Eczema can make your skin so cracked and scaly that it breaks open. The itch can get intense enough to make you scratch until you bleed. The best ways to relieve eczema damage and heal faster are to moisturize and take extra care to protect your skin.
Stop the Itch
Eczema prevents your skin from holding in water. That means your skin dries out more quickly and breaks open more easily than usual.
To prevent dryness and cracks, put a layer of moisturizer on your skin every day. You can choose from three types:
Ointments like petroleum jelly are thick, and they hold water into the skin. They also provide a barrier to keep out things that might irritate your skin. The downside is they can feel greasy.
Creams are also thick, and they're less greasy than ointments. They do sometimes contain preservatives and other ingredients that can make your skin react if you're sensitive to them.
Lotions don't protect skin as well as ointments and creams because they're thinner and they contain a lot of water. Once that water evaporates, your skin will dry out again.
When you want to try a new moisturizer, test it out first. Put a pea-sized amount on the inside of your elbow. Watch for signs of a reaction, like a rash, redness, or itching.
Whichever product you choose, put it on right after you get out of the bath or shower to keep moisture in your skin. Also, moisturize during the day whenever your skin feels dry.
If you have eczema on your hands, put on a layer of cream every time you wash them. Also put cream on your hands just before you go to bed. Then cover your hands with a pair of cotton gloves to help the cream absorb into your skin while you sleep.
Another way to stop your skin from drying out is to take shorter showers -- 10 to 15 minutes maximum. Keep the water warm, not hot. Skip the soap and instead use gentle scent- and dye-free cleansing products. Emollient soap substitutes and bath oils clean as well as soap and are less irritating.
Wash your skin gently. Don't scrub. When you step out of the shower or bath, pat your skin dry with a soft towel.
Watch for Infection
If your skin does break open, bacteria, fungi, and viruses can get in and cause an infection. Look for warning signs like:
- Severe redness, itching, or soreness
- Clear or yellow fluid that oozes from the skin
- Blisters or pus-filled bumps
- Swollen glands in the neck, armpit, or groin
If you get an infection, your doctor can prescribe an antibiotic or antifungal cream or ointment to treat it.
Protect Your Skin
To keep your skin from breaking open, try these tips:
Use a steroid cream. Hydrocortisone (steroid) medicine helps control eczema flares. It reduces the itch and helps your skin heal faster. You can buy steroid creams over the counter. Stronger versions are available with a prescription.
You'll usually put it on your skin once or twice a day. Your doctor might also recommend other medicines to treat eczema flares, such as tacrolimus (Protopic) or pimecrolimus (Elidel).
Wear gloves whenever you cook, wash dishes, or do the laundry. The chemicals in cleaning products can irritate your skin. Put on cotton gloves for dry tasks like laundry. Use powder-free vinyl or neoprene gloves when your hands are in water. Avoid latex gloves, which can cause allergic reactions.
Apply a dressing. Cover broken skin with cream or ointment and a topical steroid. Then, put a wet bandage over the ointment and cover that with a dry bandage. The bandage will help your skin absorb the cream and stay moist. Ask your doctor to show you how to wrap your skin. Avoid dressings if you already have a skin infection.
Cut your nails short. When your nails are trimmed, you'll be less likely to damage your skin if you scratch it.
Take antihistamines. These medicines stop the itch that makes you want to scratch. Older antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) work well, but they can make you sleepy. Newer drugs such as loratadine (Claritin) and cetirizine (Zyrtec) relieve the itch without causing drowsiness.
If you've moisturized and protected your hands and they still crack and blister, see your doctor. You might need to adjust your eczema treatment so it better controls your flares.