Eczema — characterized by itchy, dry, cracked, sore, and red skin — is extremely common, especially in babies and children. But while most people who struggle with the condition find the symptoms improve with age, with roughly 60% of sufferers itch-free by age 6, others aren't so lucky. And some people don't even notice their eczema symptoms until much, much later in life.
It's something I know all too well. I've always had oily, breakout-prone skin, but not too long ago I suddenly developed dry, itchy, flaky patches on both my hands and eyelids. Trips to the doctor were fruitless (there's only so much greasy, suffocating liquid paraffin a girl can slather herself in) and the thought of switching up my skin-care routine, after I'd pretty much perfected it for my oily complexion, felt like a chore. But I did want to know: What brought it on in the first place?
"There are a number of factors that contribute to the development of atopic eczema," says dermatologist Justine Kluk. "It tends to run in families, so if one or both parents are sufferers, it is more likely that their children will develop it, too, but eczema waxes and wanes by its very nature. Flare-ups can be triggered by contact with soaps, detergents, and any other chemicals applied to the skin, as well as exposure to allergens and infection with certain bacteria and viruses."
But that's not all "There is some evidence to suggest that stress can lower the threshold for a flare-up," Dr. Kluk says. "Other triggers include extremes of weather, being unwell, and being around certain pets, dust, and wool clothing." But the way eczema manifests is generally similar for everyone. "The main symptom is itching and dry and red skin," she says. "When eczema is very active, it may become moist, crusted, or weepy, especially on the hands and feet, but it can affect any part of the skin, including the face and eyelids. Areas that are most commonly affected are the creases of the elbows and knees, as well as the wrists, ankles and neck."