What Is Eczema? Here's What You Need to Know

Updated 01/22/18
what is eczema
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One of the best pieces of beauty advice we’ve ever heard was when supermodel Iman said, “Beauty is being comfortable and confident in your own skin.” And while we’re attached to the deeper meaning of this quote, there’s a lot to be said for the comfort and confidence that comes with loving your skin. For many, a major hurdle on the path to healthy skin is eczema—a condition that is estimated to affect over three million Americans each year. To help demystify this common condition (and help your skin be its healthiest) here’s a quick guide to what eczema is, its major symptoms, and how to treat it.

What is eczema?

Also known as atopic dermatitis, eczema is a condition in which the skin becomes red, itchy, and inflamed. As Melissa Doft MD explains, “Eczema is a common hereditary skin condition in which your skin is unable to protect itself from changes in your environments, leading to dry, itchy, and flaky skin. It often develops during early childhood and occurs periodically.” As the National Eczema Association points out, there are eight different types of eczema, but atopic dermatitis is considered to be the most common.

What are the symptoms?

Since eczema is caused by an overreaction of the nervous system, specific triggers can vary by person. Eczema is characterized by a distinctive red rash, most commonly found on the skin of the arms or behind the knees. While these are the most typical sites, eczema can also occur anywhere on the body. Eczema rashes tend to be red and inflamed and are often coupled with a dry, scaly texture. The rashes are also usually itchy and may be accompanied by skin sensitivity or swelling.

What causes eczema?

While it varies by individual, common triggers include the chemicals found in many household cleaning products, certain kinds of soap, dust, animal dander, and environmental pollutants. Interestingly enough, the American Academy of Dermatology has also noted that eczema varies by geographical location and is more common in cities (especially heavily polluted areas), as well as in northern regions. Although a common misconception, eczema is not a contagious condition.

How is it treated?

Depending on the severity of the condition, solutions can range from prescription medications to topical over-the-counter treatments to natural remedies like improved skin hydration and phototherapy (aka light therapy). To alleviate eczema symptoms at home, Doft recommends taking lukewarm showers instead of hot showers, and decreasing the time spent in the shower for 10 to 15 minutes. She also warns to avoid certain types of soaps, especially those with fragrances. “Try something like Cetaphil, which works well for sensitive skin, and use a moisturizer regularly. I love ones that include ceramides, which have been shown to be beneficial for treating eczema.

CeraVe is a great one,” says Doft. Of course, if your eczema is severe, or if you’re concerned that the skin may be infected, the best step is to schedule an appointment with your doctor.

Shop Products for Eczema Relief

Soapwalla Concentrated Repair Balm
Soapwalla Concentrated Repair Balm $64
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Rachel Winard, founder of Soapwalla says, “This miracle in a jar has moringa and prickly pear seed oil, which calm the skin. Infusions of arnica and calendula calm inflammation while reducing redness and bumps.”

CeraVe Eczema Soothing Cream Oil
CeraVe Eczema Soothing Cream Oil $15
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CeraVe makes a range of products for eczema, including this soothing oil.

Pai Gentle Genius Body Wash
Pai Gentle Genius Body Wash $32
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Sarah Brown, founder of Pai Skincare, says this wash, “Uses a combination of natural cleansing agents called glucosides. These ultra gentle detergents work with the Konjac sponge (included) to create a generous lather, so you can still get that super clean feeling without irritation.”

Aquaphor Healing Ointment
Aquaphor Healing Ointment $7
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Use this ointment on cracked areas of the skin for additional moisture.

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