Here’s what’s causing your eczema outbreaks

Plus, expert tips on how to avoid them

Beauty Writer / October 27 2021

Itchy, irritating and painful, eczema is no doubt a 10 out of 10 jerk. Whether you’ve been dealing with it for years, or it has just decided to pay you a visit (how kind!), you’ll know just how difficult it can be to rid your skin of it. Even celebs struggle with it; yep, stars like Elle Fanning, Adele and Kerry Washington cope it with it, too.

But the fact that it's common doesn't make it any less frustrating, now does it? Flare-ups can be unpredictable; rashes pop up almost anywhere on your body; and the symptoms and triggers seem almost endless.

If you’re not sure where to start, we’re here to help – because there are ways to get some relief from those dry, red patches. We asked skin practitioner Sarah Hudson from Skin by Sarah Hudson for everything we need to know about eczema.

What causes eczema?

Also known as atopic dermatitis, eczema occurs when your skin is unable to repair its own natural barrier. “The cracks mean foreign substances from the environment are able to enter the skin – this activates the skin’s immune response causing the skin to become red, itchy and inflamed,” explains Hudson. “When the skin’s natural barrier becomes damaged, moisture leaves the skin, causing it to become dry and cracked."

It's something that can be passed down the hereditary line, too (cheers, mum/dad). "Generally, there is a family history of eczema or other allergies such as hay fever and asthma," Hudson confirms.

Unsure if you have eczema or not? Hudson says your skin will usually appear red, irritated and itchy. “Mild eczema tends to look dry and flaky. Severe eczema tends to be itchy, red; the skin may be cracked and it can ooze,” she explains.

What are some common triggers of eczema?

First off, stop scratching. We know it’s easier said than done, but scratching will make your eczema one hundred times worse. It basically breaks down the skin’s barrier even more, making it more susceptible to infection. So, try and keep those mitts away from your skin as much as possible.

Skin care and makeup
You also have to be wary of what kind of skin care and makeup products you’re using, as certain ingredients can cause flare-ups and irritation. “Just as you would read food labels, learn to read about different ingredients and the effects these can have on the skin. Look for products that are free of ingredients such as parabens, formaldehyde, sodium lauryl sulphate, propylene glycol, artificial colour and fragrances,” says Hudson.

Perfume and laundry detergents
Other triggers include perfume and laundry detergents. If you can’t part with your favourite fragrance, Hudson says to avoid spraying perfumes or body sprays directly on the skin, and instead spray them onto your clothes. She also recommends looking for sensitive skin and fragrance-free detergents, and to avoid fabric softeners as they tend to be highly fragranced.

According to Hudson, chlorine can also make things worse for eczema sufferers. “Chlorine harms the skin by stripping away natural oils and moisture from your skin, damaging the skin’s natural barrier,” she explains. If steering clear of chlorine isn’t an option (we live in Australia, we get it), to avoid itchy, dry skin, Hudson recommends doing this: “Prior to swimming, apply moisturiser as a protective barrier to patches of eczema; this will help protect the barrier of the skin. Swim for a short time, then rinse skin with fresh water.”

On top of this, things like over-heating can aggravate eczema, making you more likely to scratch – so make sure to cool things down a notch when you hit the shower. “Have tepid showers [and] ensure [your] work or home environment is not too hot,” says Hudson.

Above all, Hudson stresses the importance of a healthy diet. “Colds and flu, bacterial infections, allergic reactions, or stress can all place pressure on the immune system, contributing to eczema flare-ups,” she says. “Ensure a healthy diet, drink plenty of water. Include vitamin C supplements into your diet which can help to strengthen the immune system and can have the added benefits of being an antihistamine.”

Can you get rid of eczema?

“There is no cure for eczema, however many treatments can help to manage and relieve the symptoms. Removing triggers from your environment may help to manage the ‘eczema flare-ups’. Try to source products that help protect the barrier function. Be diligent with applying face and body moisturiser morning and night,” suggests Hudson.

The best way to deal with eczema

Wondering where to start? Make an appointment with a specialist dermatologist (not just your GP). “Dermatologists have the knowledge and skill to understand the complexities of the skin’s barrier function and can prescribe treatments accordingly. If you don’t get results from the first dermatologist you see, get a second or third opinion. Different topical and oral medications work for different people,” Hudson advises.

“If you see patches of eczema on your skin, don’t leave it. Seek advice from your doctor. Eczema does not tend to go away by itself, it tends to need help with topical (and sometimes prescribed) creams, or oral antibiotics."

Covitol Cream

After a cream to add to your kit? We recommend:

QV Flare Up Cream Eczema Prone ($13.49 at Chemist Warehouse) and QV Baby Barrier Cream Nappy Rash Cream ($10.99 at Chemist Warehouse).

QV Flare Up Cream Eczema Prone

QV Baby Barrier Cream Nappy Rash Cream

Looking for more tips for dry skin? Find out a dermatologist’s tips on how to keep your skin barrier healthy. 

Main image credit: @ellefanning