If you're experiencing dry, itchy skin (especially for longer periods of time), experts say it could be more than just a rough patch. "Eczema occurs in blotches and causes the skin to inflame, itch, crack, and sometimes, blister," explains Jeannette Graf, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. "The appearance of the skin gets worse if you scratch the area and rub it, leading to more irritation."
According to the National Eczema Association, there are seven different types of eczema, many of which are thought to be tied to genetics and tend to present in the first six months to five years of one's life. "It can also be triggered by factors like weather, dryness, smoke, pollen, fragrances, allergens, and certain foods, such as nuts and dairy," adds Dr. Graf.
From soothing aloe vera to moisturizing ceramides, read on as dermatologists help us break down eight ingredients that could prove the secret to your skin relief.
First up: aloe vera, a gooey, gel-like substance that comes from the aloe vera plant and is known for its antibacterial, calming, and restorative powers. "It soothes the skin from inflammation and can also aid in the healing process," says Dr. Graf, which explains why we often see aloe vera used to help alleviate sunburn.
This gentle giant of an ingredient serves up a plethora of antibacterial properties, without being too harsh on the skin. "Coconut oil is also an anti-inflammatory as it works to improve antioxidant status," says Dr. Graf. "Antioxidants stabilize free radicals (molecules) in the body and neutralize the reactive atoms that can cause inflammation."
Apple Cider Vinegar
You might want to set some apple cider vinegar aside when preparing your next salad, as Dr. Graf points out that it can help reduce eczema symptoms by restoring the skin's acidity levels. "Acidity in the skin can offer protection from harmful microbes and damaging free radicals that may cause irritation and contribute to aging."
Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3, often hailed for its moisturizing capabilities. "B3 helps with skin function and DNA repair. When you have a deficiency, it can lead to skin concerns like eczema," explains Dr. Graf.
Ceramides are fatty acids that are found in the cell membrane and help create a lipid layer (or barrier) around your cells. "They essentially act as a glue to hold together keratinocytes, which are cells that help maintain the integrity of your skin," says Julie Russak, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Russak Dermatology in New York City.
Colloidal oatmeal may be known for its soothing effects, but Dr. Russak says it can also act as a prebiotic and anti-inflammatory. "Additionally, it's a humectant, helping to improve skin hydration by drawing in and holding on to moisture."
Urea is an organic compound frequently used in moisturizer formulas for its hydrating properties. "Naturally present in skin, it acts as an emollient and also softens the dry outer layer of the skin," says Dr. Russak.
Yes, you read that right. "Skin flora in Staph acts as a superantigen and flares up already inflamed eczema-prone skin," says Dr. Russak. "When used carefully, bleach can decrease the pathogenic Staphylococcus population on the surface of the skin, allowing for good bacteria to grow and reducing eczema flares." (More on bleach baths as a treatment for eczema from the National Eczema Association).
When to seek medical attention
Still experiencing discomfort? Experts advise seeing a board-certified dermatologist in the instance that eczema symptoms worsen over time or don't go away.
"There is currently no cure for eczema, but they can recommend treatments, such as anti-inflammatory creams and oral medications that act as immunosuppressants, to help alleviate the symptoms and manage flare-ups," says Dr. Graf.