If your skin’s been acting unusually over the last 14 months – maybe it’s been especially dry at times or prone to breakouts, particularly across the lower half of your face – it could be because our complexions have been acclimating to spending so much time inside.
Or it could be something else entirely: adult eczema.
Finding a culprit
Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, as it’s known clinically, is a condition where the skin barrier, the outermost skin layer, develops microscopic cracks, which lead to a loss of hydration and inflammation. Basically, the skin becomes dry and sensitive. It can appear red and scaly and feel itchy.
It frequently develops around the knees and elbows, but, really, it can crop up anywhere on the body.
And for as common as eczema is – one in 10 people will develop it at some point in their lifetime, according to the National Eczema Association – treatment can still be a challenge, especially if you first get it as an adult. That’s because the condition usually develops in early childhood, with about half of those cases continuing into adulthood.
If this is your first bout of eczema, a board-certified dermatologist is likely to recommend a comprehensive medical work-up to rule out underlying causes, such as an allergy or a new medication, particularly if you don’t have a history of skin issues.
It’s possible, though, that simply being adult is the most significant contributing factor. As we get older, our skin barrier becomes less effective at retaining moisture and repairing itself. In fact, there’s a type of eczema, asteatotic eczema, that can develop from dry skin in adults. All this exposure to the dry air circulating in our homes isn’t helping, either.
The air isn’t only drier than what our skin needs, it’s also dirtier. Dust and other indoor pollutants can lead to eczema and make existing eczema worse. Humidifiers and air purifiers help, but only to an extent.
If you think you’re suffering from eczema, the first thing you should do is a see a dermatologist for an accurate diagnosis. If you do in fact have eczema, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that there’s no cure for eczema, but it can be managed. (That’s the good news.)
For most cases, eczema can be completely treated through a combination of topical prescriptions and over-the-counter products. For more severe cases, systemic treatments like pills or injectables may be necessary.
And regardless of the age at which you developed eczema, sufficiently supporting your skin barrier is always a sound practice. That means moisturizing with a moisturizer that contains humectants to hydrate, emollients to backup your skin barrier, and occlusives to lock in moisture as often as needed – and then a bit more.