Inflamed, itchy skin may sound like a condition that’s exclusive to the cold-weather months. But for millions of Americans suffering with eczema, it’s their reality right now.
Eczema has a lot of potential causes: stress, irritating substances, environmental exposures, illness, and both food and seasonal allergies. The reaction, however, is generally the same. The immune system produces inflammation resulting in red, itchy, flaky skin that may crack or bleed.
Regardless of what’s triggering that response, it’s possible to topically heal the affected skin and even prevent future flare-ups. Here’s a rundown of a few particularly effective ingredients.
Yes, the stuff from the back of your mom’s medicine cabinet. She was on to something. When the skin barrier’s integrity is compromised, moisture can more easily escape and microbes, potentially, can more easily gain entry, increasing the chances of infection. Petroleum jelly is a thick emollient that helps prevent 99% of water loss from your skin. By locking in water in the damaged outer layers, the skin is more capable of repairing the barrier. Apply it directly to breakouts after showering or throughout the day if you’re itchy.
Humectants also help the skin retain moisture, but they go about it differently, attracting water molecules from lower cell layers like a magnet. They also encourage the shedding of dead skin cells. As a result, they can improve the sensation and appearance of flaky skin, as well as skin that’s become thickened from scratching or rubbing.
There are two kinds of humectants, synthetic and natural. Synthetic humectants feature prominently in beauty products. Trouble is, when they’re used in excess, they can interfere with the body’s ability to self-moisturize, which could potentially dry skin over the long term. Natural humectants, on the other hand, enhance that ability. The most common natural humectant to look for in a moisturizer: hyaluronic acid.
Ceramides are fat molecules found in the top layer of our skin that help protect and moisturize our skin. Those with eczema have fewer ceramides in their skin. As a result, the skin isn’t getting enough moisture. But you can make up for the deficiency with over-the-counter moisturizers that contain ceramides.
Colloidal oatmeal is a natural ingredient that helps on multiple fronts. First, it’s an emollient that helps moisturize the skin by protecting the skin barrier and providing moisture to the skin. It’s also an anti-inflammatory that helps treat inflammation and redness. It’s available in a range of beauty products, including body washes and moisturizers. Try bathing in it first. That tends to be the most effective treatment.