Editor: Alexandria Taliaferro, @clapbacksandcontours
Skin Type: Combination
Skin Concerns: Texture, Hyperpigmentation
When some people hear the word “eczema,” they often think of it as nothing more than dry, ashy skin – and for some people, that’s all it is. But for me, the symptoms and side-effects of this long-lasting skin condition goes far beyond that.
Eczema, also known as Atopic Dermatitis, is a genetic, chronic, incurable skin condition characterized by re-occurring patches of dry, itchy, rough, flakey, inflamed, and irritated skin, usually starting in childhood. Also commonly known as “flare-ups,” these patches can disappear and reappear on various parts of the body throughout one's life, often with little to no warning. Undoubtedly the worst part of eczema is the fact that no one is quite sure what causes these flare-ups – while it can be triggered by specific allergens (like sensitivities to chemicals or fabrics), it is also thought to be caused by stress, anxiety, excessive heat or cold, food sensitivities, digestive issues, sun sensitivity, sweat, extended dampness, dry air, and so on.
It had been so long since my last flare-ups in high school that I barely even remembered how to treat them. So after a while, I turned to Google – which led me to a yogurt, honey and aloe vera gel nighttime mask, but of course, that didn't work. Inevitably, after a few weeks of concocting home remedies, I finally gave in and reached out to my dermatologist, who (rightfully) chastised me for not coming in sooner, dissuaded me from continuing my fruitless pursuit of skincare remedies from old wives tales and online blog posts from 2009, and prescribed me with several different topical steroid creams on the spot. However, on my way out of the office, my dermatologist warned me against long-term continued use of the medications, noting that, while they did work for many patients, these topical creams are not substitutes for gentler skincare practices and lifestyle changes that could reduce future flare-ups.
For the most part, he was right.
After two days of discontinued use, my eczema eruptions returned: tiny red bumps dotting the corners of my mouth and eyes that I knew would graduate to itchy, flakey scabs by the end of the week. That’s when my Dermatologist reminded me of his warning and explained something called Steroid Cream Withdrawal, or Steroid Dermatitis – a condition that can occur after extended use of steroid creams, resulting in red, itchy dry patches that mimic eczema eruptions. In other words: using my prescription creams for too long had actually done me more harm than good. My dermatologist recommended giving my skin a much-needed break from the pills and potions until these new flare-ups calmed down and suggested I completely pair down my extensive skincare routine until they went away.
I was shocked, to say the least. The fact that my dermatologist was telling me that my myriad of serums and cleansers and creams could actually exacerbate the problem was revelatory to me. But it made sense. Up until that point, the one through-line in my eczema journey had been aggressive skincare treatment – whenever I had a flare-up, I’d immediately go at it with every mask and moisturizer in my arsenal, using vitamins, peptides and chemical exfoliants to try to relieve the itch. The steroid creams definitely did their job, but they spent much of their time competing with the wide array of products I had also been using on my face to no effect – and because these other products were only making my eczema worse, I had to use the prescription creams for much longer than recommended, causing the Steroid Dermatitis to occur. My eczema was bad, but my overcomplicated skincare routine was only making it worse.
In a society of excess, it’s easy to feel the need to throw things at the problem. For me, that meant using product after product after product to try and remedy my skincare nightmare. But sometimes, less is more! After that final conversation with my dermatologist, I began to significantly scale back on what skincare products I used during eczema flare-ups, completely removing all actives from my routine and honing in on clean, simple, gentle ingredients that hydrated and nourished the skin until my skin started to heal – a creamy cleanser, a soothing serum, and a plush moisturizer became my bare-bones routine both day and night. While Vitamin C, exfoliating acids and retinols are amazing ingredients on a normal day, they’re terrible on sensitive, inflamed skin; When it comes to treating eczema – the simpler your routine, the better.
Since then, I’ve become a self-proclaimed pro at healing my flare-ups, simplifying my skincare routine and cutting back on harsher products to protect my skin barrier.
Start with an antioxidant-rich gel cleanser that’s as satisfying to use as it is effective, like the Matcha Hemp Hydrating Cleanser from Krave Beauty. The gel formula of this cleanser is the main reason why this has become a staple in my routine: it lathers into a beautiful silky finish and deeply cleans the skin without leaving your face feeling tight or dry. Best of all, it works great on all skin types!
Sneak in an extra layer of hydration before your serums and creams with an essence, like Naturium’s Alpha Arbutin Essence 1% . This brightening essence is formulated with 1% alpha arbutin, beta-glucan, and orange blossom to hydrate skin while diminishing the look of dark spots and hyperpigmentation. This essence preps skin for better absorption of serums and moisturizers to maximize performance. My favorite thing about this product? It’s lightweight consistency! This feather-light, gently hydrating essence allows for optimal absorption of each product utilized in your skincare routine, while soothing your overall complexion.
Add in a serum that hydrates, soothes, and treats that pesky post-eczematic hyperpigmentation and dryness. Derived from the leaves of the bearberry plant, the Alpha Arbutin Brightening Serum from The INKEY List is a 2% alpha arbutin gel-serum that targets the appearance of hyperpigmentation and dark spots, helping to brighten the skin and improve overall skin tone. Added squalane helps to increase skin hydration and smoothness – plus, at just $12, it won’t break the bank! Looking for something a little heavier? Try the Hydrate Moisture Replenishing Serum from Nuria Beauty [code: ALEX15]! Made from everlasting flower extract and plant-based squalane (a naturally occurring bodily oil that keeps skin and hair moisturized), the Hydrate Moisture Replenishing Serum boosts hydration and deeply nourishes to replenish dull, dry skin. Due to it’s ultra-clean composition – Nuria doesn’t use any synthetic fillers or emollients – this serum is incredibly thick in texture, aiding in its overall hydration factor. Wanna go a little more luxe? Herbivore Botanicals’ Bakuchiol Serum is your girl! Derived from the Ayurvedic Babchi plant, Herbivore’s Bakuchiol Serum is a 100% natural treatment to help smooth texture while sealing in hydration. Because it’s not as potent as retinol, this is a great option for those with super sensitive skin, or for those who want to use a retinol‑like product daily without the potentially harsh side effects.
Round out your routine with a good moisturizer! For your AM routine, stick to something that combines hydration with sun protection, like the Superscreen Daily Moisturizer from Supergoop. This moisturizer‑sunscreen combo provides intense hydration and SPF 40 in one, protecting the skin from harsh UVA (aging) rays, UVB (burning) rays, and blue light while nourishing and plumping the skin. The formula itself is lightweight but extremely plush (your skin has never looked more glowy and velvety than it looks after using this moisturizer), plus it wears beautifully under makeup. This product is a non‑negotiable for me — it should be in everyone’s skincare cabinet! If you’re prepping your skin for bed, bulk up your routine with a thick night cream. Nuria Beauty’s Defend Overnight Recovery Cream [code: ALEX15] is a lightweight gel‑cream moisturizer that hydrates and gently exfoliates while you sleep. Made with a blend of clean vegan ingredients, antioxidants, and fatty acids, the Defend Cream plumps the skin and locks in moisture without fear of irritation. With this product, a little goes a long way! It took me a few tries to find the perfect amount for my skin — use too much, or use circular rubbing motions instead of patting motions, and the product begins to pill. Despite that, this cream has become my favorite product to use when dealing with eczema flare‑ups or dry patches on my skin.
Don’t forget your occlusive! After your water-based skincare absorbs, us an occlusive oil to form a protective barrier on the surface of the skin to protect from moisture loss overnight. My favorite occlusive to add into my routine during an eczema flare-up? 100mg CBD Facial Oil from E.L.F. Cosmetics ! Infused with 100mg of full-spectrum CBD, this face oil combines the soothing qualities of hemp with the balancing properties of marula, sunflower seed, grapeseed oils to help retain moisture and calm inflammation. CBD is an incredibly powerful skin-soother and, when used as an occlusive layer on top of your nighttime hydrants, helps lock moisture into even the driest of skin.
While I do still use my prescription creams on occasion, they’ve become a secondary weapon in the eczematic war – no longer my first tool for knocking those eruptions out of the park. Ultimately, everyone’s skin is different, and no two cases of eczema are the same; However, for those looking for a bit of relief from that red, itchy trauma, I hope you find this quick list of some of my favorite products for barrier repair and healing as helpful as I do.
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