If I gain every penny for every single time I say I have eczema-prone skin that constantly come and goes, I think I'd be rich by now. But yes, let me repeat it again for everyone out there: I have eczema. I am a loyal subscriber of eczema. I have flare-ups every now and then mostly on my chest, waist, legs and sometimes elbow. As I've mentioned before, life with eczema is a high maintenance frustration. Eczema itself, though not contagious, cannot be cured completely but it can be avoided or minimized and here's how.
1. know your triggers
Right, this is the most obvious one but still the most important. You need to first know your triggers. There are different types of eczema and you should ask for a thorough diagnosis from a dermatologist. Since eczema can also be triggered from food allergy, getting a blood test for that may also be helpful. Once you know what your triggers are, avoiding them should be your primary key to maintaining minimal flare-ups. If your trigger happens to be food allergy (e.g dairy products or cheese, sugary or salty food), keep them to a minimum. It's best to avoid them completely but you know that's really, really difficult.
2. avoid harmful chemicals
Fragrance, dyes and detergents / sulfates are common irritants that may trigger eczema flare-ups. For me, sulfate and detergents are my nemesis. I do just fine with certain scented products (e.g. body lotion or butter) but sulfates in body wash? They tend to trigger a more serious flare-ups. I highly suggest avoiding weird, scented body wash with sulfates and opt for something more delicate and meant for sensitive skin, is unscented and mild with no excessive chemicals or additives. Be careful because not all products dedicated to babies are safe; for instance, I stopped using Johnson & Johnson because their liquid body wash contains fragrance and SLS. For a list of favorite hygiene products I've tried and enjoyed in the past, look into this post. I recently use the Cetaphil Restoraderm and have been loving it.
3. moisturize on damp skin often
Yes you heard that right. Moisturize on damp skin, not fully dry skin. Other than lotions and butters, I suggest trying out organic, cold pressed natural oils and apply them on your skin while it's still wet or damp. Oils do not work well on dry skin and will take a long time to absorb. As soon as you're done with shower, apply a few drops of oils onto affected areas, leave it on for a few minutes to absorb and then towel dry your skin to avoid catching cold. Some natural oils that I have tried and worked so far: virgin coconut oil, sweet almond oil, castor oil, macadamia oil (unless you're allergic to nuts), rosehip oil and borage oil. I highly recommend using body butter to hydrate your skin during the night time before you go to bed since body lotion is usually a lot lighter in formula and is more suitable for daytime.
4. avoid long, hot or cold showers
Keep your water at normal room temperature . Avoid taking hot or cold showers and baths as they tend to dry out the skin more. If you must, treat hot bath or shower as a treat once in a while. Other than the temperature, avoid taking extremely long showers. The longer you shower, the more moisture and natural oils get stripped away from your skin.
5. choose your laundry products carefully
For eczema-prone skin, choosing laundry care products is not easy. Major laundry care products you see in the market contain harsh chemicals such as sulfates, dyes and fragrance. These are potential triggers even if you're only using them to wash your clothes. Some people may get away with using normal detergents for their laundry as long as they are rinsed adequately. The safest way is to choose a hypoallergenic laundry liquid product formulated for sensitive skin. Liquid laundry product is also preferable since it does not leave residues the way powder one does. It's also best to avoid fabric softener for safety measures. For more information, click here.
6. keep sweating to a minimum
I am one of those folks whose eczema may be triggered by sweating. This is also why I hate being out and about too long, especially in a humid, warm environment. Sweating triggers itch and itch triggers flare-ups. I know I probably sound like a snob who wants to stay in an air conditioned room all the time but eczema never consult me before choosing its triggers so I can't help it.
7. maintain temperature at home
In relation to the previous point, changes in temperature may cause flare-ups. Humid and extremely hot weather cause flare-ups, the same goes cold weather where skin tends to get really dry and you require a crap ton of moisture for hydration. When the weather is unforgivingly hot, try to maintain temperature by staying in an air conditioned or cool room. When it's cold, try to keep an air humidifier to prevent your skin from becoming too dry. An alternative to investing in an air humidifer would be air purifier where it cleans indoor air thus preventing contact dermatitis (eczema) from filthy surrounding.
8. wear comfortable clothing
Cotton, cotton, cotton. Choose cotton because it's the safest for sensitive skin and it won't cause friction that will cause irritation. If you're a fashionable individual and would love to experiment with other materials because cotton is boring and childish, make sure that item is comfortable and does not restrict your movement. Avoid using clothes that cling onto your skin; if you feel like size XS is too tight for you, don't force it. Give your skin some space to breathe, you'll appreciate it. (this rule also applies to undergarments, alright people)
9. do not scratch
A very difficult tips, I know. I get it. I struggled with it myself and am still struggling now. No matter what form your eczema is, the itch is always there. One of the best way to avoid scratching is to apply a cold, damp towel on affected areas to provide temporary relief. You can also try patting the affected area if that helps. I also find that when my hands feel tight and dry, applying lotion or hand cream helps combat it. Remember to also trim your nails because obviously, longer nails = higher possibility of irritation. (extra tips: organic, cold pressed oils actually help in reducing eczema itch!)
10. minimize the use of steroid cream
As much as I'd like to say "stop using corticosteroid cream", I know that it's still something people like to use to provide quick relief on eczema patches. Long term use of steroid ointment, however, may cause thinning skin which may lead to easy bruising and/or injuries. Dependency will also lead to the skin developing resistance to it. In return, you will need a stronger dose of steroid cream which may cause further unwanted side effects. Keep in mind that steroid cream by itself is NOT dangerous as long as you don't use it every single day (anything is good as long as it's kept in moderation). It's not something that you should depend on for your eczema flare-ups.
These tips may not be everything you need to know to avoid flare-ups or minimize them but these are some of the useful tips that have worked for me so far. Always remember that although these tips work for me, they may not always work for you 100%. The key to maintaining or minimizing flare-ups is to understand your triggers and avoid them as much as possible. Like I said, a complete diagnosis from a dermatologist is always appreciated.
P.S: if your dermatologist prescribes you with oral steroid, ask him or her if it's possible to opt for ointment instead. I was prescribed oral steroid recently and I do not like its side effects.