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If dry, itchy patches of eczema are getting you down, some good exfoliating probably sounds nice.
But don’t go on an exfoliation rampage just yet! Sensitive skin types call for gentle exfoliating. Here are our top tips for taking care of your precious outer layer, while still scrubbing away dry skin.
How to exfoliate with eczema
If you have eczema, you can gently exfoliate mechanically using friction to rub skin cells off with a rough tool, product, or washcloth. You can also exfoliate chemically using products with ingredients like alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids that dissolve the top layer of skin cells (just go for gentler acids).
These general rules can also help you exfoliate with eczema safely:
- Exfoliate no more than once a week.
- Always moisturize after bathing or showering (and at least once more every day).
- Use the lightest touch and the gentlest products to exfoliate.
- Never exfoliate if your skin is broken or irritated.
There’s not really any research on whether exfoliators help eczema. But in general, exfoliation removes the top layer of dead skin cells, which may help buff out dry eczema patches and improve the appearance of your skin.
Exfoliating can also help your skin absorb moisturizers and other topical treatments. This could be a secret weapon since moisturizing is key for eczema.
To safely exfoliate with eczema:
- Use only a gentle washcloth or chemical exfoliants for sensitive skin.
- Try a product with mandelic acid, which is gentle on sensitive skin.
- Use small circular motions for a max of 30 seconds.
- Rinse with warm water.
- Moisturize right after bathing, while skin is still damp.
You can also exfoliate the wrong way. If you have eczema, make sure to avoid:
- strong chemical and physical exfoliants, especially if you have dark skin, as they can cause dark spots
- exfoliating broken skin or skin that is bleeding or weeping fluid
- exfoliating if redness and irritation are worse afterward
- exfoliating if you use topical corticosteroids regularly, as these can cause skin to thin
- turning your scrub into an intense scratching session (your touch should be much, much lighter!)
- exfoliating if you have a skin infection
Is your skin infected or broken? DON’T exfoliate!
Scratching broken skin with eczema can lead to an infection. Here’s how to spot a skin infection:
- Your rash is getting a lot worse.
- Skin is weeping or oozing.
- There is a yellow crust on the rash.
- Your skin is swollen and painful.
- You have a fever.
Get your exfoliators ready! Here’s how to exfoliate your skin if you have eczema:
- Start with lukewarm water in the bath or shower.
- Use a very gentle body wash, soft washcloth or gloves, or a mild chemical exfoliant with beta hydroxy acids.
- Wet skin and apply cleanser.
- Rub very gently in short circular motions for about 30 seconds.
- Rinse gently with warm water.
- Keep baths and showers very brief (5 to 10 minutes, max).
- Pat dry with a soft towel like you’re a wee little baby. Be gentle!
- Apply ointment or a thick moisturizer while your skin is still damp.
- Notice whether your skin feels fresh and soft (good job 👍) or angry and irritated (no bueno 👎). If it’s the latter, use an even lighter touch next time, or skip exfoliation altogether.
Eczema doesn’t usually leave scars. But anytime skin is torn and heals over, there is potential for scarring and discoloration.
If you already have scars from scratching your eczema, exfoliating healed scars may help improve the surface appearance and texture of your skin. It may also further irritate your skin.
Some additional at-home skin care ingredients that may help soothe eczema and also reduce scarring include:
But the best way to prevent scars is to resist the urge to scratch your skin. And the good news is scars, hypopigmentation, and hyperpigmentation caused by eczema will fade over time.
If you live with eczema, a pair of exfoliating gloves could be one of the handiest tools in your skin care kit. Mitts you wear at night can also help moisturize your hands and fend off scratching to keep skin infection-free and ready for exfoliation.
Try adding one of these sets to your eczema care routine:
- Songwol Exfoliating Bath Mitt. Ditch the rough washcloth and use this in the shower for a gentle exfoliating experience on your body.
- EvridWear Cotton Moisturizing Gloves. Put on these pretty pink gloves after applying your thickest hand cream to help the moisture sink in.
- Gaxcoo White Cotton Gloves. Wear these plain cotton gloves at night to help limit the damage of eczema itching at night.
- Leafy Boo Bamboo Gloves. If you want something a little more eco-friendly, these bamboo gloves may help retain moisture and soothe irritation of hand eczema.
If your eczema is calm and under control, light exfoliation could be a weekly part of your self-care routine.
However, if you’re currently experiencing a flare-up, hold off on the scrub. It’s especially important to avoid exfoliation if you have open sores, oozing skin, or a possible infection.
Try these tips to manage an eczema flare:
- Avoid scratching (easier said than done, but remember gloves can be your friend).
- Use topical steroids as recommended by your doctor.
- Take antihistamine pills if suggested by your doctor or dermatologist.
- Moisturize two to three times a day.
- Avoid products that contain alcohol, scents, and dyes. They can be drying and irritating.
- Avoid wool and lanolin, strong soaps, and detergents.
- Try to limit stress, sudden changes in body temperature, and heavy sweating.
- Try wet wrap therapy, a technique including three lukewarm baths a day, ointment application, and wrapping with wet bandages.
Eczema is an itchy skin condition that can leave you dry and irritated. The secret to eczema management is to avoid the itch and keep yourself moisturized.
Light exfoliation with a soft cloth or a chemical exfoliant for sensitive skin might help smooth skin and prep you to soak up extra moisture. Just skip the scrub if you have broken or inflamed skin.