Heal Your Skin: Fixes for Complexion Complaints
EczemaWhat It Is
The 15 million sufferers in this country who experience the relentless itching and nonstop scratching that characterize eczema know just how uncomfortable this condition can be. Other symptoms include inflamed, dry, and sometimes cracked skin that is especially vulnerable to infection.
"People with eczema get rashes from things that most other people don't get rashes from," explains Dr. Schultz, adding that seemingly benign objects such as contaminants on paper clips can set off a reaction. Interestingly, people with eczema are also often prone to asthma or hay fever and if one or both parents have these allergic conditions, their offspring are likelier to develop eczema.What the Dermatologist Can Do
"Eczema is a disease we normally associate with infants and children," says Bruce A. Brod, MD, clinical associate professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania. So when adults get it, it's important to have a doctor confirm it's not a drug reaction or mycosis fungoides, an uncommon T-cell lymphoma of the skin that causes a long-lasting itchy rash and slowly spreads. (It's rare but definitely something to rule out.) Here, a few medical options:
- Corticosteroid ointments: These medical mainstays reduce itching and inflammation. Since cortisones can thin the skin, a doctor may also prescribe topical calcineurin inhibitors. Since this alternative has received an FDA black box warning owing to a possible increased risk of lymphoma, discuss your options with your doctor.
- Antihistamines: They can help you get a restful night's sleep by temporarily relieving itching.
- Light box treatments: These treatments help to reduce eczema's symptoms, most likely by reducing the white cells in the skin that contribute to inflammation.
Itching and irritation are the top concerns of eczema sufferers, so it's crucial to stick to facial products that are as free from fragrances and preservatives as possible -- both can inflame sensitive skin. Also, because eczema can affect the whole body, it's smart to be equally wary about ingredients when choosing body products. Lotions that list water or alcohol high on the ingredient listing are detrimental to the skin, as they provide less moisture and may irritate the skin. Most soaps are also no-nos since they dry out the skin's protective upper layer. Instead, try dermatologist-recommended products, such as Dove Sensitive Skin Unscented Beauty Bar, $2.49 for two bars.
The most effective advice is to avoid over-bathing by taking short, lukewarm showers no more than once a day. "The hotter the water, the more likely it is to open the skin's pores and let the water in your skin escape," explains Dr. Schultz. "Also, very hot water will cause the release of histamine, making your skin itchier." After bathing, help your skin hold on to precious moisture by patting dry and slathering a humectant-rich body cream, such as St. Ives Mineral Therapy Advanced Body Moisturizer, $4.99, or Olay Quench Body Lotion for Sensitive Skin, $6.99, all over your body. (Extra-dehydrated spots, such as elbows and heels, will soak up rich balms such as Vaseline Intensive Rescue Heal and Repair Balm, $8.99, while itchy hands will get relief with Cortaid Advanced Long-Lasting Anti-Itch Hand Cream, $8.49.)
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