It started a few months ago. At first, I didn't think much of it. Yes, my lips were as dry and flaky as a stale croissant, but that happens every winter, so I persevered, layering on the same lip balm that usually gets me out of this mess—La Mer The Lip Balm ($75). But something about this bout of dryness was different. No matter what I did, it wasn't going away.
I became increasingly self-conscious of the situation. My lips were physically flaking off as I spoke, and I could have sworn it was all people could look at. And it got worse. The dryness spread quickly to my chin, covering an area the size of a plum around the outer corner of my mouth.
I soon realized I wasn't just dealing with a bit of dry skin. This was eczema, a condition I hadn't experienced since its signature pinot noir tone and maddening itch plagued my inner arms and the backs of my knees when I was in primary school. I thought I had left it behind.
My knee-jerk reaction to this realization was to do what any self-respecting beauty editor never, ever would—I went in on that dry patch with the harshest exfoliator I could find, swiping AHAs over it like I was watering a flowerbed in a drought.
Of course, my skin didn't like this, and the eczema around my mouth got angry—very angry—turning a deeper shade of red and ferociously more itchy. The only thing I found comfort in was Skinowl's Lavender Beauty Drops ($48) but while this oil took the sting away, eczema remained.
Thankfully, I got to chat with several dermatologists to help me understand what was going on with this sudden eczema onset and how to fend it off.
Meet the Expert
- Alexis Granite, MD, is a consultant dermatologist at the skin clinic Mallucci London.
- Marisa Garshick, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology based in New York City.
- Orit Markowitz, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist, skin cancer expert, and founder of OptiSkin in NYC.
Keep reading to learn how I got rid of my eczema once it recurred.
What is Eczema?
"Eczema is a hypersensitivity of the skin, and a lot of times it's hereditary," revealed Granite, which makes sense—my dad has it too. "It tends to be grouped with hay fever and asthma, and they're all atopic conditions. Asthma is a hypersensitivity of the airways, hay fever is the sinuses, eczema is the skin."
In my case, Granite states that what I'm dealing with seems to be a "combination of both genetics and atopic eczema that you had as a child flaring up, which could have been worsened by stress." She certainly sized me up correctly. Don't forget to add in all the products I test out for work, which could've contained an ingredient that I was allergic to. Garshick states, "Common triggers include fragrances, certain metals, and harsh soaps."
But I can't rule out a food allergy either. "In the past, we thought food allergies made eczema worse, but now the thinking is that your skin becomes almost 'leaky' and allows allergens to come in which you can then develop food allergies to," she explained. Oh man.
What Are the Different Types of Eczema?
There are seven different types of eczema, and it's possible to be dealing with more than one at a time. According to the National Eczema Association, they all come with their own set of triggers and treatments.
- Atopic dermatitis: This is the most common form of eczema (and the one I have). It tends to show up in childhood and can come and go throughout adulthood. Common symptoms include itchy rashes, dry and discolored skin, and painful skin.
- Contact dermatitis: This form of eczema occurs when you come into contact with an irritating substance, like scratchy wool, detergents, or nickel-containing jewelry. Sometimes a rash may show up right away, or be delayed, but could cause burning or blistering of the skin.
- Neurodermatitis: Excessive itching and scratching can cause this type of eczema. Rather than being widespread, it usually shows up on certain parts of the skin, especially feet, ankles, hands, wrists, and elbows.
- Dyshidrotic eczema: You're experiencing this type of eczema if you get small, itchy blisters along your hands and feet.
- Nummular eczema: The name "nummular" means coin, which is the shape of the itchy lesions that show up on the skin. They may also be oozing or crusted over.
- Seborrheic dermatitis: This is a chronic form of eczema and shows up on the body where lots of oils are produced, including the scalp and nose.
- Stasis dermatitis: Also referred to as venous eczema, this form happens when there's poor circulation in the legs. The skin around the feet and lower legs can get itchy, scaly, and dry.
How Long Until Eczema Goes Away?
The course of action I took really worked, and I felt overjoyed. The eczema all but disappeared by the end of the next day, and having kept up the cream application recommended to me for a further week, it doesn't show any signs of rearing its ugly head again. I'm going to stick with my pared-back skin routine, only switching in products I know I've never had an issue with.
This isn't always the case, though. It could take several weeks for eczema to clear, or maybe not at all until you have pinpointed and removed every single trigger that you're exposed to.
Can You Get Rid of Eczema?
While you can get rid of the rashes or patches that occur during a flare-up, you will never be able to cure yourself of eczema because it's a chronic condition. On a positive note, the available treatments are effective in keeping the flare-ups from showing up on the regular.
Call in the Professionals
In a virtuous twist of fate, the same week things were really bad, I had the chance to meet with Granite. As soon as I sat down with her, I could feel a solution was on the horizon—that's how comforting she is. And as it turns out, she's especially clued up on the issue of eczema.
After I explained my skin situation and she took a closer look, she confirmed that yes, the dry, red skin around my mouth was exactly what I had suspected—eczema, or perioral dermatitis, as it's also called. Within 10 minutes, Granite had written down the appropriate course of action (note: not an exfoliator in sight).
"Each person’s treatment is personalized," says Markowitz. "I evaluate their condition based on their symptoms, their health, their skin type, their diet, exercise routines, environmental exposures, and stress."
Fight Eczema Internally
"The thing I see a lot with eczema patients is that because the skin has become broken, cracked, and inflamed, bacteria can come in," says Granite. "They're not harmful in that they'll cause a systemic issue, but when bacteria sit on eczema, they don't allow it to heal."
"I see this a lot with patients who have had eczema for months even though they're putting tons of steroids and anti-inflammatories on the skin. So I think we should probably do both for you—treat eczema from the inside and from the outside," she continued.
At this point, Granite recommended a five-day course of antibiotics called Keflex, which comes stocked in most local pharmacies, but you'll need a prescription for it.
Garshick states gut health moderation and the microbiome is also important to focus on when it comes to managing eczema symptoms. "I recommend taking Florajen Eczema ($40), which is a daily probiotic with clinical data shown to reduce the severity of eczema and the overall reliance on topical steroids," she says.
Make sure you follow rounds of antibiotics with a high-quality probiotic. Using both at the same time will result in the antibiotic killing off the cultures, making the probiotics ineffective.
Purge Your Skincare Routine
Of course, in the business I'm in, it's my job to try as many new beauty products as humanly possible. Up until now, my skin had been able to handle it. But Granite was pretty certain that this recent eczema was triggered by an ingredient my skin just didn't get on with.
She recommended I go completely back to basics with my skincare routine, which honestly, I welcomed. Rather than my fancy cleansers and creams, I switched everything out and plonked a bottle of CeraVe's Hydrating Cleanser ($15) and Avène's Tolérance Control Soothing Skin Recovery Cream ($35) by the side of my sink.
"Another great sealant ingredient is ceramides," says Markowitz. "These moisturizers are best used after washing to help restore the skin's barrier function."
Take Care of it Topically
So as well as the antibiotics, Granite prescribed me a cream to put on the offending area. Having spent my childhood rubbing harsh hydrocortisone over my skin, I knew I didn't want anything that was going to thin my skin, and she (thankfully) suggested . "It's a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, so it's a little safer to use on the face," she promised.
Hydrocortisone is a corticosteroid, a medicine that reduces inflammation. It's a common anti-inflammatory treatment for skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis and is available both over-the-counter and as a prescription.
From the first application, my skin immediately felt more comfortable, although weirdly, it made my lips tingle like a plumping lip gloss. You apply it two to three times a day, and it hydrates the area, so there's no sore flakiness while the internal meds do their thing. Again, you'll need your doctor to prescribe this, so ask if it would be right for you.
Try a New Lip Balm
"The lip is especially hard because you're always licking your lips, and it just dries out so much," explained Granite. I always thought I was doing a good job applying lip balm religiously, but perhaps I needed to try out a new product. "Sometimes the wax in firmer formulas just sits on the top of the skin and doesn't let any moisture in," she revealed before recommending Kiehl's Lip Balm #1 ($10). It's super greasy, so it feels just like rubbing your lips with face oil. I'm low-key obsessed.
You also don't need anything fancy because good ol' Vaseline also does the trick according to Garshick. "This 100 percent pure petrolatum-based ointment is a great option to help heal very dry skin and can help with dry lips, as it both protects the skin and locks in moisture," she states. "By providing a protective barrier, it helps to protect the skin from external irritants, which can worsen dryness, redness, and flaking in those with eczema."
Get an Allergy Test
While I had a positive outcome with these several steps, should it flare up again, Granite has recommended I return for an allergy test called True Patch Allergy Testing. It tests 36 known skin allergens over a few days so maybe, finally, I'd find out what got me into this mess in the first place.
"Certain food may be associated with eczema flare-ups," mentions Markowitz. "So, if there is an association noted, be sure to stay away from the offending ingredients. Common foods include eggs, milk, soy, and dairy products."
Does drinking water help eczema?
Individuals who deal with eczema tend to have dry skin so it's important to stay hydrated, especially if you exercise frequently or live in a warm climate.
Should you shower every day with eczema?
Garshick recommends keeping daily showers short and lukewarm when dealing with an eczema flare-up. Follow it up with an application of a thick moisturizing cream or ointment.
Why is eczema itchier at night?
There could be a few reasons behind the itchiness of eczema at night, including the material of your bedding, the temperature of the room, and medications/treatments wearing off from the day.
National Eczema Association. An Overview of the Different Types of Eczema.
Cleveland Clinic. Probiotics. Updated March 9, 2020.
Mehta AB, Nadkarni NJ, Patil SP, Godse KV, Gautam M, Agarwal S. Topical corticosteroids in dermatology. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol. 2016 Jul-Aug;82(4):371-8. doi: 10.4103/0378-6323.178903