The most common form of eczema, atopic dermatitis (AD), is defined by red, itchy skin patches that surface during allergic reactions. The patches can develop anywhere on the body, and their effect is more than skin deep: In a 2017 study, more than 80% of patients with the condition said having an eczema flare-up got in the way of their sex life.
“In 2021, I had one of the biggest eczema flare-ups of my adult life,” Bianca Nieves, a New York City-based writer and editor, tells Refinery29 Somos. Nieves has had atopic dermatitis since she was a baby.
“I was lucky enough to be in a loving relationship where my partner at the time understood how mentally taxing and draining it was living through that,” she says.
Despite her partner’s support, the flare-up took a toll on Nieves’ self esteem. She was avoiding mirrors “left and right,” and the condition was taking a toll on her mental health.
“In a romantic situation, it’s even trickier because it makes people feel embarrassed or self-conscious.”
Dr. Mara Weinstein Velez, MD
“I'd see myself and get anxious, which would cause the flare-up to get worse,” Nieves recalls. “The patches of eczema around my neck and upper body were oozing and stung with the smallest of movements. Even if it somehow didn’t impact how I viewed myself, in terms of getting intimate, I literally couldn’t.”
According to Dr. Mara Weinstein Velez, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Rochester, New York, every form of eczema can affect someone’s day-to-day life. “In a romantic situation, it’s even trickier because it makes people feel embarrassed or self-conscious,” Weinstein Velez says.
The most effective eczema treatment starts with visiting a dermatologist. But when that’s not possible, Weinstein Velez says there’s plenty you can do on your own. Below, she shares her tips for Latinas whose eczema has interfered with their dating lives.
Moisturize the Right Way
“Keep your body moisturized with creams that replenish your moisture barrier and strengthen your skin barrier,” Weinstein Velez advises. Her preferred over-the-counter brands are Cerave, Cetaphil, Aveeno, Eucerin, and Vanicream for especially sensitive skin.
“Twice a day, put a thick layer of cream on your skin right after you shower, before you dry off completely — when the water is still beaded on the skin,” she says. “That allows it to maximally absorb.”
She cautions against super hot showers, which can “break down the skin further and cause patches to spread and become more difficult to manage.”
Control the Itch
If the itch doesn’t subside when you moisturize, Weinstein Velez recommends an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream to “at least take the edge off and not leave you wanting to scratch.” Apply it twice a day after you moisturize, but only to affected areas.
A quality sunscreen is key for anyone who wants to care for their skin, but it’s especially crucial for Latinas who struggle with eczema. “The sun can have a very anti-inflammatory effect on eczema, but in skin that can tan, it can actually cause hyperpigmentation as it heals,” Weinstein Velez explains. “You don’t want it to hyperpigment your skin because that’s really hard to reverse.”
No matter which SPF you use, don’t forget to reapply throughout the day, rain or shine.
Cut Out Fragrances
It can be tough to eliminate scented laundry products from your routine, but Weinstein Velez promises it’s worth it. “You want to stick to free and clear detergents,” she suggests. “We recommend stopping fabric softeners, but if you’re drawn to that, Downy makes an unscented one. And skip the dryer sheets. Your clothes aren’t going to smell like roses, but that’s OK if your skin is in check.”
That also means skipping the perfumes, scented lotions, and other body care products with fragrance. “All the smell-good stuff can be irritating on your skin and cause flaring,” Weinstein Velez says. “Another big no-no is cleansing your private areas with scented products or using scented pads and tampons.”
Relax — & Share Your Story
According to Weinstein Velez, stress is often kryptonite for an eczema flare-up. “When you stress, those hormones can perpetuate the condition,” she explains. Whenever possible, she recommends putting your circumstances into perspective.
“[Eczema] is just one of those ways your body deals with stress,” she says. “It’s giving you a cue to step in, manage that stress, and get back on track.”
Finally, speaking openly about your condition can do wonders for your confidence. “There’s value in starting the narrative,” Weinstein Velez says. “You never know who’s in the same situation. It’s like infertility talk: Nobody talks about it but once you talk about it, everybody has a story. It’s more common than you think and you’re not alone.”