When eczema strikes, red, scaly patches invade the skin—and they itch like crazy. This chronic inflammatory condition (also called atopic dermatitis) can't be cured, and tends to flare periodically and then subside. But with super-simple lifestyle changes and home remedies, you can ease your symptoms during an eczema flare-up—no doctor's visit required. Here, dermatologists share some of their go-to skin soothers.
Pull out the coconut oil
Great for cooking, and…skincare? You bet. “The most common cause of an eczema flare is dry skin,” says Jeremy Fenton, MD, a board certified dermatologist and medical director at Schweiger Dermatology in New York City. “Coconut oil can be a great moisturizer, and may even have some antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects. People with eczema tend to have a higher load of bacteria on their skin, and that bacteria can make eczema worse.”
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Sleep with a humidifier
If the air in your home is dry, that means your skin will be, too. This is especially a problem during cold-weather months when running the heat sucks moisture away from your skin. Use a cool mist humidifier to help your skin maintain moisture, Dr. Fenton says. Check out Health's picks for the best humidifiers.
Being Zen doesn’t exactly sound like an eczema fix—especially when the itching is driving you mad—but “sometimes eczema flares up due to triggers, like stress,” says Lindsey Bordone, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at Columbia University Medical Center. So getting your anxiety under control is keeping for those flaky, dry, uncomfortable patches at bay. It might sound woo-woo, but try meditation—there are all sorts of ways to do it right from your phone. Try this 5-minute guided meditation to bring on calm fast.
Hit the gym
Speaking of stress, exercise can help you relax and have some peace of mind, too, Dr. Bordone says. Whether you log in a few miles on the treadmill or take a weekly yoga class, not only will your anxiety melt away—your eczema may, too. (Just make sure to rinse off after your sweat session—being overheated can make the skin condition worse.)
Swap out alcohol
There aren’t any definitive studies to show that a specific diet will have an impact on eczema, Dr. Fenton says. But inflammation has been proven to trigger eczema, he adds, so anything that creates inflammation the body—like booze—can cause the condition to make an unwanted cameo.
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Take lukewarm showers…
Don’t turn up the heat on the water temperature when you’re in the shower—that dries out the skin. “Wash your hair, face, underarms, groin, and feet,” Fenton says. “Don’t soap the other areas unless visibly dirty.”
…Or oatmeal baths
If your skin is highly irritated, soaking in a tub of oatmeal can help calm itchy skin (try a packet like Aveeno Soothing Bath Treatment, available on Amazon and at drugstores), Dr. Bordone says. Quieting the constant urge to scratch is important, since itching makes eczema worse. Just remember to keep the water at a lukewarm temperature.
Take a look at your closet
Rough fabrics, like wool, can trigger eczema, Dr. Bordone warns. The material rubs against skin and irritates it. Instead, opt for more breathable options, like cotton. Perfect excuse for a mini shopping spree?
Use a creamy, thick moisturizer
Since dry skin is eczema enemy number-one, regular moisturizing may be the most powerful weapon you have, Dr. Fenton says. For optimal effectiveness, ideally you need to moisturize more than once a day. Creams and salves are better than lotions, and you should avoid anything with a fragrance in it since that can be irritating to the skin. Bonus tip: “Always moisturize within three minutes of getting out of the shower—this helps lock moisture in the skin,” Dr. Fenton says.
Choose a gentle laundry detergent
Forget the flowery, fancy soaps. You need something bland and fragrance-free, Dr. Fenton says. That’s because they have fewer chemicals, which lessens the chances of agitating your skin. Fragrance-free, dye-free laundry detergents for sensitive skin often say "free and clear" on the label.
Visit the drugstore
Antihistamines like Benadryl, nonprescription hydrocortisone creams, and calamine lotion can all help soothe symptoms.