Atopic Eczema and Dry Skin: 5 Tips and 1 Supplement

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Eczema and Dry Skin: 5 Simple Tips and 1 Soothing Supplement

Atopic eczema (also called atopic dermatitis or just eczema).

by James Hubbard, MD, MPH

Whether called eczema, atopic dermatitis, or atopic eczema, or it’s just dry, itchy skin, it’s all going to be treated about the same when you can’t get medical help. And it does need to be treated. Because the problem can go beyond a mere nuisance if, in a typically unhygienic disaster, the wrong type of bacteria ever gets in one of those cracks or scratches and causes a bad skin infection.

The American Academy of Dermatology has a new post and video on tips for children with eczema (atopic dermatitis, aka atopic eczema). I think the tips are good for anyone with any sort of dry, itchy skin.

The Academy gives the usual advice, like not using scented soaps or lotions, washing new clothes before wearing them, and using mild detergents, but some of the tips that stand out for survival are:

  1. To prevent cracked skin, use an unscented, thick cream or ointment twice a day. If you have time, trial and error is the best method to find which one works best.
  2. Petroleum jelly (Vaseline) works well as a moisturizer by holding in the moisture already in your skin.
  3. If you’re using a topical steroid on scaly spots, apply it first. Then cover it with the moisturizing cream or ointment.
  4. To avoid infection, cut your child’s fingernails short and smooth. For bedtime consider gloves (white cotton is a good choice—no dyes to irritate).
  5. If some areas look infected, try adding bleach to the bath water, but no more than twice a week. Mayo Clinic’s website recommends a half-cup of bleach to a full tub (forty gallons) of water. I calculate that out to about a half-teaspoon of bleach per gallon of water. Soak for five to ten minutes. Don’t dunk your head, and keep it out of your eyes. If you do get it in your eyes, you’ll know. It stings. Irrigate it out immediately for about five to ten minutes (or until the stinging goes away) with some of your drinking water.

The Academy of Dermatology doesn’t mention it, but aloe vera is another good, soothing moisturizer for eczema.

In addition, some studies have shown taking evening primrose oil can help eczema. They think it’s the gamma-linolenic acid in the primrose oil that helps, so you can try gamma-linolenic acid alone (500 mg twice a day) or the evening primrose oil capsules—3,000 to 4,000 mg in divided doses three or four times a day.* As always, ask your doctor before starting as either of these supplements can have interactions with other medications. And I would never start any supplement or herb on your child before checking with his/her doctor.

What about your family? Does anyone have trouble with dry, itchy skin? What have you found that works?


Photo by Care_SMC on Flickr.

*Disclosure: The links to the supplements are for examples only, not endorsements. They’re also affiliate links, meaning that someone associated with this website will receive a commission if you buy anything through them.

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  • Carol

    My eczema was an allergic reaction to tomatoes. My family ate spaghetti with tomato sauce 4 or 5 nights a week when I was growing up. During that time my skin was cracked so badly I’d bleed and couldn’t bend my fingers. I was in constant pain. Now as an adult I avoid tomatoes as much as possible and I only get an eczema outbreak once a year or less. When it does return it may be a small cluster of those itchy blisters or a flaky dry patch. I use a prescription ointment (Lidex) to help. Lidex (and it’s generic version) is the only ointment that ever worked for me and it’ll clear up an outbreak in a day or two.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thanks, Carol. Lidex is a medium-potency steroid ointment or cream.

  • basyfeltn

    I had eczema for f fifty years since I was 5. the best solution for me was giving up wheat and dairy. didn’t find out til about 2 years ago.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thanks for sharing.

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  • Sherita

    Hi my family member! I wish to say that this article is amazing,
    nice written and come with almost all significant
    infos. I’d like to look extra posts like this .

  • Tanya

    My son has eczema. I use hydrolatum for his lotion. I also make sure he stays hydrated with water. :)Vitamin D helps older people. Natural from the sun or in foods. Omega 3’s help as well.

    • James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

      Thanks, Tanya, for the helpful solutions.


    DEAR James Hubbard,
    my skin is slowly healing
    thank you

    • James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

      Great Samuel.

  • samuel

    DEAR James Hubbard,
    thank you,for your support and concern about this rash/atopic thing on my hands.
    im feling a little better everytime i use these tips

    • James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

      You’re welcome, Samuel. I’m glad you’re doing better.

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  • Gin

    We’ve been struggling with eczema on our 1 year old since he was about 2 months old. While moisturizers work for his recurring ankle rash, his cheeks have been a real problem. He would itch and scratch his cheeks until they were oozing, and every time we traveled any distance in the heat, it got much worse. It improved greatly when he began swimming in our local pool — that’s when we realized that the drying effects of the pool water seemed to help his cheeks more than moisturizing. We’re now using witch hazel on his cheeks daily, which seems to be working well — no more oozing rashes, but still the occasional flare-up.

    • James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

      Great that you’ve figured it out, Gin. That’s what it takes sometimes.