Early on in my childhood I had my skincare routine down. After sitting in a stinking bath of colloidal oatmeal, I would dry off, making sure to gently pat my skin rather than rub. Then I would grab a big bottle of Eucerin or Aveeno (depending on the season) and would slather it on as my mom would call down the hall, "Are you putting your lotion on?!" And in response I would roll my eyes, "Duh, mom."
In the summertime, I swam pretty much every day at the local pool -- but that meant rinsing off immediately and facing the harsh consequences of chlorine and the blazing sun.
I had to take such care with my skin because of one problem: eczema. If you've ever experienced the rash, you know it can be an irritating, itchy mess. But it doesn't always have to be that way. By knowing what to avoid, you can go a long way to preventing and improving outbreaks.
I talked to a couple of dermatologists who helped me to understand what all sufferers -- adults and children alike -- can do to take care of their extra-sensitive, itchy, eczema skin.
What To Lookout For:
Fragrant soaps and lotions: "People with eczema should avoid covering their bodies with fragrance," says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Adrienne M. Haughton, the assistant vice chairman and associate program director of the Department of Dermatology SUNY at Stonybrook. "Therefore, all of the fragrant body washes from places like Bath & Body Works should be avoided," she says. But she adds, if you have to have a signature scent, it's far better to use a fragrance spray that you can spritz directly on your clothes, rather than your body.
Household irritants: This is especially important if you have kiddos who have the rash, as they could accidentally come into contact with these items. Dr. Haughton cautions against irritants like cleaning products and detergents, which have harsh chemicals, fragrances and acidic pH levels that when in contact with your skin, can cause different reactions -- but if you have eczema, they can inflame an already aggravated rash.
Harsh beauty products: Pay special attention to what you use on your face. For example, "Many anti-aging products may be too irritating, as well as makeup remover, some sunscreens and acne products," says Dr. Haughton, because of salicylic acid, retinol and glycolic acid in these products that combat against oil -- meaning they will make your skin drier than it already is.
Pets: Since eczema is thought to be an overactive immune system response and is often linked to other allergic reactions, pet dander from both cats and dogs can contribute to flare-ups.
Exercise: According to Dr. Haughton, chlorine and sweat are two triggers for eczema. After going swimming it might be a good idea to at least rinse off your body, and if you're a heavy sweater, pay special attention to areas like the insides of your elbows and the backs of your knees.
A dirty environment: Like pets, dust mites and mold also stimulate allergic reactions such as rashes and hives -- they can show up in carpets, rugs, curtains, bathrooms and various forms of furniture. To curb added irritation from the allergy inducing fuzz, make sure to keep your surroundings as dust and mold-free as possible, so your own home won't make you itch.
The One Ingredient You Need To Know: Ceramides
Dr. Debra Jaliman, a New York City-based, board-certified dermatologist advises the use of products that include ceramides, which she says are very important for hydrating skin.
"[Ceramides] contain lipids, the same fats that are found in your skin and do an outstanding job replenishing them," agrees Dr. Haughton. Basically, ceramides are comprised of fatty acids and found in your epidermis -- they contribute to the water repellant layer of your skin, which helps protect you from external drying factors.
Although many people haven't heard of them, they are the main ingredient in heavy duty moisturizers like CeraVe.
Here are some daily practices that will help keep your eczema at bay.
Use lukewarm water: "[You] should avoid hot steaming showers," says Dr. Jaliman and Dr. Haughton agrees, listing steam as a trigger. Although a long, hot shower can be very relaxing, remember that this can irritate the skin if you consistently shower like this day after day.
Invest in some good wash cloths: "Use a soft cloth or cotton pads to wash your face," advises Dr. Jaliman, because they won't tear or rub your skin the wrong way.
Practice good hygiene, overall: Cleaning your body after a long day is super beneficial as it will remove the bacteria that could be making your eczema worse. For example, there are cases of eczema herpeticum, which is a viral infection that can be caused by poorly treated atopic dermatitis (the typical rash you see if you have eczema).
Eczema herpeticum involves lesions and boil-like eruptions and if left untreated, there can be some severe side effects, such as blindness or death. Dr. Haughton recommends that you seek medical attention immediately if you show symptoms such as boils on top of atopic eczema, fever and swollen lymph nodes. "Any patient with eczema herpeticum will need to be hospitalized for antiviral medications," Dr. Haughton says.
As mentioned, try using lukewarm rather than hot water for showers. The same rules go for cleaning your face, which both dermatologists say you should wash twice a day.
Mind your towel manners: After cleansing, "pat your skin dry," says Dr. Jaliman because the friction from the rubbing can cause additional irritation.
Know when to apply ointments: Dr. Haughton recommends putting any topical prescription "while the skin is still damp, to the areas that are flaring," she says, adding that you should moisturize your entire body as a final step. "The goal is to trap in some of the moisture," Dr. Haughton says, since the patches of rash caused by eczema dries out the skin, and when a good moisturizer is used (like one with ceramides) you'll have a protective shield that will keep your skin hydrated, not dried out.
1. Olay Foaming Face Wash (Sensitive Skin), $5.49 2. CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser, $11 3. Dove Sensitive Skin Nourishing Body Wash, $5.49 4. Cetaphil RestoraDerm Skin Restoring Moisturizer, $15 5. Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser, $10.49
If you have additional questions or concerns about skin rashes, consult your doctor.