Your skin is your largest organ, and just like you should take care of your body through diet and exercise, it’s equally important to nurture your skin with a solid, results-driven regime. However, in some cases, no matter how diligent you are with your skincare routine, chronic skin conditions such as acne or psoriasis are more difficult to manage.
Eczema, also referred to as atopic dermatitis, is a common skin condition that affects an estimated 16.5 million U.S. adults (7.3%) who have AD that initially began at less than two years of age, with nearly 40% affected by moderate or severe disease. However, atopic dermatitis is not solely a disease of childhood-onset. According to the National Eczema Association, one in four adults report adult-onset of initial symptoms. From eczema hands to face and body patches, one’s self-esteem and confidence can take a hit.
So, what are the signs of this ailment, and what is the best eczema treatment? From the best lotion for dry itchy skin to lifestyle changes and preventative tips, read on to learn how you can effectively manage this incurable condition.
Related: Best skin care products of 2021
What Causes Eczema?
Eczema is believed to be caused by genetics rather than an allergic reaction. It surfaces when the skin barrier, which protects from pollutants, irritants, and bacteria, becomes compromised and is unable to provide proper protection. Keeping the skin hydrated can help maintain the integrity of the skin barrier to prevent or treat flare-ups. Flare-ups (more on those in a bit) can occur sporadically and even go away for years sometimes. Atopic dermatitis typically begins before age five and may continue into adolescence and adulthood. For some people, it flares periodically and then clears up for a time, even for several years.
Symptoms of Eczema
The symptoms of eczema vary widely from person to person but generally speaking, telltale signs include:
- Extremely dry skin, quite possibly coupled with deep fissures.
- Severe itching, especially at nighttime when you’re trying to sleep.
- Thickened, cracked, scaly skin.
- Sensitive, raw, and swollen skin due to excessive scratching.
- Small red bumps that may leak fluid and crust over.
- Red, brownish patches, typically on the hands, wrists, neck, eyelids, chest, feet, and inside the bend of knees or elbows.
- Silvery scales.
There are seven different types of eczema. We’ve already spoken about atopic dermatitis, the most common form — here are the remaining six. A dermatologist can help you determine which type you have so that you can receive proper eczema treatment.
There are two different types of contact dermatitis: Irritant contact dermatitis (which accounts for 800% of all CD) and allergic contact dermatitis. The former occurs when the skin comes in contact with irritating substances such as detergents, soaps, makeup, hair dye, bleach, scratchy wool, and certain metals. The latter is a delayed allergic reaction that pops up a day or two after the skin is exposed to an allergen. Unlike atopic dermatitis, CD isn’t hereditary or linked to other allergic reactions such as asthma or hay fever.
The intense itching and scratching associated can lead to neurodermatitis, a common type of eczema that affects approximately 12% of the population. It’s typically limited to one or two patches of the skin and seldomly won’t go away without treatment. In fact, it can get worse without it.
Dyshidrotic is characterized as small, itchy blisters that appear on the palms of hands, edges of the fingers and toes, and soles of feet. While the root cause is unknown, it’s more prevalent in people who have another form of eczema — it’s also linked to genetics.
Nummular eczema appears as scattered circular, itchy patches that have a tendency to weep. It tends to develop as a reaction to other forms of eczema. When it appears on the legs, it can be a sign of poor circulation.
Seborrheic dermatitis surfaces where there are a lot of oil-producing (sebaceous) glands like the upper back, nose, and scalp. SD is an inflammatory reaction to a surplus of Malassezia yeast. Since the immune system overreacts to this overabundance, it triggers an inflammatory response that causes changes in the integrity of the skin.
Stasis dermatitis, also called gravitational dermatitis, is linked to poor circulation in the lower legs. While the cause could be aging, it can also be a sign of a serious underlying medical condition such as kidney or heart disease.
A person suffering from eczema could have one or more triggers, which in turn lead to a flare-up.
- Allergens such as pollen, mold, pet fur, and dust mites — even dampness or the weather can have an effect.
- Stress on a short and long-term basis.
- Excessive sweating and tight clothing.
- Irritants such as fragrance, soaps, detergents, solvents, cleaning supplies, etc.
- Certain materials such as synthetic fabrics and wool.
- Hormonal fluctuations that occur during pregnancy or one’s menstrual cycle.
- Food allergies such as eggs, peanuts, cows’ milk, wheat, or soya.
How To Prevent Eczema Flare-ups
There’s no known cure for eczema, and symptoms won’t go away on their own. For most people, eczema is a chronic condition that requires careful avoidance of triggers to help prevent flare-ups.
- Moisturize the affected areas at least twice a day. We’ve taken the guesswork out of how to stop eczema immediately with an eczema cream.
- Take shorter baths or showers (approximately 10 to 15 minutes) with tepid versus hot water. Pat versus rub your skin dry afterward.
- Try to identify and avoid the aforementioned triggers that can exasperate your condition.
- Only use gentle soaps, cleansers, and body lotions.
- Keep a humidifier in the rooms you spend the most time in, like the bedroom Hot, dry indoor air can parch sensitive skin and worsen itching and flaking. Opt for a portable unit or attach one to your furnace to add moisture to the air inside your home.
- Wear cool, smooth-textured clothing and avoid clothing that’s rough, tight, or scratchy. Also, wear appropriate clothing in hot weather or during exercise to prevent excessive sweating. Take a short, tepid shower immediately after physical activity.
- Get a hold of your stress and anxiety. Such emotional disorders can aggravate atopic dermatitis. Try yoga, meditation, exercise, or an activity that brings you pleasure. Speak to a professional if need be.
- See a dermatologist to discuss your treatment options if topical creams and lotions aren’t working.
Eczema Cure Diet
While you’re not going to want to forgo using an eczema cream or lotion, tweaking your diet can help improve your condition.
Adopt an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Inflammation and eczema go hand-in-hand, so adopting an anti-inflammatory diet can help keep insulin levels at bay. Ditch sugar and refined carbohydrates and eat a diet rich in lean protein, vegetables, and whole grains. Note that while omega 3 fatty acids are known for reducing inflammation, the most readily absorbed form for those with eczema is found in oily fish like salmon, mackerel, or sardines.
Over 80 percent of atopic dermatitis sufferers have higher than normal antibodies in their system. The most common foods that spark allergies include gluten, chocolate wheat, peanuts, eggs, milk, soy, and citrus. If you’re eating all or several of these items, you should practice the elimination diet, which means you cut one food out at a time to determine which one is the trigger. Work with a nutritionist or general practitioner who can ensure you’re still getting a balanced diet after the elimination process.
Digestive health can have an effect on eczema sufferers by supporting your immune system. With that said, you need to ensure that your gut contains specific strains of probiotics (healthy bacteria) in order to build up a strong immune system. Look for supplements containing the Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus species.
Consume the Right Vitamins
The following vitamins and minerals are particularly beneficial for eczema. Try to get them by eating a nutritious diet.
- Zinc: Seafood, lean red meat, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds
- Vitamin C: Brightly colored fruits and vegetables and rosehip
- Vitamin E: Sunflower seeds, pine nuts, almonds, dried apricots, avocado
- Vitamin D: Best absorbed from sunlight in the summer months (you should still wear sun protection), and a D supplement in the winter months.
- Flavonoids: Emerging research suggests that flavonoids (plant molecules) can help to rebalance the immune system, therefore, being helpful for those with eczema.
Popular Ingredients in Eczema Creams
There are several over-the-counter ingredients that are effective in the fight against eczema. They are soothing and can help calm swelling, redness, and itchiness, helping you to sleep better and experience overall less discomfort.
Colloidal oatmeal is a remedy that’s been used for centuries to soothe dry, itchy, irritated skin, thanks to the exceptional antioxidant and anti-inflammatory plant chemicals called avenanthramides, which support the health of the skin.
Glycerin is a desirable choice for those with eczema because it’s an emollient, which means it’s a skin softener. It is also a humectant, so it has the ability to retain moisture, relieve dryness, and increase the skin’s hydration.
Honey is an ingredient that can provide benefits for all skin types. When it comes from eczema, its antibacterial effects can prevent skin infections or calm inflammation associated with flare-ups. Additionally, it provides moisture on a deep level.
Aloe is another ingredient that all skin types can benefit from, but thanks to its antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties, it’s a useful ingredient for eczema.
Best Eczema Creams of 2021
La Roche Posay Lipikar Eczema Cream, $14.99
This is a great eczema cream with multiple ingredients that help treat and soothe the condition. It contains 1% colloidal oatmeal, which is extremely soothing and alleviates itching. It also protects the skin to keep it from becoming further irritated. Niacinamide (vitamin B3) helps improve the skin barrier, which is essential in the fight against eczema. The stronger the skin barrier, the less likely it is that you’ll have eczema flare-ups. Shea butter and glycerin are moisturizing agents that help lock in moisture to ameliorate a flare-up and to keep skin soft.
Eucerin Eczema Relief Body Cream, $14
The main ingredient in Eucerin’s Eczema Relief cream is oatmeal. Other active ingredients include ceramide-3 and licochalcone (a flavonoid isolated from licorice root), both of which help reduce redness and itching. They also fortify the skin barrier, keeping essential lipids locked in to prevent further dryness. Licochalcone can also be found in some acne medications, thanks to its ability to relieve redness and inflammation. It has been proven to be as effective as hydrocortisone, an ingredient often used to treat atopic dermatitis.
Triderma Eczema Fast Healing Face and Body Cream, $24.99
This eczema treatment cream promises to help reduce eczema quickly, thanks to powerful ingredients like aloe, oatmeal, and arnica Montana flower. Aloe soothes and reduces swelling while also moisturizing to help protect the skin barrier. Arnica montana flower is an anti-inflammatory that can help reduce swelling. This formulation also contains shea butter and beeswax to help hold moisture in to keep skin soft and healthy, alleviating scaliness and rough texture.
Aquaphor Healing Ointment, $14.99
This preservative- and fragrance-free formula for very dry and chapped skin is dermatologist-recommended. It can be used to help treat cracked skin, minor cuts and burns, and extremely dry lips. The ingredients list for this product is very short — but that doesn’t mean it’s any less effective. Petrolatum, a skin protectant, helps thoroughly moisturize and replenish dry skin. Bisabolol, derived from chamomile, is extremely soothing and calming. Finally, panthenol is a moisturizer that improves hydration to both help treat and prevent chapped skin.
Aveeno Eczema Therapy Moisturizing Cream, $15.58
Aveeno’s Eczema Therapy Moisturizing Cream has a near five-star rating, attesting to its efficacy. Oat is a top ingredient, as it helps soothe and restore the skin’s natural pH balance. Other ingredients include feverfew, blackberry, and southernwood, which work together to create a formidable force against even the most frustrating eczema symptoms.
CeraVe Skin Renewing Night Cream, $13.89
If you’re struggling with eczema on your face, consider the CeraVe Skin Renewing Night Cream. This facial moisturizer is said to refresh and hydrate tired-looking skin while helping to restore the skin’s natural barrier overnight. It is a rich yet non-greasy night cream that is formulated to continually release moisturizing ingredients — such as ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and shea butter — all night so that you can wake up looking rested and rejuvenated. In addition to these moisturizing ingredients, you’ll find key ingredients like niacinamide, allantoin, and biomimetic peptides in the CeraVe Skin Renewing Night Cream.
Avene XeraCalm A.D. Lipid-Replenishing Cream, $34
This product previously won Allure’s Best Moisturizer for Sensitive Skin Award, so it’s also perhaps the best eczema cream over the counter. On average, it relieves itching in five days and begins to noticeably hydrate within seven days. It’s specifically formulated to target the itching, redness, dryness, and irritation associated with eczema. Active ingredients include glycerin, evening primrose oil, and thermal spring water, which work together to provide moisture while restoring the damaged lipid barrier.
DCL Ultra Comfort Cream, $75
There are several ingredients that give this cream its potency. Coconut, aloe vera, and allantoin are extremely soothing, relieving itchiness and redness. Hyaluronic acid, jojoba, and vitamin B5 act as moisturizers to reduce dryness. Seaweed extracts and vitamin E are included to strengthen the skin by improving elasticity. Oat complex, marine algae, and Canadian willowherb are also soothing, further reducing redness and alleviating itchiness. This cream can also help relieve sunburn and the swelling and redness that come with it.
Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream , $16.50
Ultra Facial Cream is the #1 moisturizing cream by Kiehl’s that provides ultra-lightweight 24-hour hydration. It is recommended for all skin types, including those with sensitive skin. This cream contains a high concentration of the emollient squalane. Squalane is derived by hydrogenation of squalene (note the e). Squalene is naturally found in the skin lipid barrier of humans and animals. It is produced by the oil glands in the skin, and plays an important role in skin lubrication and protection. However, the amount made and retained in the skin decreases over time. Topical application of squalane helps to replenish the skin’s lipid barrier, resulting in softer, smoother skin.
In addition to squalane, Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream contains a high concentration of glycerin (a humectant), cyclohexasiloxane (a silicone), and several different emollients. The formula is paraben-free, fragrance-free, mineral oil-free, dye-free, and TEA-free.
CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion, $15.49
This lightweight, oil-free moisturizer by CeraVe is a great option for those with dry skin and/or eczema because it helps to improve the skin’s hydration by restoring its natural barrier. The formula is non-comedogenic (it won’t clog pores), which means you can use this CeraVe lotion on both your face and body. A few of the key ingredients in the CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion include glycerin, ceramides, and hyaluronic acid.
First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream, $36
This head-to-toe moisturizer by First Aid Beauty can be used as a daily moisturizer to prevent dry skin, but can also be used to help alleviate dry, itchy, and red skin. After applying First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream, the skin is said to be left feeling smooth, hydrated, and comfortable after just a single use.
The active ingredient in First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream Intense Hydration is 0.5% colloidal oatmeal. Colloidal oatmeal is a skin protectant that has been used for centuries to soothe and heal the skin, as well as reduce inflammation and redness. There are also several emollients in the Ultra Repair Cream, including shea butter and squalane. An emollient is an oily substance that fills in the spaces between dead skin cells, thus creating a smooth skin surface.
CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion,
CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion is a fragrance-free, oil-free facial lotion that is said to help calm the skin, increase moisture retention, and restore the skin’s barrier while you sleep. It is recommended for all skin types, including acne-prone skin since it is non-comedogenic (meaning it won’t clog pores or cause acne flare-ups).
Like all CeraVe skin care products, the CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion includes ceramides as key ingredients. Specifically, this formula contains ceramide NP, ceramide AP, and ceramide EOP. Ceramides are a family of waxy lipid molecules that are naturally produced by the skin and are vital in supporting the skin’s barrier function. Topical application of ceramides helps to maintain epidermal hydration and serves as a barrier that responds to environmental stressors, infections, irritants, and allergens. The result is skin that is smooth, moisturized, and healthy.
Egyptian Magic All Purpose Cream, $21.99
This cult-favorite moisturizer is multi-purpose and can be used on the lips, face, body, hands, eyes, and even hair to replenish hydration. Its all-natural formulation makes it a favorite of celebrities like Kate Hudson, Rihanna, and Lauren Conrad — because it simply works. In fact, the ingredients list is quite simple, including beeswax, honey, olive oil, bee pollen, propolis, and royal jelly. Propolis, a type of resin created by bees, is especially great at reducing inflammation, a key factor in eczema. Honey is an antibacterial and calming ingredient, while royal jelly (created by honeybees to provide nourishment for their larvae and queen) soothes and hydrates.
Eczema Honey Original Skin-Soothing Cream, $29.95
Eczema Honey was created by people who suffer from eczema themselves, so they set out to find the very best treatment. Completely natural, its ingredient list boasts organic pure honey, organic almond oil, organic beeswax, and organic sunflower oil. Honey is known for its antibacterial, moisturizing, and wound-healing properties, making it ideal for those suffering from eczema. Organic almond oil, sunflower oil, and beeswax also provide hydration to alleviate dryness and cracking.
Neosporin Eczema Essentials Daily Moisturizing Cream, $12.31
Neosporin’s eczema cream has a special formulation that combines a humectant, emollient, lipid, and botanical to provide ultimate hydration and nourishment to dry, chapped and painful skin. It is steroid and antibiotic-free and has been shown in clinical studies to relieve eczema symptoms in as little as three days while relieving itchiness upon contact. The colloidal oatmeal in this formula also helps to create a barrier that protects skin from outside irritants and the loss of moisture from environmental exposure. This product has also been approved by the National Eczema Association.
The Best Eczema Creams: The Final Word
Eczema, also referred to as atopic dermatitis, is a common skin condition that affects an estimated 16.5 million U.S. adults (7.3%) who have AD that initially began at less than two years of age, with nearly 40% affected by moderate or severe disease. Some symptoms include extremely dry skin, severe itching, red bumps that may leak fluid, and deep cracks. Eczema is believed to be caused by genetics rather than an allergic reaction. It surfaces when the skin barrier, which protects from pollutants, irritants, and bacteria, becomes compromised and is unable to provide proper protection. Keeping the skin hydrated can help maintain the integrity of the skin barrier to prevent or treat flare-ups.
Flare-ups can occur sporadically and even go away for years sometimes. Atopic dermatitis typically begins before age five and may continue into adolescence and adulthood. For some people, it flares periodically and then clears up for a time, even for several years. Some examples of triggers that cause flare-ups include allergens (think dust and mold), stress, food allergies, and tight clothing. In terms of prevention, try to identify your triggers in advance, regularly moisturize the affected areas, take short (and tepid) showers, wear loose clothing, and use gentle soaps and lotions.
Along with adopting an anti-inflammatory diet, there are several over-the-counter eczema creams that can help alleviate even the most aggravating symptoms.