From essential oils to zinc-embedded clothing, learn how others beat the pain and itch from this chronic, incurable condition.
Ask anyone who has it: Severe eczema can be a struggle. The incessant itch and red rash can ruin your day, destroy your sleep, and wreak emotional havoc, too. Because it’s both chronic and incurable, it’s essential to find ways to cope. That means seeking out effective treatment options—both over-the-counter and, if needed, by prescription—as well as addressing the psychological fallout from eczema that can actually make it worse, since stress and anxiety are known to both trigger and exacerbate flares.
But you don’t have to figure this out on your own. According to the National Eczema Association, more than 30 million people in the U.S. have some form of eczema—nearly one in 10 people. Meet six real-life eczema warriors who’ve stepped forward to share their stories and what works for them. Feeling inspired? Follow them (and their ongoing progress) on Instagram.
IG handle: @wokewithinskin
Vitals: Brown is a 29-year-old marketing consultant and freelance copywriter from Philadelphia, PA, who was born with eczema.
Eczema backstory: “Bad flares itch, burn, and make you look like a different person,” she says. “It is uncomfortable and all-consuming. Mentally, it’s hard to focus on anything else, and I have to create a new frame of mind to endure. It takes patience and discipline to maintain a routine, and it’s extremely mentally exhausting to be in a constant state of physical pain.”
For years she relied on topical steroids to battle her symptoms until they stopped working when she was 26. Now her daily routine includes bathing with castile liquid soap (she likes the brand Dr. Bronner’s), followed by applying a pure oil, like jojoba oil from Aura Cacia, which she uses year-round. For her, coconut oil works great in the summer, while thick and pure butters, like shea butter, are a winter go-to. “I try to take a bath with Epsom or sea salt once a week. If I have extremely dry skin, I’ll exfoliate,” Brown adds.
Flare fixes: Brown has a more intense routine when her eczema goes into overdrive, however. “During my worst flares I have to wake up and take a bath with sea salt or Epsom salt, usually,” she says, “but depending on how my skin is doing, I’ll use other additives such as oatmeal or bleach. The bath will add moisture into my skin and then I can use oil while my skin is still wet or very damp. Due to the pain and open scars from scratching, I often would just sit for a few minutes to endure that pain and begin the slow process of getting dressed.” She remoisturizes throughout the day and bathes again at night, she adds.
Words of wisdom: “Don’t take eczema for granted. Learn all that you can about your body and your triggers and WHY eczema is even happening to you. Your own body is the roadmap—and you are also an expert.”
IG handle: @ibryant20
Vitals: Bryant is a senior director at a non-profit association who lives full time in a travel trailer as he moves around the U.S. He’s 39 and has lived with eczema for eight years.
Eczema backstory: “My flares in the beginning were small, dry, flaky patches of skin on my ear lobes and elbows. I was very self-conscious. When it was on my ears, I would constantly be scratching at it to try to remove the flaky skin, agitating it and then [triggering] bleeding, making the whole thing worse.”
His dermatologist put him on topical steroids, which he used for five years. “They worked, but I would always run out. If I missed only a few days it would come back in places it wasn’t before,” Bryant says. “It would get worse.” Stopping the steroids led to topical steroid withdrawal (TSW), during which the painful rash broke out on over 70% of his body. “At one point, my TSW was so painful I could barely walk,” he says.
During this time, he was prescribed Dupixent (dupilumab), which has helped both his TSW and his eczema. “I have much less eczema than I’ve had in the last five or six years,” Bryant says of his time on Dupixent. “It’s limited to one spot on my right elbow, a little spot on my left elbow, and two little spots on my legs.”
Flare fixes: Bryant recognizes that stress is one of his major triggers, so he has started calming techniques like meditation. “I get really busy with work, and that causes stress, then the stress causes outbreaks.” He’s also became a vegan, and he avoids sugar and gluten. “I noticed that a lot of areas seemed to clear up and I was noticing improvements,” he recalls. He also started sleeping better, and sleep is critical to stress reduction.
Bryant recommends two over-the-counter skin treatments: Aveeno Eczema Therapy and Eucerin Eczema Relief, which he uses at night and in the morning. He also makes his own skin salves with shea butter, jojoba oil, and essential oils that help relieve itch.
Words of wisdom: “The eczema doesn’t magically disappear, but [my flare fixes] help with the dryness and itching,” he says.
IG handle: @skinstory_x
Vitals: Jayne lives in Birmingham, UK, and is a graphic designer. Now 29, she’s currently on maternity leave. She’s had eczema since she was 10 months old.
Eczema backstory: “This sounds so dramatic but it’s honestly soul-destroying,” Jayne says. “Physically, you look bad, and mentally you feel bad. It’s difficult to walk, use your hands, turn your head, etc., so it can really get you down. Personally, for me, I have a five-month-old daughter, so I get really upset that I struggle to look after her or hold her.”
Flare fixes: Jayne has cut out (or back) on quite a few triggers, which for her include alcohol, gluten, and high-histamine foods, such as fermented foods, dried fruit, cured meats, and aged cheese. Her other triggers include grass, tree pollen, and dust mites.
Creating a routine to avoid triggers is one of the most important things she can do to contain flare ups, she says. “There are obviously certain triggers I can’t avoid, like pollen, heat, and dust mites, but I do everything I can to minimize them and stay cool with a fan and cold water. Things I can control, I stick to my routine of what I know works for me. Alcohol is one of the things that makes me flare, but sometimes I do like to enjoy a drink. I just have to be prepared for the consequences.”
In addition, says she has been using topical steroids and antihistamines her whole life. Her other go-to salves are Epaderm emollient and Balmonds Skin Salvation.
Words of wisdom: “You just have to get on with life,” she says. “I know this is hard, but don’t let it rule your life. For years I wouldn’t go out, wear a dress that shows my legs, wear a short sleeve top, and cover my face in makeup to hide the redness. Only recently have I learned to love myself as I am.”
Ashley Ann Lora
IG handle: @ashleyannlora
Vitals: Lora lives in Garfield, NJ. The 29-year-old consultant was diagnosed with eczema when she was just two months old.
Eczema backstory: Lora had very severe eczema when she was younger, up until she started college. Right now, flares are targeting her hands, an ongoing issue since COVID-19 first started. “Emotionally, eczema is draining, exhausting, and unpredictable,” Lora says. A few years ago, she was placed on Dupixent, which worked wonders for her, she says, so she stayed on it for about two years. (She’s not on any medications at the moment.) “Dupixent allowed me to live almost a normal life for the first time, but I’m at a point in my life where I’m trying to heal as naturally as I can,” she adds.
“They come all of a sudden,” she says of her flares. “It feels like a million ants crawling on top of me. There’s itching, oozing, bleeding, cracking, dryness.”
Flare fixes: She has several products that she relies on for relief: Jojoba oil from Trader Joe’s and Aveeno Eczema Therapy. When she feels an intense itch, she reaches for her Bodewell Anti-Itch Cream, and she uses Bodewell Super Cream after showering and before getting into bed.
Words of wisdom: In addition to the products she uses, simple things like putting her hands under cold water can relieve her itch. Mental strategies can be extremely helpful, too. She journals, writing down her emotions to help cope with them. And she likes to breathe with her eyes closed as she visualizes healing. “I visualize my cells as little human beings wearing construction hats,” she explains. “I visualize sending them to those areas where I’m having a flare, and they send love while getting rid of whatever’s not good for my body.”
She also loves to exercise, whether that’s a walk or a run or a high-intensity workout. All of these things ease the emotions that contribute to her eczema. “Stress, anxiety, anger, any negative emotion can be a trigger for me,” she adds.
IG handle: @her_eczema_life
Vitals: Moore, 33, lives in Beckenham, UK, where she’s a project manager. While she had eczema as a child, it went away, only to resurface when she was getting married at 30. It’s gotten worse since her son was born in 2020.
Eczema backstory: “Physically, there are times where eczema can be debilitating, especially when the flare affects my whole body,” says Moore. “I have had times where I have felt like I haven’t wanted to leave the house because the pain and itching are so intense.”
Her eczema also affects her emotionally. The redness and itching drain her self-confidence, and she has become more introverted as her flares have worsened and become more common.
Flare fixes: Topical steroids have been effective for her, but she doesn’t like to use them long-term. “I only really use them when I lose control of my eczema and my normal creams cannot bring the redness and itching down.”
To that end, she’s recently found a routine that works for her: a lukewarm morning shower with Aveeno Baby Daily Wash helps with her itch. Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser for her face is truly gentle and does not sting. After patting—never rubbing!—dry, she applies Balmonds Daily Moisturizing Cream to her whole body, and Aveeno Fast and Long-Lasting Balm on her face. She repeats this routine each night, minus the shower.
Words of wisdom: Her eczema requires more than creams: “Mentally, it’s been a struggle to stay positive during some of the worst times, but knowing that stress is another factor which can cause eczema to worsen, I have taken up meditation, yoga, and mindfulness to try and keep my stress levels down as much as I can.”
IG handle: @eczemalove
Vitals: Smith, 25, a medical secretary in Maryland, had eczema as an infant. It went away but came back when she was 12. Her flares get worse when the seasons change, and they are at their worst during the summer.
Eczema backstory: “It used to affect me a lot more when I was insecure about my appearance, and I would focus on how I looked in addition to the physical effects,” says Smith. “Now, although sometimes the difficulty of the flare might make me frustrated and defeated, I don’t worry about what it looks like visually, which is nice. The bad flares that require a lot of care don’t happen too often now, but when they do, I am just physically and emotionally exhausted trying to make it feel better and get some relief.”
Her flares can be so different that she does not have a routine that she follows for each. “It all depends on how the eczema presents itself,” says Smith. “Sometimes the patch is super-dry and needs some intensive balms/creams and sometimes it’s weeping eczema that I need to heal with red light therapy treatments.”
Flare fixes: So far, she says, red light therapy, also known as low-level laser therapy, has been the most consistently effective treatment for her. It uses red and near-infrared light rather than UV light, which can damage the skin. There’s not much research to back its use for eczema, but it works for Smith. Dermatologists consider it a type of complementary/alternative therapy.
She also finds Remedywear by The Eczema Company to be very helpful. This a clothing line made with a synthetic fabric embedded with zinc, an essential mineral that has anti-inflammatory properties. “It is a lifesaver when I’m unbearably itchy and need a little relief,” says Smith. “That fabric has done more for me than any topical cream has.”
Words of wisdom: When she was younger, Smith did not know how common eczema is, and she felt isolated. Learning she was part of a large community has helped her immensely. “I was able to see people who had skin that looked like mine,” she says. “I’m really big on self-esteem, so my advice would be to know that having eczema doesn’t make you ugly. I think once you realize that, it changes the way you see yourself.”