Dry skin is caused by a combination of things — dehydration, environmental stressors, vitamin deficiencies, the list goes on. But there’s a skin condition that causes inflamed, itchy skin. It’s called eczema. According to the National Eczema Association, one in 10 Americans will get eczema at some point in their lives (peaking in early childhood), and there are currently 31.6 million Americans living with it. The bottom line: eczema is real and very common.
But what exactly causes eczema? “Eczema triggers are highly variable and may include anything from stress, irritating substances, environmental exposures, illness, and allergies — both food and seasonal,” says Rachel Maiman, a board-certified cosmetic and general dermatologist. In short, those with eczema have a hyperactive immune system that responds to one or several triggers by producing inflammation resulting in red, itchy, flaky skin that may crack or bleed.
When the barrier’s integrity is compromised, moisture is allowed to escape and microbes are more feasibly allowed to enter, which predisposes to infection. For those with a more intrinsic form of eczema, it is a result of a mutation in the gene responsible for creating filaggrin, a protein integral to preserving the integrity of the skin barrier, says Maiman.
The good news is you can topically heal the affected skin and prevent flares of symptoms. Here are six ingredients that help soothe, calm and, in some cases, prevent eczema from wreaking havoc on your skin.
Petrolatum (or petroleum jelly, derived from petroleum) is a thick emollient that helps prevent 99 percent of water loss from your skin. By keeping water locked in the damaged outer layers where it is deficient, the skin is much more capable of repairing that barrier. As for that 1 percent of water left to escape?
“Petrolatum is very useful because it’s important that the skin not be sealed completely for long periods,” says Maiman. “Some water loss is key because it signals a feedback mechanism that triggers the production of the lipids (fats) that can be thought of as the bricks of a skin barrier reminiscent of brick and mortar.”
Apply directly on breakouts after bathing or throughout the day if itching occurs.
Vaseline Original Unscented Petroleum Jelly is pure petrolatum with no added scents, fragrances, or ingredients. For a convenient, mess-free application, try Vaseline All-Over Body Balm Jelly Stick, a stick that’s great for targeting stubborn eczema patches and hard-to-reach areas.
Colloidal oatmeal is a natural ingredient that’s proven to be beneficial in both treating and relieving the symptoms of eczema. “Oatmeal is an emollient, which helps moisturize the skin by protecting the skin barrier and providing moisture to the skin,” says Orit Markowitz, a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist. “It is also an anti-inflammatory, which targets and helps treat inflammation and redness.”