Atopic dermatitis, commonly called eczema, is an inflammatory skin condition characterized by patches of dry, red, itchy skin. Although eczema often develops in early childhood, people of any age can experience this common skin condition. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to make atopic dermatitis more manageable and reduce uncomfortable symptoms like itching and flaking.
Eczema Causes and Diagnosis
Atopic dermatitis is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. One genetic factor that researchers believe may cause eczema is a mutation in a protein called filaggrin (filament aggregating protein). When functioning properly, this protein is broken down into what is known as natural moisturizing factor (NMF). NMF plays a vital role in your skin’s natural ability to retain moisture. Thus, genetic mutations in this protein that lead to inadequate NMF can cause dry, itchy, and irritated skin — hallmark symptoms of eczema.
There are also external factors that can cause your skin to produce too little NMF. These include prolonged sun exposure, foaming or drying cleansers that strip your skin of its natural oils, and the natural aging process. These factors can therefore worsen eczema symptoms by depleting the skin’s stores of NMF.
Other environmental factors can also trigger atopic dermatitis. These include:
- Sensitivities and allergies to foods like eggs, dairy, soy, peanuts and wheat
- Allergies to pollen, dander, dust mites, and mold
- Scented personal care products
- Certain chemical preservatives in detergents and personal care products
- Rough, scratchy fabrics like wool and polyester
- Weather or temperature changes
A majority of eczema cases begin in early childhood. This is known as early-onset atopic dermatitis. In some cases, eczema symptoms will gradually resolve on their own into adolescence and adulthood. Late-onset atopic dermatitis, on the other hand, develops after puberty and often remains into adulthood.
Eczema is diagnosed primarily based on symptoms and a skin exam performed by a dermatologist. Skin prick tests may also be performed if allergies are suspected as a trigger for your eczema. If you believe you have atopic dermatitis, contact your dermatologist for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
Symptoms of Atopic Dermatitis
Eczema most commonly occurs in flares, during which symptoms like dryness, itching, and redness appear on your skin. These symptoms may then resolve for a period of time before reappearing. For some people, eczema is worse during certain times of the year.
Other signs of atopic dermatitis include:
- Patches of blistering, weeping, or crusting skin
- Rashes that contain small, raised bumps
- Swollen skin
- Thickened skin
How to Treat Eczema
There are three main treatment options for eczema: avoiding known triggers, barrier repair skincare, and medications. Often, a combination of treatments is the most effective solution for dry, itchy skin caused by atopic dermatitis.
1.Avoiding Eczema Triggers
Because eczema flare-ups are often caused by environmental triggers, an effective treatment method is to avoid known triggers as much as possible. If your skin tends to become red and itchy when you eat certain foods, for example, avoiding those foods will help to reduce flare-ups and keep symptoms at bay. If cold, dry winter air triggers eczema for you, be sure to switch to a heavier moisturizer in the winter and keep your skin covered and protected from the elements.
Healthy lifestyle habits such as keeping your skin protected from the sun, eating a healthy diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods, and reducing stress can also help to better manage skin conditions like atopic dermatitis.
2.Barrier Repair Skincare
The genetic mutation that causes inadequate natural moisturizing factor also leads to an impaired skin barrier. The skin barrier is made up of natural moisturizing factor and a specific ratio of lipids and is responsible for two important functions: 1) to retain moisture and 2) to prevent irritants and allergens from penetrating the skin.
When the skin barrier is impaired, it cannot perform these two functions properly. This leads to dry, dehydrated skin that can feel itchy and inflamed. In order to restore proper barrier function, the proper skincare regimen must be used. Barrier repair moisturizers that contain the proper ratio of lipids to mimic your skin’s natural barrier are a crucial part of eczema treatment and management.
Additionally, anti-inflammatory skincare ingredients such as niacinamide, aloe vera, and green tea can help to soothe red, inflamed skin.
3.Oral and Topical Medications
Mild to moderate atopic dermatitis can often be managed using the two treatments listed above. However, severe eczema symptoms may require topical medications such as corticosteroid creams and topical antiseptics, or oral medications such as oral steroids or antihistamines to control itching. If you experience eczema symptoms that are not easily managed using an anti-inflammatory skincare regimen and trigger avoidance, talk with your dermatologist about the most effective eczema medications for you.
Best Moisturizers for Eczema
The best moisturizers for eczema are moisturizers that have been formulated to repair the skin’s natural barrier using the proper ratio of ceramides, fatty acids, and cholesterol. Look for a barrier repair moisturizer that does not contain added fragrances, as fragrance is often a trigger for atopic dermatitis. Additionally, the best moisturizers for eczema also contain skin-soothing ingredients like green tea and aloe to reduce inflammation and redness.
PSL repair moisturizer uses PSL (physiologic skin lipids) technology to restore your skin’s barrier function. This barrier repair moisturizer is formulated with 50% ceramides, 25% cholesterol, 25% fatty acids, and anti-inflammatory ingredients to help dry, cracked skin retain vital moisture and to soothe irritation and inflammation.
Eczema is a common skin condition that can affect people of all ages. However, this condition can usually be easily managed with the right skincare regimen and lifestyle changes. If you are struggling with dry, itchy, or flaky skin, talk to your skincare professional about the best anti-inflammatory skincare regimen for your skin type, as well as any medications that may be appropriate.
Learn more about what causes eczema, how to know if you might have it, and what can be done to treat it in this article.