Do you have eczema, or is your skin just excessively dry? Find out which telltale signs and symptoms indicate eczema and what triggers it.
'Eczema' is an umbrella term for several skin conditions that feature the same collection of signs and symptoms. If you suspect that you've developed eczema, then your skin will exhibit these four key characteristics:
- Chronic dryness, sometimes with cracking
- Patches of flaky skin
- Irritation that feels itchy
These signs and symptoms can appear anywhere, but they're much more likely to occur in eczema-prone areas such as:
- Skin folds, e.g. around knees and elbows
- Exposed areas, e.g. neck, hands, and cheeks
Eczema comes and goes by its very nature. Specific factors can trigger breakouts, which sufferers usually refer to as 'flare-ups'. Everyone's triggers are slightly different, but there are some common ones too. If you can pinpoint what's causing your eczema flare-ups, you have a better chance at getting relief.
The 7 Most Common Eczema Triggers
1. Fragrances or essential oils: If you suffer from eczema, then it's best to use unscented beauty products. Most skincare brands offer an unscented range. You can also opt for brands such as Clinique that are always 100% fragrance-free.
(We've handpicked some of the best products for eczema-prone skin types in our virtual eczema skincare shop section.)
2. Environmental allergens: Are your flare-ups more frequent during pollen season or after exposure to polluted city air? Keep a diary and see if there are any patterns in season or location.
3. Hard water: This is water that has a high mineral content. If your kettle or kitchen utilities quickly form a white residue known as 'lime scale', this is a clue that you live in a hard-water area. Hard water has been linked to the development of eczema and worsening of symptoms.
(Using a cream- or oil-based body cleanser designed for hard water, like La Roche-Posay Lipikar Syndet Cleansing Cream-Gel or Uriage Creme Lavante Cleansing and Nourishing Cream, will go a long way in helping to prevent flare-ups.)
4. Extremely hot or cold weather: Eczema occurs because the skin's barrier function is impaired. That sounds very medical, but it just means that when your skin is dry, it can't defend itself properly. Temperature changes often bring dry air, which causes all skin types to lose hydration more quickly. If your skin has an impaired barrier function, flare-ups may occur.
5. Hormones: Our hormones have a knock-on impact on most parts of our bodies, including our skin. Testosterone, for example, tends to make skin oilier; a lack of testosterone has the opposite effect. That means certain hormone imbalances can bring on extra-dry skin and eczema.
6. Food allergies & intolerances: Eczema could be a sign that you have a food intolerance. Common triggers are dairy, gluten, and nuts. Try eliminating these and other known food allergy groups for two weeks at a time and monitor your eczema for changes.
7. Stress: Inflammation, which is a feature of eczema, can be brought on by stress. Track your eczema breakouts to see if high-stress periods might be the cause.