It’s dry. It itch. It drives you crazy. But is your problem just dry skin, or is it eczema aka atopic dermatitis?

“The difference between dry skin and eczema is the presence of inflammation,” says dermatologist Joshua the editor told HuffPost. “With eczema, the skin barrier doesn’t work as well as it should, leading to dehydration and disruption of the outer skin layer. If your skin is red, itchy, and flaky, it’s probably more than just dry, and you may have eczema. ”

Another clue is where those dry and itchy patches are located. “It most commonly affects the preorbital fossa (the fold at the elbow) and the fovea (the back of the knee),” says dermatologist. JiaDe (Jeff) Yu explain. (And now you know two new body part names, so you’re welcome.)

According to Vivian Shi, a dermatologist and associate professor of dermatology at the University of Arkansas for Health Sciences, a key difference between the two conditions is that eczema will continue to get worse if left untreated. properly treated. “It can lead to serious symptoms like cracking, thickening of the skin and more intense itching,” she says. “People with eczema are also more susceptible to skin infections caused by a type of bacteria known as ringwormStaphylococcus aureus bacteria.

What causes eczema?

“Eczema is caused by a deficiency in one of the proteins that make up the top layer of the skin,” says the dermatologist. Julie Russak speak. “The skin is designed to be our body’s protective barrier, with proteins that act as glue and hold cells together. When there is a mutation in the proteins that hold the cells of the top layer of skin together, the cells begin to break down and the skin is unable to act as a protective barrier.”

What makes your skin work?

“It can be triggered by cold weather, stress, infection and illness,” says Yu. “And in most people, it affects more of the skin, as it has been shown to be linked to depression, insomnia and other medical conditions.”

The good news is that there are things you can do to help. You’ll need to start by paying attention to anything that can affect your skin.

“We need to be thorough enough to find irritants that can damage products,” says Peter Lio, a dermatologist and clinical associate professor of dermatology and pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. skin barrier and even cause irritation.. “Apart from other factors, you can also consider things like washing frequently, using hand sanitizer, and certain chemicals you may be exposed to at work or at home.”

When should I see a dermatologist?

“If your skin is dry and itchy and doesn’t improve with good, thick moisturizers, it’s time to see a board-certified dermatologist,” says Yu. “That doctor can give you targeted, localized, and age-appropriate therapies.”

Are there products that can help?

“The care regimen for dry skin and eczema is similar, as in both cases the goal is to repair and protect your skin barrier to prevent water loss,” says Shi.

So let’s start with what you will do for dry skin. Yu suggests thick moisturizers to prevent skin from becoming dehydrated, especially in drier and drier conditions. He recommends ointments like vaseline petroleum jelly, Aquaphor, Cerave, and Vanicream, or creams from Cerave, Cetaphil, Eucerin, and Vanicream.

Payment procedures this list of more than 200 products with the National Eczema Association seal of approval to learn more.

“In general, you want to choose a product that has very few ingredients in it and ideally one that contains ceramides,” pediatric nurse doctor Sam Casselman advise. “Those are proteins that help repair the skin barrier and soothe dry skin, so use a moisturizer with those ceramides as often as possible. For more severe dry skin, buy a thicker, gasoline-based alternative.”

Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is marked by the presence of inflammation, which typical dry skin does not.

When and how often should I use topical treatments?

After you’ve purchased a moisturizer, it’s important to use it – regularly. “The brand of the product may not be as important as how liberally you apply it,” says Shi. “Make sure you’re applying it several times a day, especially after showering.”

Your skin includes all of you, so you need to take care of it all at once. “Treat not only the spots where you have atopic eczema, but also the rest of your skin, because your skin barrier is not working optimally on the entire body,” says Zeichner.

While you should be generous in applying an over-the-counter moisturizer, use caution when using prescription medications as a precaution. “It’s a very common mistake for people to continue applying topical steroids even after a flare-up has resolved,” Casselman says. “Research is still unclear whether topical steroids applied to chronic areas of eczema prevent flare-ups again, and the risk of chronic topical steroid use on healthy skin outweighs the risk. can happen.”

However, timing is everything, and you want to catch it immediately when there’s an outbreak, Casselman says. “A common mistake patients make with prescription topical products is waiting to apply them until an eczema flare-up goes ‘worse.’ If you wait to treat it, the inflammation and itching will continue to worsen and can become very intense. When you get early and effective treatment, you shorten the duration of your eczema flare-ups and can use less medication in the long run.”

Are there any new treatments?

We now know eczema, Russak says, “is an inherited immune-mediated chronic disease,” and recent clinical and genetic studies have helped explain that. “This means there are new targeted therapies that use small molecules to block specific pathways that lead to the development and flare-up of atopic dermatitis.”

One of the promising new topical treatments is ruxolitinib cream. “It targets and blocks a specific inflammatory marker in the skin called janus kinase,” explains Yu.

Another product, Dupilumab, is the first biologic for the treatment of moderate to severe atopic dermatitis. “This is a game changer for people with eczema that is more difficult to control,” says Lio. “Because it’s not an immunosuppressant or a steroid, it could be an important option for people stuck in a drug loop that can have more significant side effects.”

There are probably more treatments on the way. “Our dermatologists are really excited, because after a seemingly never-ending drought of new treatments for eczema, we are finally witnessing a breakthrough. amazing explosion of new drugs,” says Lio. “With topical therapies, oral medications and even injections, we finally have a system of more than 100 therapies in development.”

While these medications are great news for many people, you may not need them. “For many milder cases, new drugs may not be necessary,” Lio said. “More conventional therapies like good moisturizers, topical corticosteroids, topical calcineurin inhibitors, and pain relievers may be enough to keep things well under control and do so safely. ”

What more can I do?

“Use an extremely mild, soap-free cleanser,” says Zeichner. “I recommend Dove Sensitive Skin Body Wash, which contains extremely gentle cleansing ingredients in a formula that contains the same kind of hydration found in traditional moisturizers.”

“My favorite choice is just plain Vaseline royal jelly,” says Yu. “It is highly effective, has few side effects and is very affordable. It is similarly effective compared to much more expensive topical moisturizers. ”

“Be mindful of everything that comes into contact with your skin, from your creams to the clothes you wear,” says Russak. “Try to maintain a relatively cool, humidity-neutral environment in your home. Use a humidifier during winter if you are prone to dry skin and eczema. I recommend using a fragrance-free cleanser made for sensitive skin, such as Arm & Hammer Sensitive Skin Cleanser. And some people find it helpful to store their moisturizer in the fridge for a cooling effect.”

Will my eczema ever go away?

The good news is that there are many treatment options. The bad news is that eczema is a chronic condition and the best thing you can expect is good control only if flare-ups are frequent.

“It can’t be completely cured in some cases, because the presence of eczema usually means there’s a genetic predisposition,” Casselman says. “In my practice, I focus on educating patients about what they need help with and how I can support them.”

Shi tells patients to be prepared for “long-term diligent care.”

“While your skin may look calm and free of redness, there can still be underlying inflammation and problems with the skin’s barrier,” Shi says. “It’s important that you maintain a moisturizing routine and establish a long-term care regimen with your dermatologist.”

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