What it is: Several different conditions that appear to be caused by an abnormal immune response that dries out the skin, making it itchy and prone to rashes. The most common kind of eczema is atopic dermatitis, which can be set off by stress, sweating, allergens (dust mites, certain foods) and which is linked to asthma and hay fever. Another kind is contact dermatitis, caused by an allergy to a substance, such as perfume or plants. Seborrheic dermatitis occurs when dead skin cells exfoliate abnormally.
Symptoms: Itchy, irritated skin on the insides of your elbows, backs of the knees, or on your hands and face. If you have a very flaky scalp, seborrheic dermatitis is likely to blame. It typically causes a greasy buildup of skin cells on your scalp and the T-zone on your face, especially around your eyebrows.
How to treat it: For atopic and contact dermatitis, use a fragrance-free moisturizer frequently, limit bathing and exposure to irritants. For seborrheic dermatitis wash with a gentle cleanser to remove oil and use a medicated shampoo. Cold compresses are sometimes prescribed to relieve itching. For severe cases, doctors typically prescribe a topical or oral steroid. A new class of drugs called topical immunomodulators is now also being used to reduce the immune response associated with eczema.
Product recommendations: Aveeno Soothing Bath Treatment, $7, with finely ground oatmeal, relieves itchiness. Osmotics TriCeram, $30, contains epidermal lipids to reduce dryness and irritation.
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