Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on September 29, 2023

You Can’t Catch It


Red, itchy eczema patches may look contagious, but they’re not. “Eczema is basically an allergy in the skin that starts out as an itch that turns into a rash,” says Jennifer Haley, MD, a dermatologist in Scottsdale, AZ, who had the condition as a child. Just like you can’t catch someone else’s hay fever, you can’t catch eczema.

It’s More Than an Everyday Itch


The itch of eczema can be hard for others to understand. Ashley Wall, 29, from Livingston, NJ, says it can feel like poison ivy, chickenpox, and a sunburn rolled into one skin condition. Skin can also get rough and scaly, with sores that ooze and crust over. To manage the symptoms, Wall alternates between taking Epsom salt baths and showers. “I moisturize daily and try and live a healthy and active life,” she says.

Don’t Say, 'Just Stop Scratching'


When you have a bug bite, you can usually find a way to keep from scratching it. But eczema is different, says Kristin Capone, 23, of Westwood, NJ. “A bug bite is usually itchy in a small area. With eczema, it feels like every part of your body is covered in bug bites. It’s a constant itch.” She says it even keeps her up at night.

Touch Can Be Touchy


Besides itching, everyday contact with others can hurt. If someone is having a flare-up, shaking or holding hands, hugging, and other touching can be painful, says Natalie Hornyak, 29, of Delran, NJ. “It isn't that I don't want to hold your hand -- it's just that the natural oils and acids in your skin will burn the tiny blisters in mine.” If someone you love is in pain, ask what kind of touch is OK. Sometimes, an arm around the shoulder works fine.

Triggers Are Everywhere


It’s not just touching. Everyday things in the environment -- cigarette smoke, pollen, foods, soaps, and even some fabrics -- can cause eczema to flare. Ask your friend about their triggers and help them to avoid them. If heat makes things worse, make sure your home is cool when they visit. For an overnight visit, dress the guest bed with sheets washed in eczema-friendly detergent.

It Limits My Wardrobe


People with eczema may need to cover up their skin to protect it from infection. Or they may feel awkward about how they look. So shorts, skirts, and sleeveless tops sometimes won’t work, even in the heat of summer. Capone says she opts for loose clothing over her affected skin, since tight things can make itching worse.

I Have to Be Choosy With Skin Care


Eczema means you have to be careful about what to put on your skin. The same products you like may trigger a flare for someone with the condition. “It’s not an insult -- but soaps with sulfates and lotions with heavy fragrances will make my skin break out,” Hornyak says. “I know which products work for me, and have to stick to those. I even carry my own hand soap into public bathrooms.”

A Helping Hand Means a Lot


Itchy, inflamed skin can make everyday tasks a challenge. When Melissa O’Neill, 34, of Wernersville, PA, is having a hard time with the eczema on her hands, it’s a relief when her loved ones help. Her sister bathes the kids or does the dishes. Friends often pitch in with meal prep. “The best thing anyone can do is to understand that things take me longer to do and that my mind is willing but sometimes my body isn’t able,” she says.

Please Don’t Stare


It can be hard to hide eczema, especially if it’s severe. And people can be cruel about visible skin issues. Capone says people often stare at her skin or make comments about it. She uses humor to deal with prying eyes. “If I see someone staring at my legs,  I will try and make it a joke. ‘No, my cat didn’t maul me, I have eczema,’” she says. “This softens the blow sometimes.”

I Get Tired of Explaining It


Some people don’t want to talk about their eczema to everyone they meet. “I think the biggest struggle for me is when people ask … when they point out the obvious,” says Makayla Holman, 23, of Las Vegas. “Everyone can see a red, scaly spot, or a scratch. I would prefer if people didn't ask about it.”

Understand If I Say No


Sometimes, the condition means people aren’t up to being social. “Please understand that we aren’t blowing off an event or a gathering for no reason,” Wall says. Your loved one may be in pain or feeling self-conscious about her skin. So if she declines your party invitation, understand. Ask her if she’d like you to visit or bring a meal over on another day.

Stress the Positive


A compliment can make anyone’s day, especially for someone with eczema. “For me, it really touches my soul,” Holman says. “It helps me when people say that my skin looks good today.” Remind your friend that she’s more than skin deep -- she’s a total package. “I forget that I'm so much more than the red and flaky spots on my body, and anything to distract from the negative is so very helpful, even if it’s just for a moment,” Holman adds.

Show Sources


1) Thinkstock Photos



TeensHealth from Nemours: “Eczema.”

Jennifer Haley, MD, dermatologist, Scottsdale, AZ.

Ashley Wall, Livingston, NJ.

Kristen Capone, Westwood, NJ.

Jeffrey Fromowitz, MD, dermatologist, Boca Raton, FL.

Melissa O’Neill, Wernersville, PA.

Makayla Holman, Las Vegas.

Natalie Hornyak, Delran, NJ.

National Eczema Association: “What is Eczema?” “Eczema Causes and Triggers,” “Other Conditions Related to Eczema.”