What Is Eczema? A Beginner’s Guide & Care Tips

Eczema affects millions of people around the world. Luckily, there are steps you can take to help manage some of your eczema symptoms from dry and itchy skin to redness and irritation. Let’s take a look into eczema - what it is and how you can help manage this skin condition.

Woman getting skin inspected by dermatologist for eczema

What is Eczema?

Eczema refers to a general group of skin conditions that cause dry, itchy skin as well as inflammation and redness or discoloration.

Over 30 million people in the US are living with eczema with around 16.5 million adults and nearly 10 million children affected.

Dry, itchy, and inflamed skin are common symptoms, with more severe symptoms including cracked, scaly skin and blisters. If you have eczema, you also have an increased risk of developing skin infections because the condition affects your skin barrier, so it doesn’t function as well as it should.

eczema issues on the arm

What causes Eczema?

The exact causes of eczema are unknown, however, research suggests that there are several risk factors that can contribute to this skin concern. These include a mix of genetics, environmental factors, and your immune system.

One common genetic mutation seen in people with eczema is a mutation that affects a protein called filaggrin. Filaggrin plays an important role in keeping your skin barrier healthy. A filaggrin mutation means your skin is more prone to lose moisture, and your skin provides less protection against allergens, irritants, and bacteria.

It’s thought that environmental factors are also linked to eczema. Daily exposure to irritants, harsh climate factors, airborne pollutants, and tobacco smoke are thought to trigger or exacerbate eczema.

Some people with eczema have an overactive immune system that is triggered by something inside or outside the body. This results in inflammation which damages your skin barrier and causes eczema symptoms, such as dry, itchy skin. It’s not fully understood why this immune response happens.

Common areas of the body affected by Eczema

Eczema symptoms come and go - sometimes your eczema may be mild or clear, and other times symptoms are more severe. When symptoms worsen it’s called a 'flare-up'.

Eczema can affect different parts of your body. Babies are more likely to get eczema on their cheeks, arms and legs, whereas teenagers and adults are mostly affected on the hands and feet, backs of knees, insides of elbows, and the back of the neck.

For more information on the signs and causes of eczema, watch our video with dermatologist Dr. Peter Lio.

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Different Types of Eczema

There are seven types of eczema, so let’s take a quick look at each one.

Atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema in adults and children and typically begins during the first six months of your life. It takes the form of dry skin and painful, itchy rashes.

Contact dermatitis can occur anywhere but common areas include the hands and face. It is triggered by something making contact with your skin and causing irritation or an allergic reaction like an itchy rash. Your skin may also burn or sting and you may develop hives or fluid-filled blisters.

Seborrheic Dermatitis appears as a yellow or red rash that causes scales. The rash often appears along your hairline and scalp although it can appear in other areas.

The most common symptoms of this type of eczema are very small and itchy blisters on your hands or feet.

More common in middle-aged, the main symptom of Nummular dermatitis is the appearance of round lesions on the skin.

This form of eczema is characterized by patches of itchy violet or red skin. Itching may become more intense when you’re relaxing or in bed.

This eczema is confined to the legs and is caused by poor circulation. Fluid pools under the skin of the ankles and lower legs leading to swelling and red, itchy, scaly skin.

How to Manage Your Eczema

Some types of eczema may need treatment with medication, and you should speak to your doctor if you have any concerns about your eczema symptoms. However, there are some lifestyle and skincare steps that you can take to help manage some eczema symptoms such as dry and itchy skin.

Here are a few things you can do:

Moisturize your skin regularly and especially after bathing. Look for products such as Cetaphil Eczema Restoraderm Flare-Up Relief Cream that not only moisturizes your skin, but is clinically proven to help repair your damaged skin barrier. It’s recommended that people with eczema use a fragrance-free moisturizer and apply it while the skin is still slightly damp as this can help to lock in moisture.

Include sunscreen as part of your daily skincare routine to protect your skin against sun damage and further damage to your skin barrier function by UV rays. Try Cetaphil Sheer Mineral Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 30, which is suitable for sensitive skin and has received the National Eczema Association seal of approval.

Enjoy a short 5 to 10 minute soothing lukewarm bath. A short bath can help to hydrate your skin and clean away any crusts, scales, bacteria or irritants. A gentle cleanser can be used like Cetaphil Flare-Up Relief Body Wash, which is a creamy wash that can help soothe your skin.

Eczema can be super itchy, but resist the urge to scratch. Scratching worsens the condition and can cause wounds and lead to infection. Instead, use products that can help relieve itchiness, like Cetaphil Restoraderm Eczema Itch Relief Gel that comes with a cool-touch applicator to instantly soothe your skin.

eczema skincare routine with restoraderm products

5 Commonly Asked Questions About Eczema

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about eczema – and their answers.

A: No. You can't catch eczema from someone else.

A: It’s possible, but everyone’s experience of eczema is different. While many children outgrow eczema, it can reappear in adulthood. Eczema can develop in adults too, although it’s not as common as developing it in childhood.

A: There is no cure for eczema, but by avoiding your triggers, using prescribed medication if needed, maintaining a good skincare regime, and using products that are specifically designed to help manage eczema you can help manage your symptoms. Take a look at Cetaphil’s Restoraderm products, which are approved by the National Eczema Association.

A: It's important to know your triggers so you can manage some of your symptoms and reduce the number of eczema flare-ups you experience, but it’s almost impossible to prevent all eczema flare-ups Find out more about possible triggers in our article What Causes Eczema Flare-ups?

A: Research shows that certain foods could trigger eczema flare-ups in some people. These tend to be foods that have a high nickel content. They include beans, lentils, peas, soy, shellfish, processed meats, chocolate, nuts, seeds, black tea, and canned goods.

The Bottom Line

If eczema is taking its toll on your life then there are things you can do to help improve the symptoms of your skin condition. With some simple lifestyle changes, the right skincare products and learning about eczema triggers you could be well on your way to taking control of your eczema symptoms. You should always speak to your doctor if you have any concerns about your eczema symptoms.