More than 15 million Americans suffer from eczema--a chronic skin disorder that causes patches of dry, itchy, red skin--according to the American Academy of Dermatology. If you have eczema or think you may, follow these tips from Leslie S. Baumann, M.D., an associate professor of dermatology at the University of Miami School of Medicine.
THE BASIC FACTS
One of the skin's main functions is to hold moisture in: Skin with eczema instead allows water to escape and evaporate, due to a deficient skin barrier in the epidermis (the outermost layer of the skin). The condition can be caused by a number of factors--allergies, irritation, dryness and/or genetics. Patches of dry skin typically form, accompanied by inflammation. Scaly skin (thick white patches) may be visible as well.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Here, how to recognize eczema:
* You have itchy abnormally colored patches that recur in the same spots. Although helped by moisturizers, they're more stubborn than other areas of dry skin.
* Your symptoms get worse with changes in the weather like extreme heat or cold. Exposure to chlorine and salt water also can trigger eczema.
* It tends to act up when you're stressed. Studies show that eczema can flare up in tense times.
You can minimize dry, itchy skin. Beauty Rx:
1. Wash with a nonsoap cleanser. Soap can further strip skin of moisture. Instead, cleanse with products specially formulated for dry skin. Try Dove Essential Nutrients Non-Foaming Cleansing Lotion for face ($6) and Dove All Day Moisturizing Body Wash ($4; both at drugstores).
2. Apply moisturizers generously several times a day. Look for creams with emollients and humectants, which bind water to the skin, to prevent moisture loss. Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream ($5; at drugstores) is a good bet.
3. Avoid scratching, hot baths or showers and heavily fragranced products--all can aggravate eczema.
4. Consult a dermatologist. Protopic (www.protopic.com) and Elidel (elidel.com) are FDA-approved prescription creams that can help tame the condition.
5. Take time to relax. De-stressing techniques may help keep itchy skin from becoming further aggravated.
RELATED ARTICLE: WHAT WORKS "The most common mistake that women with eczema make is using irritating fragranced skin-care products," says Leslie S. Baumann, M.D. Instead, she recommends selecting dry-skin or sensitive-skin products that are fragrance-free, hypoallergenic and dermatologist-tested (look for these terms on a product's label). "Most people think that patchy, itchy skin will go away, but eczema is a chronic skin condition that can come and go, and may require long-term treatment," she says. When she's not seeing patients at the University of Miami Cosmetic Center, Baumann conducts research on the most effective treatments for skin disorders.
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