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While frosty months have us enjoying hot cocoa and roaring fires, there’s another wintry tradition that is far less fun: eczema.
Icy temps often kickstart this common condition that affects 30 million American children and adults—a number that has tripled over the past 30 years. Eczema is marked by inflamed red plaques that itch incessantly, and is a medical condition that goes beyond more than just a side effect of dry skin.
“When one has eczema, there’s an alternation in the skin that allows essential water to escape, allowing pollen, dust mites and bacteria to enter,” explains California dermatologist Neal Bhatia, M.D. The resulting dry patches then feel itchy, launching an endless cycle of scratching that can worsen instead of relieve symptoms. “The scratching can become so intense that the skin develops fissures and infectious bacteria can enter, compounding an already bad situation,” adds Dr. Bhatia.
The dry, scaly patches that are the hallmark of eczema can appear virtually anywhere, though the scalp, face, and skin flexes (like the inside of the elbow) are common culprits. Many people aren’t aware that tough blisters that form around nailbeds can also be eczema.
In addition to prevalent triggers like cold, dry air and times of stress, products you apply to your skin can inadvertently aggravate the problem. “Fragrances are known irritants, and with eczematic skin, the main goal is to keep skin moisturized and the barrier in tact, while reducing any type of potential irritant that may exacerbate the condition,” advises Alexandra Kowcz, Vice President of Research & Development at Beiersdorf, Inc., makers of skincare brands Eucerin, Aquaphor and Nivea.
People who experience eczema on their hands are advised to wear cotton-lined, waterproof gloves when washing dishes or handling irritating substances. Sweat can also bring on an attack, so it’s best to shower soon after working out. And as with most things in life, stress has been shown to both trigger and worsen symptoms.
Some allergists believe that eliminating eggs, dairy products and nuts may facilitate relief for some sufferers. Taking essential fatty acid supplements like omega-3s daily can also help. “Most people with skin inflammation have an imbalance of oils in their body, so taking anti-inflammatory oils with a blend of GLA, EPA and DHA is good, along with cutting back on animal fat,” says Susan Blum, M.D., founder and director of Blum Center for Health and author of "The Immune System Recovery Plan."
When the going gets itchy, many sufferers try to treat symptoms by piling on the lotion. While intercepting the rash with moisturizer the moment you feel it coming on can help quash the onset, not even the most hydrating routine can push some flares into remission. A prescription steroid might be necessary to resolve the underlying inflammation to ultimately end the cycle, says Dr. Bhatia. So seek the expertise of a board-certified dermatologist if eczema is an ongoing issue for you.
Fortunately, there’s a bunch of products—some new launches, some old favorites—aimed specifically at preventing and easing the symptoms of eczema sufferers. Check out our top picks, and remember to moisturize often to feel most comfortable this winter and prevent another round from beginning.
Cloderm Cream, available by prescription only
The newest prescription to hit the market is Cloderm, offering relief from redness and itching by the fourth day of use in clinical studies. “Cloderm isn’t a high-potency steroid, which can thin the skin when used as a spot treatment. It’s a gentler middle concentration, making it safer for patients of all ages,” says California dermatologist Neal Bhatia, M.D. And unlike many goopy formulas, the delivery system carrying the proprietary clocortolone pivalate molecule dissolves lightly upon contact.
A chilling sensation can help put out the flames of searing skin itch. Formulated with a cooling agent and a blend that fortifies the skin barrier with ceramides, licorice root extract and natural oatmeal, Eucerin’s instant therapy lotions are clinically proven to provide long-lasting scratch relief. The formula is free of dyes, fragrance and steroids and is gentle enough for daily use on active eczema plaguing adults, children and babies.
Dove DermaSeries, from $8 to $20, available at select drugstores nationwide
Dove DermaSeries was developed with dermatologists to provide compromised skin with quick relief and long-term skin barrier repair over time. The cleansers contain the natural skin lipid stearic acid to replenish hydration, while the moisturizers use fatty acids, glycerin and natural emulsifiers to stimulate skin proteins known as PPARs that boost cell renewal. An eczema-specific therapy cream in the line is fragrance-free and adds colloidal oatmeal to relieve itch.
This travel-friendly healing balm contains 1 percent hydrocortisone to relieve itching in a deeply hydrating formula that comes unscented or in vanilla flavor. “It’s useful for a variety of conditions ranging from eczema to dry skin, poison ivy and even minor burns,” says Omaha, Nebraska, dermatologist Joel Schlessinger, M.D., who recommends swiping the stick up to five times a day on skin, cuticles or lips. (Our YouBeauty editor swears by it for her own eczema flares.)
Containing natural botanicals, vitamins and minerals high in active amino acids to stimulate skin cells while restoring healthy tissue, Columbia Healing Cream is a multitasker that can be used anywhere on the face or body for conditions like eczema, psoriasis, rosacea and plain old dehydrated skin. The super emollient balm does an especially fine job on stubborn scales and areas of cracking.
A cozy warm winter bath can help replenish both body and mind. Aveeno’s Eczema Therapy Bath Treatment is formulated with colloidal oatmeal to relieve itchy skin as it gently cleanses and moisturizes at the same time. For best results, keep water comfortably warm—not hot—and try to limit your soak to 10 minutes, advises Joshua Zeichner, M.D., Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Dermatology Research at New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center.
Avène XeraCalm A.D Lipid-Replenishing Cleansing Oil ($30), Lipid-Replenishing Balm ($32), Lipid-Replenishing Cream ($32)
Specifically formulated for eczema and atopic dermatitis sufferers, Avene’s XeraCalm line features a cleansing oil, cream and balm enriched with a patented ingredient called I-modulia that inhibits a receptor found on keratinocytes responsible for itch activation. The brand’s thermal mineral spring water is included for its naturally anti-inflammatory properties, and the two moisturizers boast lipids and evening primrose to help lock in moisture.
Most moisture loss occurs while washing, says Dr. Bhatia. Cetaphil Restoraderm uses amino acid derivatives, allantoin and mild surfactants to gently clean chronic dryness associated with eczema and atopic dermatitis without stripping the skin barrier. You can then layer the fragrance-free moisturizer replete in ceramides and panthenol for more hydration. Both products bear the National Eczema Association acceptance seal and are safe for children three months and older.
Sebamed Anti-Dry Collection, $13 to $24
Sebamed, a dermatologist-developed skincare brand that Kim Kardashian is known to reach for to treat her own skin issues, just debuted a collection of head-to-toe products formulated at a pH of 5.5—which experts say is the ideal balance for healthy, hydrated skin. The line increases skin moisture content with plant-derived lipids, shea butter, vitamin B5 and allantoin in items ranging from a scalp-activating shampoo to a rich hand and nail balm and intensive night cream.
Skinfix Body Repair Balm, $17-$30
Canada’s popular Skinfix brand arrives stateside with a body repair balm formulated for eczema and dermatitis flare-ups. An all-natural treatment infused with colloidal oatmeal, regenerative botanicals and protective sweet almond and jojoba oils, the fragrance-free balm works quickly to relieve itchy rashes and cracked heels and elbows. The line contains other helpful products to treat everything from infant eczema and skinfold irritation to chafing and diaper rash.
To prevent eczema flares on your face, try incorporating a moisturizing serum like Seventh Generation’s all-natural version into your daily routine. Made with jojoba and 99 percent USDA-Certified Biobased ingredients, the hydrating formula protects against complexion roughness with extracts of chamomile, sunflower, lavender, rosemary and grapeseed. You can also mix a couple drops of the paraben- and phthalate-free serum as a hydrating boost into your regular moisturizer.
On The Go Glow
“For best results, moisturize your skin within a couple of minutes of stepping out of the shower, while it’s still damp,” advises Dr. Bhatia. If you’re in a rush, new spray-lotions from St. Ives calm skin with oatmeal, glycerin and shea butter for hydration without the heavy cream feel. The continuous spray nozzle is aerosol-free and uses only compressed air for fast absorption.
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