Eczema causes patches of itchy, dry, and scaly skin. In atopic eczema, this occurs because the skin barrier does not function as it should. Skin care can help with this and is an important part of eczema treatment.

The right skin care can help maintain the skin’s pH level, which helps reduce the growth of bacteria. It can also increase moisture levels and may make the skin less reactive to irritants.

A good skin care routine for eczema involves gently washing, treating, moisturizing, and protecting the skin from sources of damage, such as UV light. Keep reading to learn more about the steps and products involved in eczema skin care.

A woman in the bath using an eczema skin care product.Share on Pinterest
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Having an appropriate skin care routine for eczema can help reduce symptoms such as itchiness and dryness. The exact steps involved may vary from person to person, depending on the treatments a doctor has recommended.

However, as a general rule, the skin care routine should include:

  • gently cleansing the skin to reduce irritation, keep it clean, and increase hydration levels
  • treating patches of eczema using doctor-prescribed creams, such as a corticosteroid
  • moisturizing the skin to lock in moisture
  • protecting the skin from UV light by wearing sunscreen

It is also important to protect the skin from irritants that a person may encounter in daily life, such as harsh cleaning products and hot water, and to avoid scratching.

The sections below explore each of these steps in more detail.

Washing the skin is important for hygiene. For people with eczema, washing also helps remove dead skin cells and bacteria from the skin’s surface and replenishes moisture levels, which can ease dryness.

However, cleansing can make the skin dry in people with eczema unless they take some precautions. When washing the skin, people should be mindful of the following tips:

  • Use warm or lukewarm water, not hot.
  • Avoid scrubbing, as this can aggravate eczema.
  • Keep baths or showers short.
  • Gently pat the skin with a clean towel to dry it, rather than rubbing.

A person should use cleansing products, such as face wash, only as necessary. It is important to use mild cleansers that are suitable for skin with eczema. This means choosing products that:

  • contain no fragrance
  • contain no harsh soaps or surfactants
  • have the correct pH level for the skin

A dermatologist may be able to recommend some options.

After cleansing, a person may apply any medical creams their doctor has prescribed for eczema. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends applying topical treatments immediately after bathing, when the skin is nearly dry.

This may mean applying a topical corticosteroid in a thin layer to patches of eczema. For eczema in sensitive areas, a doctor may recommend topical pimecrolimus or tacrolimus.

Dermatologists may prescribe stronger treatments for people with severe eczema. If a person has no prescription treatments, they can skip to the next step.

Each time a person with eczema washes their hands, bathes, or showers, they should moisturize the skin that got wet immediately afterward. This can help trap the moisture inside the skin.

Eczema damages the skin barrier, making it less able to retain water. Skin with eczema is also more sensitive to irritants, allergens, and bacteria. Moisturizers help “seal” water into the skin and protect the skin’s outer layer.

When choosing a moisturizer, the National Eczema Association (NEA) recommends looking for ingredients such as:

The NEA also recommends checking that a product is fragrance-free and hypoallergenic to avoid worsening the irritation. Other ingredients to avoid include:

  • fragrance
  • essential oils
  • ethanol or alcohol
  • propylene glycol
  • urea
  • retinoids
  • cocamidopropyl betaine
  • lanolin, as some people are allergic to it

The AAD recommends applying moisturizer at least twice a day to stop the skin from drying or cracking and reduce the need for eczema medication.

Some doctors may also recommend applying an occlusive. This is a product that consists mainly of oils or waxes and forms a protective barrier over the skin to prevent moisture from evaporating. Petroleum jelly is an example of an occlusive.

This step protects the skin from sources of further damage or irritation, such as UV light.

While some people with eczema see an improvement in their symptoms with exposure to sunlight, it makes symptoms worse for others.

UV light can also damage the skin, causing sunburn and visible signs of aging and increasing the risk of skin cancer. Therefore, it is advisable to cover the skin on sunny days and to wear a high quality sunscreen on any exposed skin.

When buying a sunscreen:

  • Check the label for any known allergens or irritants, such as alcohol and fragrance.
  • Choose a mineral-based sunscreen with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide as the active ingredient.
  • Look for a product with SPF 30 or higher that offers broad-spectrum protection from both UVA and UVB light.

The following tips may also help:

  • Wear non-powdered rubber gloves while cleaning or handling chemicals.
  • Wear soft, non-scratchy fabrics that consist of natural fibers, such as cotton.
  • Use fragrance-free laundry detergent.
  • Avoid any known eczema triggers.

The skin of babies is more delicate than that of adults and requires special care. Parents and caregivers can follow these tips to manage eczema symptoms and reduce flare-ups in infants:

  • Bathe the infant in lukewarm water. Avoid scrubbing the infant’s delicate skin, and limit bath time to 5–10 minutes. Use a mild, fragrance-free cleanser on any areas that are dirty, but only where necessary.
  • Gently pat the skin dry and apply any prescription treatments immediately. Follow the doctor’s instructions for this.
  • Apply a fragrance-free moisturizing cream or ointment. Do this at least twice a day.
  • Dress the child in soft, non-scratchy clothes. Keep their nails trimmed short to prevent damage from scratching. If they scratch the eczema anyway, place cotton mittens or gloves on their hands.

If possible, it can be helpful to identify and avoid eczema triggers, which may include:

  • sweat
  • saliva
  • dry air
  • topical products such as soaps, shampoos, baby powder, or wipes
  • laundry detergents or fabric softeners
  • allergens such as pet dander or pollen
  • tobacco smoke

Speak with a dermatologist if the infant’s eczema is difficult to manage.

A suitable eczema skin care routine may reduce a person’s symptoms, increase skin moisture levels, and help prevent future flare-ups.

An effective routine will involve cleaning the skin without drying it out, adding hydration via moisturizers, and protecting the skin from eczema triggers wherever possible.

If skin care is not working or if a person is not sure which products to try, they can speak with a dermatologist for advice.