Dealing with any skin condition—psoriasis, rosacea, or acne—can be tricky, frustrating, and confusing. Eczema is no different, especially if it's your face (so easily exposed to potentially provoking products and the environmental instigators) versus other body parts.
If you're dealing with eczema, you're far from alone. According to the National Eczema Association, roughly 31.6 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with some form of eczema. Of course, any skin condition—eczema included—is far more complex than just keeping the skin clean and hydrated, so we reached out to some of the best dermatologists and skincare professionals in the industry to set the record straight (and answer all of our burning questions) regarding face eczema. We still recommend an appointment with a dermatologist IRL, but this should at least help in the interim. Keep scrolling for all of the best advice on how to treat eczema on your face.
Meet the Expert
- Breana Wheeler, MSN, NP, is a nurse practitioner at Facile Dermatology + Boutique.
- DYoon-Soo Cindy Bae, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist at the Laser & Skin Surgery Center in New York City.
- Corey L. Hartman, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, AL.
- Tanuj Nakra, MD, is a cosmetic surgeon and cofounder of Avya Skincare.
What Is Eczema?
According to nurse practitioner Breana Wheeler, eczema is an umbrella term for skin conditions that can cause the skin to become red, itchy, and inflamed. "The word eczema is often used when talking about atopic dermatitis, the most common type of eczema," she explains. "It's important to know that patients with atopic dermatitis have an impaired skin barrier, meaning their skin doesn't hold water like it's supposed to, which causes the condition's signature flakes and dryness." Dr. Corey L. Hartman adds, "Eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, is a condition that causes inflammation in the skin, making it dry, red, and itchy. It is most common in children but can occur at any age and tends to be a chronic skin condition that can be managed but not cured. It is associated with asthma and hay fever and tends to occur in families."
While eczema can have a genetic component, a variety of things cause or worsen it, such as our environment and how our immune system responds. Cindy Bae, MD, also points out that while diet and certain foods don't directly cause eczema, food allergies can often make atopic dermatitis worse—another reason to visit your doc ASAP if you know or think you might be suffering from eczema.
Eczema on the Face vs the Body
Even though all of our experts agree that the general signs and symptoms of eczema will be the same regardless of where it appears on your body—face included—there are key differences to be aware of. Hartman explains, "Eczema can affect any part of the body, most commonly the bends of the arms and legs, the hands and the neck. But it can also affect the face, usually on the cheeks. The presentation is the same – dry, red, itchy patches that start to thicken the skin the longer it's present, and the more scratching occurs."
As Wheeler explains, facial eczema can be more challenging to manage since the skin is more sensitive, and we tend to apply more products that might trigger a flare-up. This, for example, would require a different treatment strategy than a type of eczema on the hands called pompholyx or dyshidrotic eczema which, Bae says, presents itself as deep-seated blisters.
"You can also get nummular eczema, which looks like a coin-shaped rash on the body. Plus, since many patients with eczema scratch and rub the areas affected, it's not uncommon for the skin to appear thickened or sometimes darker in some areas of the body and face than others," says Bae.
How Can You Treat Eczema on the Face?
If a trigger for your eczema can be identified, it should be eliminated. Not sure where to start? Tanuj Nakra, a cosmetic surgeon, cites common triggers as foods (think typical allergens like eggs, dairy, or nuts), fabrics (wool or man-made fibers), or skin irritants (perfume, makeup, or skincare products).
"Unfortunately, some triggers are hard to treat because they are tied to your genetics or where you live. For instance, northern latitudes are a trigger," Nakra explains. "Secondly, the itching symptoms of eczema should be treated to avoid worsening the inflammation." He says non-aggressive steroids such as hydrocortisone 1% cream are a good place to start to calm irritation, and depending on your results, you can seek further treatment options with your doctor. Of course, choosing gentle, non-inflammatory skincare is key if you're looking to reduce the chances of a flare-up. Oh, and Bae also recommends investing in an at-home humidifier.
What Should You Avoid?
When caring for eczema, anything harsh, irritating, or over-exfoliating is considered a foe. Specifically, Wheeler and Hartman both suggest avoiding sulfates, alcohol, and fragrances in addition to at-home peels or pads and alcohol-based toners. Avoiding inflammatory food like sugar and dairy is also strategic in minimizing the chance for flare-ups.
"Be careful with over-exfoliation, as that can lead to dryness, which can trigger eczema," Wheeler adds. "Allergens in the environment can even cause an eczema flare. I've also seen eczema worsen with certain eye makeup and makeup-removing products. I would avoid makeup wipes since most contain fragrance and alcohol and instead use a gentle makeup remover or micellar water to remove makeup. I also recommend avoiding hot water when washing your face and instead using cool water, as it's less drying and less irritating."
Ingredient-wise, Nakra suggests looking for soothing ingredients when choosing your skincare picks (don't worry, more on that below!) and suggests calming, natural choices like snow mushroom, turmeric, aloe, and witch hazel as non-irritating alternatives.
What Are the Best Products for Eczema on the Face
As Nakra tells us, the ideal evening skincare routine for someone with eczema flare-ups on their face would start with gentle cleansing, followed by a low-inflammation nighttime moisturizer, which, he says, can even be as simple as pure coconut oil. However, he does point out that anyone with more active (i.e., consistent) eczema may need to treat their skin with over-the-counter topical steroids such as hydrocortisone 1% cream before applying their nighttime moisturizer or even doctor-prescribed medications to reduce eczema's intensity and frequency.
Keep scrolling for the products dermatologists recommend to anyone with facial eczema.
"An ideal anti-inflammatory skincare routine for someone with eczema would begin with a cleanser that doesn't overly dry the skin, such as this one from Avya Skincare," says Nakra. "All of the products from the brand avoid common triggers for eczema, including glycolic acids, retinoids, and other inflammatory agents."
For hydration, Nakra says he recommends this moisturizer containing snow mushroom, turmeric, and neem, which are all meant to reduce skin inflammation.
"Cerave Moisturizing Lotion is a great option for the face because it is affordable, yet elegant, providing the skin barrier repair complete with ceramides, but no greasy or tacky finish," says Hartman.
"In terms of products you can use to help manage eczema, moisturizing with thick creams and ointments is key," Bae clarifies. "The best time to do this is after you wash your face, and I like Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion or Vanicream Lite Lotion."
When a flare-up occurs, Bae recommends applying topical medicine prescribed by your board-certified dermatologist first and then reaching for a lightweight moisturizer, like this one from Vanicream, to the rest of your skin. "Products with fragrances and dyes should be avoided," she says.
If you've got super dry skin worsening your eczema, this product is the one for you. "Avène XeraCalm AD Lipid-Replenishing Cream targets the source of the symptoms of eczema and moisturizes the skin using a velvety, non-greasy vehicle to provide long-lasting hydration to severely dry skin," says Hartman.
"When addressing eczema, I always start by simplifying the patient's skin care regimen and removing any possible triggers," Wheeler says. "I typically switch the patient to a gentle, soap-free cleanser and a soothing, quality moisturizer to be used twice daily. I also recommend an ointment like Aquaphor to help retain hydration in the skin."
Last but not least, sun protection! For sunscreen, Wheeler suggests opting for a mineral sunscreen versus a chemical, which might irritate the skin. She likes this cult-favorite formula from EltaMD.
Eczema causes and triggers. National Eczema Association.
Katta R, Schlichte M. Diet and dermatitis: food triggers. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2014;7(3):30-36.