Eczema refers to the inflammation or irritation of the epidermis or outer layer of the skin. It is a term broadly applied to a variety of skin conditions that cause skin dryness or recurring skin rashes. Symptoms of eczema are wide-ranging and may include: redness, swelling, itching, crusting, cracking, or bleeding of the skin. Eczema is non-contagious, affects 9-30% of Americans, and is particularly common among infants and young children. Some people outgrow eczema, while others experience symptoms on and off their entire lives. Though there is no known cure for eczema, proper treatment generally controls the disease for the majority of sufferers.
Though the exact cause of eczema is unknown, it is linked to an overactive response in the body’s immune system to certain triggers. People with a history of other allergies or asthma are more likely to suffer from eczema.
Treatment for eczema aims to relieve and prevent itching, which can lead to infection. Because dry skin often makes skin itchy, applying moisturizer after bathing when skin is damp is recommended. Other treatment options include:
For mild eczema, creams and ointments such as corticosteroids are often prescribed to reduce inflammation. For severe cases, oral cortisteroids may be prescribed. When the affected area becomes infected, antibiotics may be necessary to kill the infection-causing bacteria. Anti-histamines, (anti-itch drugs), can also be effective in reducing the desire to itch and thereby eliminating the chance of infection.
- Light Therapy:
Light therapy consists of exposing the skin to ultraviolet (UV) light. UV radiation is known to suppress the immune system and reduce inflammatory responses. However, this form of therapy is risky in that it opens up the possibility of the patient contracting skin cancer from exposure to the UV rays.
Care Strategies for Dry Skin When You Wash
Try these tips for the bath or shower:
- Skip long, hot showers. Hot water strips oils from the skin faster than warm water. Long showers or baths actually dry out your skin. Limit yourself to a single 5- or 10-minute warm shower or bath a day.
- Use a gentle cleanser or shower gel with moisturizer. Instead of harsh cleansers, go for unscented, soap-free, or mild soap cleansers.
- Moisturize while skin is still moist. Pat your skin with a towel after you shower or wash your face or hands, leaving it damp. Apply a moisturizer within three to five minutes of washing to lock moisture in.
What to Look for in a Moisturizer
You don’t have to pay a fortune for a good, rich moisturizer. Read the label. Ingredients that may be helpful for dry skin include:
- Ceramides. Ceramides help the skin hold water and soothe dry skin. Synthetic ceramides may mimic the natural substances in the outermost layer of skin that help keep moisture in.
- Dimethicone and glycerin. These draw water to the skin and keep it there.
- Hyaluronic acid. Like ceramides, hyaluronic acid helps skin hold water.
- Lanolin, mineral oil, and petroleum jelly. These help skin hold on to water absorbed during bathing.
Be sure to apply sunscreen to areas of your body that are exposed to the sun during the day. Look for a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or more that says “broad spectrum” on the label.
5 Lifestyle Tips for Relieving Dry Skin
These strategies can also help make your skin supple and smooth:
- Plug in a humidifier at home to help keep skin hydrated during winter months when indoor air is dry.
- Wear cotton and other natural fibers. Wool, synthetics, or other fabrics can be scratchy and irritating.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Eat omega-3 foods. Essential fatty acids can help fortify the skin’s natural oil-retaining barriers. Foods rich in omega-3 include cold-water fish (salmon, halibut, sardines), flax, walnuts, and safflower oil.
- For itching or inflammation, apply a cool compress or a hydrocortisone cream on the area for a week. If these don’t provide relief, talk to your doctor