Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on February 12, 2020

Better Bathing for Your Skin

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When you have eczema, how you wash your skin is important. Take a short, warm (not hot) bath or shower every day. Use a gentle cleanser instead of soap and don't scrub your skin. Pat it slightly dry. While it’s still damp, apply moisturizer within 3 minutes to seal in the hydration. An oatmeal bath can help control itching, too.

Moisturizing 101

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The best way to soothe the dry, itchy skin of atopic dermatitis, the most common type of eczema, is to moisturize. Creams and ointments work better than lotions. And petroleum jelly works well after a bath. Be sure to choose products without fragrances or ingredients like alcohol that can dry out skin. Moisturize two to three times a day, including after you bathe and every time you wash your hands.

Don't Scratch the Itch

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Try not to scratch or rub your skin when it itches. This will only make the problem worse. When you scratch, you can break your skin and open it up to infection. Instead, apply a cold moisturizer or a cool gel to soothe it. If you tend to scratch while you sleep, try wearing light gloves to bed.

What to Wear

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It helps to wear loose-fitting clothes made out of soft, open-weave, comfortable fabrics like cotton. Avoid irritating cloth like wool. Wash all new clothes before you wear them to remove any chemicals, like formaldehyde, that could irritate your skin. Use a mild laundry detergent that doesn't have fragrances or dyes. Rinse clothes twice to remove traces of soap.

Avoid Allergens

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Eczema isn't an allergy, but your symptoms can get worse if you have allergies or you’re around things that cause them. Common allergens that trigger eczema can be foods like eggs, dairy products, wheat, and acidic foods like tomatoes. Dust, mold, pet dander, and pollen can cause flares, too. Try to avoid allergens or limit your time around them. Your doctor may suggest allergy testing or other ways to help.

Creams and Ointments

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Steroid creams or ointments that you rub on your skin are common eczema treatments. Try over-the-counter hydrocortisone. Or, your doctor may prescribe something stronger. Prescription topical immunomodulators (TIMs) work like steroid creams to ease inflammation in your skin, but unlike steroids, you can use them for more than a few days. Your doctor also may suggest creams with ingredients like coal tar or anthralin.

Other Treatments

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Prescription and over-the-counter antihistamine pills can help control eczema itching. Some may make you sleepy, so it’s best to take them at night. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotic creams or pills to clear up bacterial infections. They may also suggest allergy shots or tablets if allergens trigger your condition. Ultraviolet light treatments, steroid pills, or injections of biologic medicines may help with severe eczema.

Stress and Eczema

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Stress can make eczema worse, so try to find ways to relieve it -- like exercise, meditation, or making time for your favorite hobbies. If you need a quick fix for a stressful moment, read up on breathing techniques you can use to calm down. 

Watch Your Temperature

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If you get too hot, you’ll sweat, which can make your skin itchy and irritated. In winter, heated indoor spaces often have low humidity, which dries skin and causes itching. In bed, use lighter blankets so you won't sweat while you sleep. And take a short, lukewarm shower after you exercise

Use Sunscreen

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A sunburn can make your skin even itchier than normal, so always wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 to protect yourself. Try using sunscreens made for the face on your entire body. They are usually less irritating than other kinds. Products that have zinc oxide or titanium oxide also may be less likely to bother you.

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IMAGES PROVIDED BY:

1.   Wylie Maercklein / Flickr, Dougal Waters / Lifesize
2.   Ariel Skelley / Blend Images
3.   Thinkstock
4.   ZenShui & Alix Minde / PhotoAlto
5.   EDWIGE / BSIP
6.   Martin Hospach / fStop; Lisa J. Goodman / The Image Bank
7.   Olivier Voisin / Photo Researchers, Inc
8.   Vladimir Godnik
9.   Tammy Hanratty / Fancy
10.  Isu / Stock4B
 

REFERENCES:

PubMed Health: "Atopic eczema."
National Eczema Association: "Bathing and Moisturizing," "All About Atopic Dermatitis," "The Challenge of Eczema," "Atopic Dermatitis in Children."
KidsHealth: "Eczema."
FamilyDoctor: "Eczema: Tips on How to Care for Your Skin."
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: "Atopic Dermatitis."
American Osteopathic College of Dermatology: "Eczema/Atopic Dermatitis."
Beattie, P. British Journal of Dermatology, July 2006.