This is going to be a long post. If you’ve ever wondered what eczema is, or how to deal with it, I literally detail everything I did wrong and right when I got hit with it this year. I have no photos of the damage but I do go in detail to help as many people as possible. Some of this will sound gross, but I’m hoping I’ll help someone with their eczema too!
1. What is Eczema?
Eczema (aka atopic dermatitis) is a skin condition whereby parts of the skin become extremely dry and dehydrated, resulting in itchy, red patches. It’s not contagious and there is no cure for it. The condition occurs in “flare ups” that recede before reoccurring after a certain amount of time (could be months, years). There are no directly-linked causes for eczema, only common patterns found in people who suffer from it. Eczema seems to be:
- More probable in people with family members who suffer from eczema, or asthma and seasonal allergies
- More likely to flare up during dry weather and/or rapid climate changes (i.e. mix of cold/hot/humid/dry air in a short period of time)
- More likely to occur when the skin is dry
- More likely to occur when the skin’s natural barrier is weakened, therefore letting bacteria and germs in. This is also affected by the body’s immune system, including being sick.
Unfortunately for me, I experienced all 4 of these things.
2. What I Did Wrong/How I Probably Got Eczema
With a combination of genetics, living in Toronto (extremely unpredictable weather, especially around August/September), and being sick, I flared up horribly. I experienced different symptoms on different parts of my face: swollen, red, itchy patches around my mouth and nose, and dry, flaky, dandruff-like patches between my sideburns and temples on the perimeter of my face. This second area I assumed was like dandruff since it was around my hairline, and led me to my first mistake.
Mistake #1: Doubling the damage.
I hopped in the shower and while shampooing, aggressively scratched these flaky areas to try and remove the thought-to-be dead skin. It worked… but I got something much worse in return. The skin, now agitated and raw, felt extremely sore and painful. The patches swelled up worse, turned red, and oozed a clear liquid that smelled like blood (like when wounds heal). After 1-2 days they turned into rough and even dryer patches like sandpaper before healing back to normal.
The second area where my eczema hit me was around my nose and mouth, particularly around the creases of my nose, the groove between my nose and mouth, and all around my lips. It began with itchy, red skin which I usually get from another skin condition so I attempted to treat it with my usual product: Psoriasin. It has coal tar in it, which is a great ingredient for its intended use (also great for dandruff!). This is where I messed up again.
Mistake #2: Using the wrong treatment.
The next day, the skin around my nose and mouth became more red, itchy and swollen than before. The coal tar treatment made my eczema worse because I was using an irritating ingredient for the wrong condition.
The skin around my nose and mouth felt very thick, dry and swollen and would crack and sting when I moved my face. Worse yet, whenever I pressed my lips together they felt slightly wet so I knew they were oozing that same liquid as my temples from before.
Mistake #3: Picking at my face with unclean hands.
If you have eczema in an area, it’s more prone to bacteria and infection than normal. I didn’t do this, but I imagine that many people pick and scratch at their eczema. Though it can be hard, definitely refrain from this unless you just washed your hands with soap and water.
Mistake #4: Not going to the damn doctor.
I work full-time so it’s hard to find time to visit a walk-in clinic open late. As you can see from my 3 mistakes (probably more), I should have just gone to a doctor in the first place to use a prescription cream. This would have prevented me using the wrong treatment, and my eczema probably wouldn’t have been as bad.
I did end up going to a walk-in clinic 1 week into my symptoms and was prescribed a 2% corticosteroid cream. And yes, it helped a lot.
3. What Worked For Me
I did a ton of research and simplified my skincare routine to just a few steps in the day and at night, with prescribed treatment. With patience and consistency, the eczema has retreated and is basically gone. Keep a few simple rules in mind, drawn from some of my past posts:
- Hydration is key. This doesn’t only mean moisturizing very well, but avoiding products with stripping ingredients like alcohol. Drinking lots of water is also highly advised.
- Avoid fragrances. Anything with fragrance in it will exacerbate irritated skin, so definitely opt for fragrance-free products.
- Avoid Vitamin C (and other exfoliating active ingredients). They’re drying and harsh on the skin and will definitely make the eczema worse. Avoid these products and take them out of your routine until your eczema is completely gone.
- Simple is better. I actually ended up skipping toner during this time because I found it worked best to relieve my eczema. The shorter the ingredients list, and the more things you can cut out, the better.
To clarify, I have oily skin from spring to fall, that becomes dry skin in the winter. I got eczema for the first time ever this year mid-late September while my skin was oily, and now that it’s healed and it is winter, my skin is now dry. Now onto the actual products:
Holy Grail: Eucerin Aquaphor Healing Ointment
This is one of those popular products that people have talked about for many years. I can finally join in on the hype because it really is a great healing ointment! It only has 7 ingredients, the first being petroleum jelly aka Vaseline. It’s very thick and isn’t a moisturizer – instead, you use it on extremely dry skin, as indicated on the packaging. When you have eczema, it’s important to hydrate dry skin and keep it that way. Any face cream or lotion I applied to my affected areas ended up flaky again quickly, but Aquaphor is the only product that applies wet and gloopy to lock in moisture for hours. This makes it especially great for hydration overnight. I also brought this with me everywhere I went to reapply it as often as needed, which sped up the healing.
Clinique Smart Treatment Oil
I wanted to incorporate a face oil into my routine to hydrate as much as possible. For $59 CAD, this oil is high in safflower seed oil and has other amazing ingredients. It has no scent, absorbs easily, and doesn’t leave my skin feeling greasy. This product absolutely helped my skin get back to normal. It’s now a staple in my skincare routine, with or without eczema, and I use it every day. Such an underrated and amazing find!
The reason why I bought this oil and not others is because I was looking for something very specific. There are types of oils you should/shouldn’t use for your skin, and the safflower seed oil in this is very effective for balancing the pH of my oily and damaged skin. I’ll write a post about this soon.
First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream (original + vanilla citron formulas)
You’ve probably heard of this before. I had a deluxe sample size of this and heard that it’s fantastic for dry skin so I used this as my night cream. It definitely worked and helped to progress the healing of my eczema. It’s made with many beneficial ingredients like colloidal oatmeal to hydrate and calm the skin, and can be used all over the body. There are 2 formulas; I used both interchangeably, and the only difference is that vanilla citron formula has many natural ingredients and extracts in it.
I would only recommend this for dry skin types, or at night for oily skin types. During my healing periods, my skin improved but also got extremely oily. I even got whiteheads in areas like my forehead and cheeks.
Kiehl’s Pure Vitality Skin Renewing Cream
This is a very hydrating and thick face cream. It has tons of amazing ingredients like manuka honey, red ginseng root, and plant extracts. Although the ingredients list is very long, there are no harsh ingredients like fragrances in this so it’s safe to use on any skin type. There is a light, pleasant smell like honey and, despite its richness, doesn’t leave the skin feeling greasy. It’s more expensive than my regular creams but a little goes a long way.
Corticosteroid topical treatments:
Polysporin Eczema Relief 1% Hydrocortisone + Prescription 2% Hydrocortisone Creams
A few days into my symptoms when I didn’t have time to go to the doctor, I looked at the drugstore for a corticosteroid cream to treat my eczema patches (that’s what doctors usually prescribe). The Polysporin is the only one I found, and it worked pretty well. I applied it to the affected areas as it indicated: up to 4 x a day, no more than 7 days in a row. It’s very important to read the directions on any medication and follow them carefully. The Polysporin is only a temporary fix so it shouldn’t be used longer than indicated.
After a week and at the peak of my symptoms, I saw a doc at a walk-in clinic and she prescribed me a 2% Hydrocortisone cream (same thing, higher concentration) that replaced my Polysporin. It worked even better and after just a few days, my eczema was reduced drastically! Don’t forget to wash your hands after applying a topical treatment like this. I was told to apply this cream to the affected areas 2 x a day for 14 days.
My Full Eczema Routine:
- Regular cleanser: Consonant beauty foaming facial cleanser
- Skipped toner to maintain hydration and simplicity
- SK-II facial treatment essence
- Clinique Smart Treatment Oil
- Kiehl’s cream (day), FAB ultra repair cream (night)
- Prescription hydrocortisone cream to affected areas
- Eucerin Aquaphor to affected areas that still feel dry
I am by no means an expert, nor am I certified in medicine or dermatology. I am merely telling my story of how I got eczema, what I did to make things worse/better, and how I treated it. I’ve learned many things about my skin during this difficult time, and hopefully this will help someone out there suffering with the same condition. Now that I have eczema, I’ll have to live with it every so often for the rest of my life. However, I now know how to prevent future flare ups, and control the ones that do occur.
If you have any tips or products you’d recommend for eczema sufferers, definitely leave a comment below!