During the years I’ve suffered from eczema I tried a lot of different things to help improve my skin, specifically the eczema on my fingers. The following is just an incomplete list of what I tried, what helped and what didn’t.

Corticosteroids
Corticosteroids creams are often prescribed by doctors and dermatologists to treat the symptoms of eczema. The importance here lies on the word symptom. Essentially it reduces the swelling, redness and itchiness as long as you apply a steroid cream, but the eczema will return or deterioration when you stop taking the steroids.

When I first started applying the eczema cream the dermatologist had prescribed it was literally like magic: the eczema blisters disappeared right before my eyes! I was told not to regularly use the cream, only as needed. At first, using the cream once or twice a week was enough. Over the months however, my body seemed to get used to the corticosteriod and I reached a point where I needed to apply the cream on a daily basis. This triggered a common side effect with steriod creams and my skin got thin, dry and almost paper like. This in turn caused the skin to crack and easily become infected. I had to stop using the cream for a number of weeks until my skin regenerated. Of course the eczema had come back by then.

In the end I only used the steroid cream to control the worst outbrakes.

Irritants and Allergens
This may seem obvious, but isn’t always easy to do. When suffering from contact eczema or when the skin is dry, cracked or otherwise damaged, a lot of substances can cause the eczema to flare up.

In my case, where the eczema affected my fingers (dyshidrotic eczema), frequent use of soap, dish washing liquid, basically all fruit and vegetable juices, and even water caused my skin to become irritated and more itchy. This meant I couldn’t wash the dishes or cut any fruit or vegetables.

You might be affected by other irritants but I’m sure you agree that to lead a normal life it is basically impossible to avoid all of the above.
I tried to wear gloves for a lot of my cooking or cleaning tasks, but as the skin can’t breath in rubber gloves it seemed to make my skin worse than by being exposed to detergents and vegetable juices.
My tip: use cotton gloves before putting on the rubber gloves. The cotton fabric will absorb some of the sweat, however I still wouldn’t recommend wearing gloves for prolonged periods of time.

I actually found a sponge on a handle that dispenses the dish washing liquid. With this type of sponge at least one hand can stay pretty much out of the washing up water – very useful.
You can click on the image for more information.

Heat and Humidity
In my case, the severity of eczema was directly influenced by heat. When I moved to subtropical Queensland in Australia with warm temperatures all year round, my eczema got a lot worse.

There are no magic tricks here, stay out of the heat as much as possible and use air conditioning in your home to keep the temperature down.

I also found that I used to sleep with my hands under my pillow, where they would heat up and sweat. As a result I would often wake up to find myself scratching the skin of my fingers. I trained myself to sleep with my arms above the blanket, which helped.

Moisturizers
When the skin is dry and cracked its natural protection barrier is compromised. As a result, moisture can escape, further drying out the skin and become more prone for infections. It is therefore important to keep your skin moisturized to avoid further skin irritation.
I won’t recommend a specific brand of moisturizer cream to provide relief for eczema, as people seem to prefer different brands and ingredients¬† and it is literally a case of trial and error.

Some generic tips on how to choose a suitable eczema cream that retains and restores moisture:

  • choose an eczema cream that doesn’t contain any perfume or scent as these may irritate your skin
  • find a cream or lotion that preferably doesn’t contain any preservatives (as above may irritate your skin.¬† You may need to find a pharmacy or drug store that can mix a cream for you.
  • find a moisturizer that contains glycerine or urea, as this has been shown to allow your skin to absorb the moisturizing ingredient. If your skin is cracked, urea may cause a burning sensation.
  • ask the pharmacy or drugstore to recommend an eczema cream that does not contain any petroleum jelly, also known as vaseline, or similar ingredients. These effectively seal the skin and clog the pores, not allowing your skin to breath and creating a “rubber glove effect”.

I hope you’ll find these tips helpful in reducing your eczema. Please remember, this will only help reducing your eczema, or in case of the steroids, treat the symptoms, not the underlying cause. More in my next posts.

And as always, I’m not a doctor, the information here is based on my own experience.