patch” test to confirm an allergic reaction.

Take a small amount of the product and apply it to crook of your elbow or on your wrist. Clean and dry the area, and then cover it with a bandage.

Leave the area unwashed for 48 hours, watching for redness, itchiness, flaking, rash, pain, or any other signs of allergic reaction.

If there is a reaction, immediately remove the bandage and wash the area on you skin. If there is no reaction after 48 hours, the soap or cleanser is probably safe to use.

Apply an over-the-counter (OTC) steroid cream that contains at least 1 percent hydrocortisone to relieve itching. Try a drying lotion like calamine lotion to soothe the skin. Wet compresses on the area could also help.

If the itching reaction is unbearable, try an OTC antihistamine.

If you have an anaphylactic response that causes difficult breathing, call for emergency services.

Finding the best soap or cleanser for eczema is really about finding the best soap or cleanser for YOUR eczema. What’s best for someone else might not be right for you.

Although the search might have some frustrations, discovering a soap that can clean your skin without irritating your eczema is worth it.