Navigating a skincare regimen when you have eczema isn't exactly a straightforward endeavor. Because the condition means your outer layer of skin is weak and therefore sensitive, it's important to give your skin some extra TLC. At the same time, you need to make sure you're tending to it the right way versus aimlessly going ham with skincare products. We asked two dermatologists to share the top things you should never do if you have eczema, so heed their words.
Take an extra hot shower
We know. A steamy session in the shower, especially come winter, is very tempting. However, this is a major no-no if you have eczema.
"Hot water is rough on our skin and can irritate and damage our skin barrier. Patients with eczema already have a damaged skin barrier layer, and over time, hot showers just make it worse," says Papri Sarkar, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Brookline, Mass.
She adds that her patients with eczema are sometimes extra tempted to take a hot shower because it can be temporarily soothing to their itchy skin. That short-term relief just exacerbates the issue, though, so turn the dial down to a lukewarm setting.
"If you must take a hot shower, I suggest layering your skin with oil first to protect it a bit and keeping it hot only for a brief moment," Dr. Sarkar advises.
Stay in the shower too long
While we're on the topic of showers, it's also important to not linger too long under that comforting stream of water. "Excessive exposure to water, especially at hot temperatures, constrict the skin of essential oils needed to maintain a healthy skin barrier," says Joshua Zeichner, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. "Keep your showers to 10 minutes or less."
Exfoliate your skin
If you have eczema, it's important to avoid using exfoliating products. This includes physical scrubs and chemical exfoliants, such as AHAs, BHAs, and enzymes.
"If you see dry, flaky skin, listen to what your skin needs and give it hydration," says Dr. Zeichner. "Exfoliating already-dry skin can lead to more harm than good. Instead, [use] a gentle, hydrating cleanser."
Skip your moisturizer
After using a gentle cleanser, make sure to give your skin a boost of hydration via a moisturizer.
"You can't control your genes, but you can control your skincare routine," says Dr. Zeichner. "We know that the entire skin surface area is dry—not just areas where you have active eczema outbreaks—so regular application of a moisturizer is a must."
You should moisturize both morning and evening using a product formulated for sensitive skin. This often means a simple moisturizer without any active ingredients or known irritants, such as fragrances, dyes, alcohol, and essential oils.
Let air get too dry
Speaking of dry skin, introducing a humidifier to your home and/or office can be a real game changer for people with eczema. "Especially in colder months, wind and dry heat can take a toll on the skin," says Dr. Zeichner. "Using a humidifier can help restore hydration to the other skin layer keeping the skin in as good shape as possible—[even] while you sleep."
Get overly stressed
Keeping stress to a minimum is easier said than done, right? Still, stress can take a toll on your body and can even lead to an eczema flare-up, notes Dr. Sarkar.
"Most diseases, skin and otherwise, flare with stress. This is especially true for inflammatory diseases like acne, psoriasis, and eczema," she explains. "In this day and age, it's almost impossible to avoid stress completely without going off grid, but if that isn't an option (or desired), adding a de-stressing ritual to your day can help."
This looks different for everyone. Some people love yoga or meditation, others prefer a walk through the forest or intense cardio. Dr. Sarkar says to figure out what does lower your cortisol levels and lean into it for a little bit every day.
People with eczema need protection from the sun just like everyone else, but this step is often skipped out of fear of a flare up. The National Eczema Association recommends a broad spectrum, mineral-based (physical) sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. Common key ingredients in physical sunscreens include titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.
It sounds obvious enough, but steering clear of your known allergens can help prevent eczema flare-ups.
"Allergens really exacerbate eczema," warns Dr. Sarkar. "Patients with eczema are more likely to have other allergies to things like pets, pollen, dust, and foods. Having contact with those things—especially in long or high doses—tends to flare eczema so I recommend avoiding them as much as possible."