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I was 40 when I had my very first personal experience with eczema.

Despite writing about eczema for Healinggeeks and being able to recognize a flare on my daughter or husband — she gets small spots on her knuckles now and then and he occasionally gets a patch on one ankle — I was completely unprepared for my own experience.

It took me over 9 months — and a trip to the dermatologist — to figure out that my own irritated, inflamed skin was actually eczema.

As soon as I got a diagnosis, I researched everything that could trigger the condition or make it worse. And then I basically took the nuclear option. I changed my diet, adjusted my environment and lifestyle, pinpointed my triggers, and scrutinized product after product in my search for something that would soothe and heal my truly freaked-out skin.

Fast-forward to today and I’ve learned a lot. Even better, I’ve dialed in what keeps my eczema flares at bay, what gets my skin under control again if I start idly scratching, and what causes this whole mess in the first place.

Despite living in a dry, high-desert climate for the last 30 years, eczema wasn’t an issue for me until about a year ago. Suddenly, my skin felt prickly and itchy on the underside of my upper arms, upper chest, and thighs.

I rubbed or scratched without really thinking about it until I hopped in the shower one day and realized my skin was stinging from the hot water. All the spots I’d been mindlessly itching were, unsurprisingly, covered in scratches. Worse, an itchy rash had bloomed wherever I scratched — which was everywhere. I slapped on some hydrocortisone and chalked up my itchy skin to seasonal allergies.

But spring ended, summer began, and still, my skin was itchy and uncomfortable. It’s funny what you get used to, and I think that’s exactly what happened. I just got used to my skin feeling prickly and itchy, and that prickly itch spread to my abdomen, around the backs of my thighs, down my shins, and along my forearms. It got worse and then better, but it never really went away. It seemed like this rash was just under my skin and it rose to the surface wherever and whenever I scratched or rubbed.

Around Christmas, I truly exploded. I had this prickly rash from my ankles to my chest and my method of management — scratching — was only making things worse. I looked like I’d climbed through a juniper bush naked, and it was the push I needed to finally see a dermatologist.

She took one look at me and diagnosed eczema. She asked me about my stress levels, prescribed a corticosteroid cream, gave me a bunch of lotion samples, and told me keeping my skin hydrated was key. I was also told to avoid the hot tub, my beloved infrared sauna, and hot water in the shower.

I needed to apply lotion morning and night and use the prescription cream as needed. I could also use ice packs to soothe my prickly skin, but I needed to avoid scratching. It was only making things worse.

I followed her directions to the letter. But type A personality that I am, I also took things a step further. I researched anything and everything that might help hydrate my skin and soothe my eczema. Initially, I was focused on products I could apply topically, but eczema is a pretty interesting condition and it’s a little bit different for everyone.

To really resolve my skin woes, I needed more than a good lotion. I had to address a pandemic-induced work-life imbalance, improve my diet, and make a point of mentally and emotionally checking in with myself every day. Once I did that, things really began improving.

Before I saw the dermatologist, I visited a holistic chiropractor friend, who looked me over and recommended some dietary changes. I was so uncomfortable that I was willing to do anything, so I cut out added sugars and processed carbs.

It took a few days, but it had a noticeable calming effect. Of course, I had to know why.

Turns out, it’s related to elevated insulin levels. Processed carbohydrates and sugars spike your blood sugar, which can promote inflammation. Since inflammation is a driver in the development of eczema, prioritizing protein, fiber, and fat in my diet helped calm my flares by stabilizing my blood sugar.

As a happy bonus, my newly improved diet meant the nagging pain in my shoulder and hips — something I’d always blamed on weightlifting — vanished.

Once I knew for sure that I was dealing with eczema, I started exploring my options. I’m particular about the products I’m willing to put on my skin, and some of the lotion samples the dermatologist had given me included parabens in the ingredient list. So those were out before I even tried them. But after a lot of research and some trial and error, here’s what worked for me.

Pricing guide

  • $ = under $25
  • $$ = $25–$65
  • $$$ = over $65

Triamcinolone Acetonide Cream

  • Price: $

This is the cream my dermatologist prescribed. It’s a corticosteroid used to treat inflammation, itching, and a number of other symptoms. When I picked it up, the pharmacist called it a wonder cream, and it really does heal my rashes.

I use it sparingly and on an as-needed basis only.

At first, that meant I was applying it straight out of the shower and using a lotion on top. I did that for close to a week, but things improved rapidly. Since then, I’ve only needed to use it occasionally, usually for 2 to 3 days in a row.

Triamcinolone is available by prescription only.

Beekman 1802 Pure Goat Milk Body Soap and Body Cream

  • Price: $–$$

I discovered goat milk skin care products in late 2020, and I’ve been a fan ever since. Beekman 1802 has a line of fragrance-free goat milk soaps and lotions, and I’ve found it to be one of the few product lines that won’t irritate my already sensitive skin when I’m having a flare.

Goat milk has been used on sensitive skin for thousands of years, thanks to its high lactic acid content and pH that’s identical to human skin. It’s gently hydrating, attracting and retaining moisture while it serves up fatty acids and probiotics for calm, happy skin.

In the shower, the bar soap lathers nicely, cleans well, and leaves my skin feeling soft, not stripped.

Straight out of the shower, I use the whipped body cream on my damp skin. It takes a minute to absorb, but it doesn’t leave me feeling sticky.

Crude Wash

  • Price: $$

This soap-free body wash is microbiome-friendly, meaning it won’t disrupt the natural microbes found on your skin. It also doubles as a lotion.

I find it a little thin in the shower, but it’s gentle and effective at cleaning up the dirty bits, so I alternate between this and my goat milk soap.

For me, Wash really shines as a lightweight but hydrating lotion. It’s also soothing on itchy areas, which is a big bonus, and it absorbs quickly so I don’t feel sticky or greasy. You can use it all over.

Another bonus is the fragrance. Since I’m largely avoiding fragrance in anything, the ultra-light citrus scent of the natural essential oils is particularly lovely.

Soft Services Carea Cream

  • Price: $$

Carea Cream is billed as a daily toning lotion, but ingredients like urea, squalane, and colloidal oatmeal were enticing enough to test it out on my sensitive legs.

Spoiler — it works wonders. This lotion has a lightweight consistency, but I find it deeply hydrating. It absorbs quickly, has a minimal, neutral fragrance, and leaves my skin feeling calm and soft.

Eucerin Skin Calming Lotion

  • Price: $

The dermatologist gave me this lotion in a sample size, and it was one of the only ones that didn’t include parabens in the ingredient list. It works well to hydrate my skin and it’s what I layered over prescription cream in the beginning when my skin was completely out of control.

However, I do find it pretty heavy. It leaves me feeling mildly greasy and a little sticky.

Once my skin began healing, I started alternating between the Beekman 1802 Pure Goat Milk Body Cream, Crude Wash, and Soft Services Carea Cream.

Tower 28 Beauty SOS Spray

  • Price: $$

This is technically a facial mist, which I discovered while researching the best facial mists.

However, its hero ingredient, hypochlorous acid, can help calm inflammation by triggering an immune boost. And because the mist has the National Eczema Association’s Seal of Acceptance, I gave it a go. I spritzed it lightly on my irritated forearms just to see if it calmed the itch, and bingo.

Since I’m lotioning up in the mornings and before bed, I use a light mist of this to dampen my skin before applying lotion. It’s gentle and soothing, and honestly, the fine mist feels great.

Dr. Lily Ros Organics Miraculous Eczema Cream

  • Price: $$

A friend sent me this cream to test out, and I was immediately impressed by the brand’s commitment to purity and efficacy. It’s a small jar, but the thick cream has a light consistency that spreads well and absorbs beautifully.

I use it as a spot treatment, applying dabs directly into itchy patches on my abdomen, thighs, shins, or arms, and it has a rapid soothing effect. I highly recommend this one, but note that it’s pricey. On the plus side, a little goes a long way.

Codex Beauty Bia Hydrating Skin Superfood

  • Price: $

This slim, unassuming tube packs a punch. It’s packaged like a moisturizer, but it’s really so much more. I use it as a spot treatment wherever I feel that telltale prickly itch, and it has a deeply hydrating, calming effect that really lasts. I love the smooth texture, and this is another product that can be used with a light touch.

Flaky skin hasn’t been part of my eczema experience, but it’s a standard symptom for my daughter and husband. We tested this out on their respective patches and it’s worked well for both of them to reduce the itch, hydrate, and heal.

Superfood has the National Eczema Association’s Seal of Acceptance.

Canopy Humidifier

  • Price: $$$

Combatting the dry high desert air of my hometown seemed like a good way to keep my skin hydrated, but I’ve never had much luck with humidifiers.

However, this one, with its moisture sensors, lengthy run time, and aroma pucks, really exceeded my expectations. It’s easy to use and designed to run until it’s completely dry, which means there’s a minimal risk of mold. There’s no visible mist, but I don’t wake up with a stuffy nose or itchy skin, so it really does filter and hydrate the air.

The built-in aroma diffusion pucks are a nice touch. On the downside, I find it a little noisy. But it’s not disruptive enough to affect being able to sleep.

While all of these products addressed my symptoms themselves, I spent a lot of time figuring out where my eczema had come from in the first place.

Unsurprisingly, the culprit was stress. I’ve always worked from home, but as the pandemic cut into our social lives, I slowly filled those hours with work. My work-life balance tipped significantly in one direction, and with no socializing or kids’ events to break up our days, I found myself in work or mom mode basically all the time.

Just recognizing that imbalance marked a huge shift for me. I started a daily meditation practice and began taking time for a few minutes of yoga as well, and there were a few tools that helped.

Hyperice Core

  • Price: $$$

This little meditation trainer uses vibration to guide your practice. It pairs with guided meditations on an app and includes breath training, soundscapes, and music, all of which are designed to help calm and focus the mind.

Just a few minutes with this tool has a huge effect. I feel calmer and rebalanced, especially when my mind has been going a million miles an hour. It’s a good way to mentally and physically check in with myself — something that I had been overlooking for far too long.

Yoga Wake Up

  • Price: $

I started using yoga as another way of checking in with myself. At one point, I had a habit of cycling through a series of Sun Salutations. To get back into a morning yoga routine, I started using Yoga Wake Up.

The app has hundreds of audio-guided yoga and meditation sessions, with daily reminders and options for any part of the day. The “bedyoga” sessions are particularly enjoyable, and I like that I can filter options by time. Even a 5-minute class leaves me feeling calmer and more focused.

It’s one thing to know intellectually that eczema is different for everyone. Living through the experience has been something else altogether.

It took me a full 9 months to figure out what was going on with my skin and find products and lifestyle changes that have not only managed the symptoms but helped me identify the trigger. For me, a combination of good skin care products, dietary changes, and stress management has been key.