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What Is Eczema and How Do You Treat It?

A woman scratching her eczema.
Albina Gavrilovic/Shutterstock.com

As the days grow colder (and dryer), our body tends to fall, victim, leaving us with dry and flakey skin. If you’ve noticed your skin becoming dryer and itchier lately, it might be worth exploring whether or not you have eczema.

Those red, itchy patches are no fun and might actually signify something more than typical dry skin. We wanted to know more about eczema, so we turned to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Nava Greenfield for answers. She helped us understand what eczema is and how to treat and prevent it from flaring up.

What Is Eczema?

Itching hands with eczema.
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You know how brutal winters can be if you have dry skin. With less moisture in the air during the cold months, our skin, which acts as a barrier to protect our body, will incur more damage than usual. We wanted to know what makes eczema different from typical dry skin, so we checked in with Dr. Greenfield.

Greenfield told LifeSavvy that “eczema is an inflammatory condition in the skin that results from a combination of environmental and genetic causes and results in red, scaly, itchy skin lesions.” She also told us, “there are many types of eczema, and each has its unique expression on the skin.”

There are several types, per Healthline, including:

  • Atopic dermatitis: The most common type of eczema. Generally refers to skin inflammation.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis: Oily, dandruff-like flakey patches usually appear in areas of the body that produce oil, like your hairline, scalp, and nose.
  • Contact dermatitis: Inflammation of the skin caused by a contact reaction with certain substances. This can happen from an allergic reaction to an irritant or contact with certain substances or chemicals.
  • Neurodermatitis: Thick, very itchy patches that form on your scalp, arms, legs, back of hands, or bottoms of feet.

Nummular eczema, stasis dermatitis, dyshidrotic, and hand eczema are also forms of eczema. Because many of them look similar, it’s essential to see a dermatologist to help identify and treat the condition properly. This is especially important if your symptoms start interfering with your daily life.

What Causes Eczema?

A dry hand from the cold environment.
finwal89/Shutterstock.com

Aside from cold wintery weather, we wondered if other factors might cause eczema to develop or flare up from time to time.

Greenfield informed us that “a combination of environmental and genetic predisposition results in the condition.” She explained that experts don’t fully understand what causes eczema but that both genetic factors and environmental conditions contribute to the state.

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“Children of parents with eczema are more likely to develop eczema compared to children without parents with eczema,” Greenfield said. “Environmental conditions also play a part. As an example, dry skin can result in inflammation and, if not treated, can lead to the development of eczema.”

She explained that weather plays a role, but there is not enough substantial evidence to say that specific diets cause eczema. While exercise, in general, is always great for your health, she also mentioned that there is no direct association with the development of eczema.

What Are Eczema’s Symptoms?

Someone scratching their itchy eczema.
Dragana Gordic/Shutterstock.com

You might have eczema if you have noticed inflamed, dry patches on your skin that you constantly feel the urge to scratch. We asked Dr. Greenfield to fill us in on some of the most common symptoms of eczema.

She told us, “Symptoms include dry, itchy, inflamed, scaly lesions that can appear on any skin surface.” Commonly affected regions of your body usually include your hands, feet, legs, torso, and face.

We wondered if there was a way to tell the difference between regular dry skin and eczema, so we asked Greenfield to touch on that. She said, “There is some overlap. When there is clinical inflammation associated with dry skin, we will often call that eczema.”

Clinical symptoms are symptoms directly related to the testing of patients or medical treatment. So, the best way to determine whether your dry skin is eczema is by getting checked out by a board-certified dermatologist.

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How Do You Treat Eczema?

Putting cream on eczema.
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Because there are so many types of eczema, several factors play a role in treatment. Before running to the store to pick an over-the-counter product for treating eczema, you’ll want to identify the type first. Here’s what the expert said.

“Treating eczema depends on the type, severity, body location, distribution, amount of skin affected, and patient-specific factors,” Greenfield said. “Treatments include topical agents and systemic medications that target eczema-specific pathways in our immune system.”

Some of Greenfield’s favorite over-the-counter remedies include the REN Clean Skincare Evercalm Global Protection Day Cream and the Evercalm Overnight Recovery Balm.

The REN Evercalm day cream is packed with soothing botanicals that help hydrate your skin while neutralizing irritation if you have sensitive skin.

The Evercalm overnight balm is specifically formulated with omega fatty acids, which help soothe the skin and regenerate your dry, red skin. You’ll love the results from using both of these dermatologist-recommended products.

Greenfield also made sure to tell us, “if your skin is itchy or there is a rash and is not relieved by over-the-counter moisturizers, you should seek professional help from a board-certified dermatologist.”

Can You Prevent Eczema?

moistening the air with a humidifier.
DimaBerlin/Shutterstock.com

Pinpointing exact eczema triggers that cause flare-ups can be challenging, but sometimes you’ll find connections with the food you eat or products you use. Greenfield explained that if you notice certain foods, beauty products, or topical medicines cause flare-ups, staying away from those things is reasonable.

She also spoke about the importance of keeping your skin hydrated. “One of the most important ways to prevent eczema flares is by keeping skin moist and hydrated,” Greenfield said. “Moist skin is healthy skin and will be less prone to developing rashes, including eczema.”

One way to help keep your skin from drying out is by keeping the air moist with the help of a humidifier. These are great in the cold wintery months.

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Dry skin is no fun, especially if it leads to eczema. From maintaining humid air in your home to keeping your skin hydrated with the help of moisturizers, there is a lot you can do to keep your skin moist and healthy.

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »
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