“My skin is a mess this winter: itchy, red, inflamed, flaky, peeling. I’ve started to think it might be eczema. Getting in to see a dermatologist feels near impossible. Can you offer any advice?” —Itchy, Halifax
We are indeed at the peak of dry and irritated skin season. It can be difficult to get a doctor’s appointment, let alone a specialist, but we urge you to keep trying as your skin health is important! To bridge the gap, we checked in with a dermatologist to give you a place to start.
“Eczema is the name given to a group of conditions that cause the skin to become itchy and inflamed,” explains Dr. Katie Beleznay, a dermatologist practicing in Vancouver, clinical instructor at UBC and skin care brand Marcelle’s skin health expert. “The most common form of eczema is atopic dermatitis, and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably.”
Beleznay says about one in 10 people will develop eczema at some point in their life. “It is more prevalent in infants and small children, and many will outgrow it. However, for some people it will be a lifelong chronic condition.’ She adds that those who suffer from eczema may also develop other atopic, or allergen-sensitive, conditions such as allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and asthma.
So what are the symptoms of eczema? They include dry, sensitive skin, itching and inflamed red or discoloured skin with rough, scaly patches or small, raised bumps (which may leak fluid and crust over). You could get all these symptoms, or just a few. We are thus back to the original advice, “See your doctor,” says Beleznay. Eczema, she warns, can become severe and have a negative impact on quality of life if it goes untreated.
More not-so-great news: “Unfortunately, there is no cure for eczema,” says Beleznay. “[But] there are treatments available by prescription. There are also things you can do to help manage the condition.”
A big one is to know that conditions such as eczema are sensitive to lifestyle triggers such as stress and diet. “Try to identify and avoid any other triggers that may worsen the condition,” is the doctor’s advice.
It’s hard to say whether what you’re experiencing is dryness or eczema. “Many people, especially in the winter, will experience very dry skin, but this might not be classified clinically as eczema,” says Beleznay. “However, if you do suffer from eczema then the cold, dry weather is often a trigger.” So far, so hard to tell the difference. But here is a great little piece of knowledge: “Many of the skin care recommendations for dry skin and eczema are the same.”
These include gentle cleansing and moisturization to help maintain and restore the skin barrier, which is “essential for healthy skin and can help prevent eczema flare-ups.” Beleznay’s tip for sealing in hydration: Apply moisturizer to damp skin after bathing. And it is a good idea to “reduce potential irritants by choosing gentle products that are free from fragrance.”
Beleznay does not recommend specific products, but recommends ingredients such as petrolatum, glycerin and hyaluronic acid, which can be beneficial and are common in over the counter cleansers and moisturizers. “Niacinamide is another ingredient that may be beneficial,” she adds. “It is generally recommended to avoid potentially irritating ingredients but everyone is different so I wouldn’t say that particular products should universally be avoided if you have eczema.” Consider patch-testing a new product first to see if your skin reacts.
The name of the game is managing your condition over time, something actress Tia Mowry knows first-hand. She experiences eczema, as do her children, and the issue goes back to her own mother. “I would literally see her skin peeling off of her hands or her feet and she didn’t know what it was,” Mowry says. “Basically, I saw what I now know was symptoms of eczema.”
Mowry tells a sweet story about how her mother turned her itching hands into sayings, which resonates deeply with me — my mother was superstitious, too. “She’d have this saying that if her right hand was itching, she was going to be getting some bills; if her left hand was itching, she was going to be getting some money.” Tears came into my eyes hearing this story, it feels so familiar.
Mowry rose to fame with her twin sister, Tamera, in the ’90s sitcom Sister, Sister. More recently she has been podcasting and releasing cookbooks, and has now signed on with Aveeno’s #SkinVisibility campaign to talk about how eczema is underdiagnosed in people with skin of colour. “Unfortunately, in a lot of medical textbooks there aren’t representations of eczema on black skin,” says Mowry. Her own skin issues took a long time to be diagnosed, until she found a Black doctor who knew what the condition looked like on Black skin. “I’m happy to amplify and bring awareness to what eczema looks like on diverse skin tones.” She points me to the Skin of Colour Hub on the Aveeno website, which contains info from dermatologists and stories of the experiences of Canadian people of colour with eczema.
Now that Mowry’s children experience eczema flare ups, she’s learned to use soothing products in a proactive manner for both herself, and her kids. “I love the just launched Aveeno Therapy Rescue Relief gel cream, and the Enriched Night Cream for my hands, legs and feet,” she says. The go-to on her counter for the whole family is the Aveeno Stress Relief Moisturizing Lotion. And she loves the colloidal oat baths for her kids. “If you stay on top of it, and you have the right products,” she says, “it makes flare ups less painful.”
Send your pressing fashion and beauty questions to Leanne at email@example.com.
Shop the advice
Products to soothe eczema
Aveeno Soothing Bath Treatment, $14, walmart.ca SHOP HERE
Mowry uses these soothing oat sachets in the bath to fend off flare ups, especially for her children.
Marcelle Ultra Gentle Cleansing Gel, $13, amazon.ca SHOP HERE
Ultra-gentle cleansers with no fragrance are a must; this one contains calming aloe and hydrating glycerin.
CeraVe Moisturizing Cream, $29, shoppersdrugmart.ca SHOP HERE
This big tub of fragrance-free, non-irritating rich cream contains ceramides and hyaluronic acid and can be used all over the face and body.
Skinfix Dermatitis Face Balm, $38, sephora.ca SHOP HERE
A balm for when you want to dab something more concentrated on irritated patches on your face, this is ophthalmologist-tested, which means it’s safe to use on flare ups near the eyes.
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