Eczema is the name of a group of medical skin conditions characterised mainly by dry, red, itchy, and inflamed skin.
It is an incredibly common condition, with 8.33% of adults having eczema in one of its many forms, and the figure is even higher for children. Eczema and contact dermatitis makeup around 90% of occupational skin diseases.
The most widely experienced type of eczema is atopic dermatitis, or atopic eczema. Atopic meaning a predisposition toward developing certain allergic hypersensitivity reactions.
It is important to know that eczema is, in no way, contagious. You can’t ‘catch’ it. The condition is instead developed. However, the exact cause remains unknown.
Scientists believe that sufferers can inherit eczema, meaning there is no way to prevent it as their genes are predisposed to develop the condition. A mixture of environmental triggers can also be a contributing factor or make an existing condition worse.
A study carried out by UK skincare company Salcura found a correlation between the number of eczema treatment orders and people living in hard water areas.
Hard water contains dissolved minerals like calcium and magnesium. After washing and bathing, these minerals are left on the skin in thin layers. These alkali deposits can irritate and inflame the already sensitive skin barrier in the same way as other triggers.
Although hard water doesn’t cause eczema, it can be an aggravator and make the condition worse or cause a flare-up. You can use Salcura’s postcode checker to see if you live in a hard water area.
Our skin is the barrier between our bodies and the outside world, protecting us from both irritation and infection.
It is made up of three layers:
Each layer has skin cells, water, and fats. These all work together to maintain and protect the skin.
In healthy skin, the cells are full of water which forms a protective barrier against infection. The fats and oils in the skin help to retain moisture and stop bacteria and harmful substances entering the body.
However, in eczematous skin, fewer fats and oils are produced inhibiting the skin’s ability to retain water. This means that the protective barrier isn’t as strong as that of healthy skin, and gaps open up between skin cells that are not sufficiently hydrated.
These gaps allow moisture to escape from the deeper skin layers meaning the protective barrier is less effective. Therefore, bacteria and irritants can penetrate the skin to a deeper level.
Those that suffer from eczema have skin that is more prone to drying out, meaning it can easily become red, cracked, and irritated.
Everyday products like soap and washing up liquid remove oils by nature, but exposure to them when your skin barrier is weakened means the substances can penetrate into the skin easier, triggering a reaction.
Any part of the body can see an eczema flare-up. In fact, there isn’t a part of the body that it can’t appear. However, it tends to develop in skin creases and folds.
The most commonly affected places tend to be:
In the UK, 1 in 12 adults has eczema. For children, this statistic raises to a shocking 1 in 5 effected.
Although more common in children, depending on the type of eczema, it can occur at any age.
For example, adults are more likely to develop occupational eczema as they will be spending many hours during the week at their workplace. Children would be less at risk of this type due to not regularly entering these environments.
Eczema sufferers symptoms are generally the same, although it does depend on the severity of the flare-up as to whether certain, more extreme symptoms occur. Some symptoms are exclusive to certain types of eczema.
The most common symptoms for eczema are:
In mild cases, the skin will become dry, scaly, red, and itchy. In more severe cases the skin can start to weep, crust, or even bleed.
Fair-skinned sufferers symptoms usually start out reddish, then turn brown. For those with darker skin, the symptoms can affect pigmentation, turning the area either lighter or darker.
In young children, the rash can start to ooze and crust. This is more common on the face and scalp but can form anywhere on the body.
The intense itching can be one of the most distressing symptoms that sufferers across the board experience. This itching can lead to further problems, as scratching can cause the skin to split, leaving the area vulnerable to infection.
As we know, eczema is a term for a group of skin conditions. It isn’t confined to one type, but instead has within it different variations that can be developed. Some are more common than others and can be caused by varying factors.
We’ll break down the most common types.
This is the most common form of eczema and a chronic condition.
The word “atopic” is used to describe conditions resulting from hypersensitivity to allergens in the environment (conditions like eczema or asthma). Reactions occur anywhere on the body, even if it does not come into contact with the allergen.
“Dermatitis” refers to the skin becoming red, irritated, and sore due to direct irritation from an external irritant or allergic reaction.
Atopic eczema is mostly genetic and is more likely to be present in individuals who have a family history of eczema or any of the other atopic conditions (asthma or hay fever). These conditions are known as the atopic triad.
Although sufferers of atopic eczema are predisposed to have this condition genetically, environmental factors can further contribute to the irritation and flare-ups. Other allergy triggers such as foods or dust mites can also make symptoms worse.
This type of eczema usually begins in childhood, often before six months old. It can go through phases of improvement and then flare-ups, as is the nature of chronic conditions.
Some symptoms include:
Commonly affected areas include the face, hands, feet, inner elbows and backs of the knees.
This form of eczema occurs when the skin comes into contact with irritants or allergens, resulting in the commonly recognised eczema symptoms including redness and itching.
The two most common types of contact dermatitis are:
Allergens are substances that the skin and body are allergic to, such as animal dander, thus causing a flare-up.
Irritants are substances that irritate the skin, including products like soaps and detergents, triggering a flare-up when the sufferer comes into contact with them. These irritants work by further breaking down the skin’s already vulnerable barrier, allowing the substances to penetrate deeper into the body.
Contact dermatitis normally occurs on the hands as this is the area most likely to handle possible triggers, but can happen on any area of skin that comes into contact with the irritant or allergen.
Contact dermatitis can be developed even if you don’t have atopic eczema.
Irritants can be found in many everyday items such as clothing, facial creams, and even carpets. Switching to natural alternatives like sisal carpet or pure cotton can help in avoiding these irritants
Common irritants include:
Common allergens include:
As well as all the normal symptoms of eczema, dyshidrotic eczema is characterised by small, intensely itchy blisters that form exclusively on the hands and feet. Namely on the fingers, palms, toes, and soles of the feet. It can also cause scaly cracked skin and sometimes pain.
The blisters can last up to three weeks before drying out, possibly turning into skin cracks. Although generally small, some blisters can be large and painful.
It is possible to have both dyshidrotic eczema and another type of eczema at the same time.
Dyshidrotic eczema is most common among adults between the ages of 20 and 40, although it has been known to affect children too. It is twice as common in women as it is in men. People with atopic or contact dermatitis, or hay fever, have a higher chance of developing dyshidrotic eczema. Some research also suggests that it runs in families.
Dyshidrotic eczema has both environmental and allergic triggers. The environmental consist of:
Stress is one of the biggest triggers, but the list of allergic triggers is longer:
Nummular eczema is a type that looks very different to most recognisable eczema flare-ups. It is characterised by coin shaped patches of inflamed skin that tend to start on the legs, although it can occur anywhere on the body.
The name discoid comes from the disc-like shape of the inflamed patches, whereas nummular literally means coin shaped.
Sometimes the skin in the centre of these coin shapes can clear, leaving a ring of eczema. This can commonly lead to nummular eczema being mistaken for ringworm.
The symptoms of nummular eczema include:
Although the cause of nummular eczema is unknown, there are a number of known triggers:
Nummular eczema is quite common, affecting around 1 in 500 people. It is generally more common in men, although most cases are found in men and women between the ages of 50 and 65. Women tend to find that their first flare-up of nummular eczema is when they are much younger, aged between 13 and 25.
Although this variation of eczema can also affect children, it is very rare.
Nummular eczema can become infected from continued scratching, meaning that some flare-ups may need to be treated with antibiotics to treat the infection first. To avoid this, it is advised that sufferers refrain from scratching the area.
If flare-ups reoccur in the future, they often happen in the same area of skin that was previously affected.
Seborrheic eczema affects areas of the body with a larger amount of sebaceous glands.
It is considered a chronic condition and, although the exact cause is unknown, it is believed that hormones and genes are a contributing factor. An excess of yeast microorganisms on the skin can also be a cause.
Common areas affected are:
Unlike many forms of eczema, seborrheic eczema is not the result of an allergy.
It can affect any age but is most common in adults aged 30-60 - men slightly more so than women - and in babies under three months old. In babies it is referred to as cradle cap.
People with certain diseases that affect the immune system or the nervous system are believed to be at a greater risk. These include diseases like Parkinson's and HIV or AIDS.
Some of the common triggers of seborrheic eczema include:
The most commonly affected area is the scalp, generally along the hairline, but it can appear on any area of the scalp. Here it can look like dry flakes of skin - known as dandruff - or yellow greasy scales and red skin.
Other symptoms of seborrheic eczema can be:
This form of eczema is known by a few names, such as venous eczema, gravitational dermatitis, stasis dermatitis, and venous stasis dermatitis.
Stasis dermatitis normally forms in your legs as this is an area of the body both far away from, and below the heart. When your circulation is poor, your body has to work harder to pump the blood up from your legs, thus increasing the pressure in the veins in this area. This pressure then results in blood leaking from the veins into the skin, resulting in stasis dermatitis.
People with poor circulation and blood flow are most at risk of developing this type of eczema. It is more common in those over the age of 50, and women are more likely to develop it than men.
You are more likely to get stasis dermatitis if you also suffer from:
The symptoms of stasis dermatitis include:
Generally, stasis dermatitis will reoccur until the underlying issue of the veins and blood pressure is addressed.
When living with eczema in any of its forms, there are methods you can use outside of prescribed medication to help control the symptoms and avoid triggers. You may also be trying to avoid steroids, in which case more natural solutions are favourable.
Some methods may be more suited to certain types of eczema, for example, stasis dermatitis can have very specific types of treatment.
This can be one of the most difficult methods to put in place to manage your eczema, but it is also one of the most effective. If you know that certain things will cause you to flare-up, you can take precautions to avoid them or minimise contact.
Working out your triggers can be a difficult process as the list of possibilities can be long, ranging from irritants to weather to foods. The best thing to do is keep a diary tracking your flare-ups.
At first you may be recording a wide range of things, like the foods you’re eating, products you’re using, or whether you visited a friend with pets, but this will ensure you can efficiently narrow down the list of possible triggers. You can then start linking flare-ups to things you have tracked in your diary around the same time.
Once you’ve worked out your triggers you will have a better idea of the steps you need to take. If chemical irritants cause you to flare up, you may need to change some items in your home. Switching your normal flooring to seagrass carpet or other natural floorings would be one example.
When you suffer from eczema, your skin barrier is already weakened. Washing with very hot water can quickly cause any moisture in your skin to dry out making you more susceptible to a flare-up.
Instead, keep your baths and showers at a comfortable temperature to prevent as much drying out as possible.
Once you’ve finished in the shower or bath, take care when drying. Most people will default to rubbing a towel over their skin to get dry, but this can actually aggravate your already delicate skin.
Instead, pat your skin with the towel. This will be far more gentle and lead to less irritation. Ideally, you also won’t completely dry off because of this next tip...
After you have lightly patted your skin to soak up most of the water, quickly apply a moisturiser to lock in the remaining moisture.
The main thing to remember about moisturisers is that they don’t add moisture to your skin, but instead lock in what is already there. This is why you will want to moisturise a soon as possible after washing to prevent any more water escaping and keep your skin barrier healthy.
Keeping your skin hydrated is one of your most important defences against flare-ups. It can be tempting to stop applying moisturiser once your eczema has calmed down, but it is of utmost importance to regularly apply lotions, creams, ointments, or emollients to prevent more flare-ups.
Moisturising should become part of your daily routine to keep your skin protected and hydrated.
These substances can dry out and irritate your skin, so ditching any products that contain them can help in avoiding a flare-up.
Common products that include either fragrances or alcohols are soaps, laundry detergents, moisturisers, cleansers, shower gels, as well as many more.
Although it is very hard to stop yourself, scratching eczema only makes it worse. Excessive scratching can break the skin which can lead to an infection that will make your eczema worse. Keeping your nails short will make it more difficult for you to accidentally break your skin.
Instead of scratching, try applying pressure to the itch. A cold compress can be effective as well, especially for dyshidrotic eczema which can be triggered by heat.
If you struggle with scratching in your sleep, try wearing soft gloves to prevent yourself from doing any damage.
In the case of stasis dermatitis, the eczema is caused because of a buildup of pressure which makes fluid leak from the veins. Wearing compression stockings or wraps can help move the excess fluid out of the skin and soft tissue and calm the irritation.
If a flare-up has become infected from scratching, treating it should be your first step to easing the symptoms. An infection will only hinder any action you take to calm the flare-up, so make sure it is treated as quickly as possible. This will require antibiotics prescribed by a doctor.
Although you should be keeping your skin hydrated from the outside with moisturiser, you should also be doing so from the inside as well.
The average adult male should drink 3.7 litres of water per day, and 2.7 litres for the average adult female. Not drinking enough water can cause you to become dehydrated, meaning your skin cells have less water in them to keep them plumped enough to stop bacteria.
Always keep a bottle of water handy to make sure you drink enough each day.
If you know your eczema is triggered by certain foods, chemicals, substances, or ingredients, know how to spot these things on labels.
Sometimes certain substances have multiple names which can make them more difficult to spot on ingredient lists. They can also have different variations, meaning a product can contain more than one type of the substance that triggers your eczema.
Learn the different names you need to look out for when buying products to avoid buying something that could cause a flare-up.
Stress is a common trigger amongst eczema sufferers and can lead to or make an existing flare-up worse. Although it is easier said than done, de-stressing can help you improve and manage your eczema.
Luckily there are lots of different methods you can try to help you de-stress. One brilliant method you can use anywhere is breathing techniques. You can use these techniques daily to help keep stress at bay, or if you find yourself in a stressful situation.
You can also incorporate breathing techniques into daily meditation to help you stay calm.
Sometimes something as simple as having some ‘you time’ in a nice relaxing bath can be enough. Find what helps you to de-stress.
Living with eczema can be challenging, especially if you suffer from a type that is chronic, but you don’t have to battle it alone. Finding a support group to talk about both good days and bad can be a powerful tool in making life with eczema easier.
There are many online communities you can join to share your experiences with others. Try joining a group like the National Eczema Association discussion community, or if you are looking for a group specific to your country, a Facebook search can provide many results with a vast amount of members. For example, the Eczema UK Facebook group has 5,000+ members.
Sometimes you might need a little helping hand from products to get your eczema under control or ease a flare-up. Luckily there are many different options available to you other than just steroid creams and prescribed medications.
Many companies have worked hard to create products that are gentle on eczema sufferer’s skin, help to re-hydrate, and protect.
The Avene XermaCalm A.D range is formulated to help soothe and renourish the most sensitive of skins. All of Avene’s products are made with their signature thermal spring water, and can be used by all ages.
A Mum and her baby boy recently hit the headlines after Lush’s Dream Cream cured his incurable eczema. There are many reports online from people living with both eczema and psoriasis about how it has been a miracle cream, containing oat milk, olive oil, and rose water to name a few.
It can be bought in varying amounts in both stores and online.
Aveeno is a brand well recognised by those looking to soothe dry skin. The Baby Soothing Relief Emollient Cream is one such option, and can be used by all ages despite the name. Aveeno has a wide range of products for normal/dry skin, right the way to very dry and sensitive. Given that the brand is easily found on the UK high street, it’s a brilliant and easily found option to try to help calm your skin.
Find out where you can buy Aveeno in store and online.
Jojoba oil has many uses and benefits for the skin and hair. It is both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, meaning it can protect irritated skin from infection as well as help soothe flare ups caused by external irritants.
Jojoba oil can be bought from a variety of sources, such as Holland and Barrett. Wherever you choose to buy, look for organic, cold pressed pure jojoba oil.
OGX created a number of natural products including shampoos, conditioners, and body washes. Many of these types of products can dry out sensitive skin, but OGX products are pH balanced, sulfate free, and some products are also paraben free. On top of that, none of their products are tested on animals!
Their where to buy page details stockists around the world, but in the UK you can find them in Boots, Sainsburys, and Tesco.
Cetaphil was created for Dermatologists, and has been a trusted skincare brand for 70 years. Their products are designed specifically with delicate skin in mind. One of their best known products is the Daily Advance Lotion, and their best seller is the Gentle Skin Cleanser.
Cetaphil can be found on Amazon and both online and in store at Boots.
La Roche-Posay is a skincare brand recommended by over 25,000 dermatologists worldwide. Their products are designed specifically with sensitive skin in mind.
Each product is 100% hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic. Minimal ingredients are used, and are tested on sensitive skin to make sure each passes the test. The Cicaplast range is free from both fragrance and parabens.
Cicaplast for Lips is a firm favourite of Author and Content Creator Lily Pebbles who struggles daily with the condition of her lips. However, the range stretches to an all over body balm, hand cream, and baby balm.
There are currently millions of people living with eczema in the UK alone. Each person has their own story about their journey with eczema, whether it be a quick diagnosis, a complicated set of triggers, or a long process to get the answers and help they needed.
We spoke to members of the public to hear about their experiences with eczema, whether it be their own or that of a family member’s, and what helps them manage the condition.
It’s not something I ever really thought about before, but allergies have always been in my family. My dad grew up with asthma, my grandma has terrible psoriasis, and my sister has always had really painful and intense eczema which meant she had to quit being a makeup artist. But I was always the non-allergic one, it felt almost like an achievement. I had my first experience with allergies in my late teens when I all of a sudden got hay fever during my school exams.
In more recent years I have also experienced eczema which has been quite difficult to manage. I’ve heard that often just one thing can set it off and ignite something that was always underlying, and for me, that was my wedding lipstick. On the day it was ok, but the next day and every day to follow since then (2016), my lips have been incredibly dry, inflamed, swollen and sore.
I’ve seen multiple doctors, I’ve even had an extensive allergy test with one of the top dermatologists in London, but unsurprisingly, just like it did with my very allergic sister, it came back inconclusive.
A large part of my job is to wear and trial skincare and makeup products so it’s been difficult to get used to my ‘new’ lips and I’ve had to turn down work because of the state they are in. My doctor said that usually what happens is once you get it on your face, it can often move to another part too and that’s what happened to my eye. The area under and above my eye often gets very sore, dry and itchy which also makes it difficult to wear makeup.
Finding medicated creams that I’m allowed to use on my lips and eyes has been tricky as it’s such a sensitive area. Doctors don’t like you to use hydrocortisone as it thins the skin, so I only use a very low dose if it’s really, really bad. Most the time I use Elidel, which is pretty expensive but works well for me.
It doesn’t feel like my skin will ever go back to normal but I try to prevent it from getting worse. I use fragrance-free products most of the time; I try not to wear lipstick unless I really have to and I even tried a humidifier in my room to prevent the air from getting too dry. Stress is also a huge factor, and my lips will flare up when I’m stressed, if I itch them in my sleep or if I lick my lips too often.
The only lip balm that I have found to be effective is the La Roche Posay Cicaplast for lips, and it’s helping to repair the barrier and strengthen them. During the colder months, I’ll also use Vaseline, not as a moisturiser but more as a barrier against the wind.
I think it’s an old wives tale that your skin allergies change every ten years, but I really feel like mine do. At 18 I got hayfever, at 28 I got eczema, so let’s see what 38 brings eh? Maybe they’ll all go away - here’s hoping.
I have suffered from eczema my whole life. I have no idea what it's like to wake up and not have to worry about how my skin will behave that day - that would be a dream!
For 20+ years I used steroid creams to control my eczema, and for the most part, they worked really well!... Until they gradually stopped working for me.
In 2017, I noticed my skin was very unpredictable and flaring up constantly, even though I was still applying my creams. By the end of that year, I found out about Topical Steroid Addiction and decided to stop using my medication altogether.
Now in withdrawal, my skin immediately became worse than I've ever seen it. My face and neck became red and swollen. I began to weep at the slightest touch. My skin would shed every single day and flakes would just fall off my face. Worst of all, the skin became so dry and tight; it even hurt just to smile.
I'm almost six months into my withdrawal journey, and I can feel my skin getting stronger every day. The one product that I can not live with is Aquaphor. It's the only thing my face can tolerate at the moment, everything else just burns or makes me itch.
Because the skin on my face is so hyper-sensitive right now, all I use to wash is warm/hot water and a flannel. I soak the flannel, wring it out and hold it on my face for about 10 seconds to steam it, then gently exfoliate off the dry flakes. On days where I feel extra dry, I have a Dead Sea Salt bath and soak my face for 15-20 minutes before exfoliating. I finish by applying Aquaphor healing ointment, and I'm set for the day!
For the first three months of withdrawal, I was unable to wear makeup. My skin would just weep underneath, so I decided to go makeup free.
I'm slowly introducing it back into my life now for special occasions, but somehow I feel that I've been liberated and I'm proud of myself for being able to go out with a bare face. Having the confidence to show my blotchy, discoloured skin to the world is something I never thought I would do and it's definitely shown me that beauty is more than skin deep.
I was diagnosed with eczema when I was three weeks old, and until I was a toddler, my eczema was extremely bad, and I was wrapped in bandages every day and night. The older I got, the calmer it became, and it was only in my joints every so often was a bit red and dry, but nothing that wasn’t manageable. In 2016 my skin started to go patchy, and loads of white patches appeared all over my body. These then became red, broken, weeping, bleeding, and my eczema has been extremely bad ever since.
Eczema has made my life extremely difficult every day. The most basic daily task takes so much effort and causes so much pain - it’s hard. I can’t wash properly in the shower; I can’t eat loads of different foods that inflame the skin, I can’t touch anything perfumed, detergent etc.
On a good day, I can bend my arms without causing myself a lot of discomfort, on a bad day I'm bed bound, unrecognisable and feel alone.
I went my whole life with eczema not impacting me whatsoever but now it rules my life, it dictates what I can and can’t do. I use Child’s Farm which is a cream available in stores across the UK - boots and Tesco. It has been amazing for my skin, working way better than any creams the doctor can give me. I also use different products from Vitamin E Superdrug range. I believe the reason my skin is so bad now from when it started in 2016, is because I’ve damaged it from steroid creams - don’t use these, they actually make it worse in the long run.
I used to be happy with how I looked. I tanned really well (never wore fake tan) I wore makeup every day with no effect on my eczema at all, I ate anything I wanted without any irritations. Now my skin can flare up after a day of wearing makeup - or even not having worn any. Every day I wake up different.
"As a baby, I suffered from baby eczema, in the creases of elbows and knees. This went away by the time I was 3, and thankfully I didn’t suffer again until I was about 14 years old when overnight I developed very bad eczema on my hands.
Now at the age of 34, I still suffer. I would have terrible cracked blistering and bleeding fingers and palms, some days unable to carry out simple tasks like holding a hairbrush or opening a bottle of drink.
Thankfully I had a friend who was using a product, not for the management of eczema but for acne. She mentioned one day "why don’t I try it?".
Willing to try anything and after many, many visits to the GP and multiple creams and steroid treatments later, I thought why not?!
It was by a company called Juice Plus and was their Berry capsules. A food supplement of dried juice and pulp from grapes and berries, with added vitamins. Among a few other ingredients, it includes concord grapes, pomegranate, blueberry, cranberry, blackberry, raspberry & elderberry, along with ginger root & artichoke leaf.
I took two capsules a day and informed it could take up to 6 weeks for them to work, but I was thrilled to see results in as little as two weeks.
I now wouldn’t be without them. They keep it at bay. Of course, I still need to make sure I moisturise after washing my hands and showering etc. but on the whole, can function again because of these tablets."
"My son was born in April of 2017. His skin was perfect until he got to about 8 months old when we started to notice very dry, red patches on his back, which quickly spread to his tummy, and then legs and arms.
The doctors initially played down the severity of it and simply prescribed an emollient cream to put on. This did nothing apart from anger it.
Then upon a visit to A&E for another issue, they became more concerned with his eczema and ended up prescribing him antibiotic cream as the sores had become infected, and antihistamine to try and help him stop the itching and scratching.
The antibiotic cream helped but did not solve the problem.
We then kept food diaries to try and track if he was intolerant to anything and upon the next trip to the GP, that was dismissed as there was no link between the food diary and the daily photos I had been taking.
So I mentioned said problem to a neighbour who said to try a cream she used by a company called Arbonne. The cream is olive oil based and completely natural and organic.
After a week of applying twice a day we started to see an improvement. The angry red skin was reduced until we were left with only one tiny patch which took a small amount of steroid cream to clear but meant once it had, we now manage it only with this cream.
I now order it by the bucket load as I don’t dare run out!"