Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is a common skin condition that can cause dry, itchy, discolored patches of skin anywhere on the body, including the face.
Although eczema on the face tends to occur most often in babies and young children, it can happen to anyone with the condition.
When eczema affects the face, especially in infants, you may also notice crusting or blistering — a complication known as weeping eczema. Repeated rubbing or itching of the face can thicken the skin and worsen the itch-scratch cycle, which leads to more severe symptoms.
Although many cases of eczema go away after childhood, eczema flares can occur at any age. In adults, eczema flares are often related to excessively dry skin or exposure specific triggers, such as:
- irritating soaps or detergents
- allergens in the environment, such as dust mites or pollen
- food allergies
- certain textiles, such as wool and synthetic materials
- hormonal changes
- skin infections
There are ways to manage facial eczema and reduce the likelihood of another flare. Here’s how.
When you have eczema, your skin barrier doesn’t work as well as it should. That leads to a loss of moisture, chronic dry skin, and an increased risk of infection and reactions from harmful chemicals.
Keeping your skin moisturized helps its ability to protect you from allergens, chemicals, and microbes that can cause irritation and infections.
You can moisturize your skin by applying a fragrance-free cream or ointment with minimal preservatives to areas of your face with eczema patches. Avoid lotions, since these are water-based and tend to evaporate quickly.
Your doctor may also recommend treating inflamed skin with a prescription steroid medication, topical calcineurin inhibitors, or topical phosphodiesterase inhibitors.
Slathering on moisturizer right after bathing or showering can help lock in moisture. It also helps to avoid spending too long in the bath or shower, and keep the water temperature lukewarm (not hot).
According to a
- fewer eczema flares
- more time between flares
- reduced need for corticosteroids to control eczema
You may need to try a few different moisturizers to find one that works best for you. Since new products can sometimes cause allergic reactions, the National Eczema Association recommends testing a pea-size amount of the moisturizer on your wrist or inner elbow for a day or two before using it all over your face. If you notice any redness, rash, or other breakouts, stop using the product.
Many conventional soaps and detergents contain ingredients that can cause dryness. Even fragrance-free formulas can cause irritation to your skin and may lead to eczema flares.
To help reduce eczema on the face, the National Eczema Society recommends using a medical emollient soap substitute instead of a cosmetic face wash or soap. This can help keep your face clean and remove scaling skin.
You may also try washing your sheets, pillowcases, towels, and any other fabrics that touch your face with a sensitive skin-friendly laundry detergent that doesn’t contain dyes or scents, per the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). This may help reduce the likelihood of eczema on the face.
Avoiding eczema triggers sounds like an obvious way to prevent flares, but that’s easier said than done. Triggers can vary among individuals, and it can be tricky to figure out exactly what’s causing your flares.
Plus, once you’ve identified your eczema triggers, you may face other obstacles in avoiding them.
For example, while many people with eczema are aware that they should avoid products with fragrance, the AAD also says products labeled as “unscented” should be avoided, as well. These products may not be free of fragrances, and are instead formulated to mask the scent so you can’t smell it. The fragrance in the formula can still cause an eczema flare, though.
To minimize your exposure to potential triggers, test all new skin products on a small patch of skin at least 24 hours before using them on your face.
Pillows and bedding can also be a hidden trigger of eczema on the face. Choose cotton sheets and pillowcases, which are less likely to cause irritation than synthetic materials. As noted above, try to wash your bedding with fragrance- and dye-free detergents and avoid dryer sheets.
If you haven’t yet figured out your eczema triggers, get in touch with a dermatologist or allergist who can help you narrow down potential culprits.
Sunshine may provide relief from eczema on the face and other parts of the body in some people. In fact, dermatologists sometimes treat more severe forms of eczema with phototherapy, an FDA approved treatment that exposes skin to ultraviolet light.
If sunshine seems to help your skin, consider taking advantage of a sunny day by enjoying outdoor activities in moderation. Be careful to avoid a sunburn or getting overheated, though.
With that said, sunshine can also trigger eczema symptoms in some people. If that’s the case for you, try to avoid spending too much time outdoors during the sunniest parts of the day. You might also consider wearing a hat to shade your face.
Keep in mind that everyone — regardless of whether they have eczema — can be at risk of skin damage from too much sun exposure, so always apply sunscreen.
When choosing a sunblock, opt for a mineral sunscreen that contains zinc or titanium oxide. These ingredients tend to be less irritating to skin with eczema.
- alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E)
Moisturizers that contain sunscreen can help provide skin protection and retain moisture in the skin.
Just be sure to test any new products before applying them to your face.
While swimming may provide relief for some people with eczema, the chlorine in swimming pools and salt water from the ocean can be irritating for others.
If you plan to swim, practicing skin hygiene can help you avoid eczema flares on the face and elsewhere. About an hour before swimming, apply an eczema-friendly moisturizer to your face. Take a short, lukewarm shower immediately after getting out of the water and reapply your moisturizer.
Use a cotton towel to gently pat your face dry to avoid irritation and eczema flares.
Cold temperatures can dry out your skin and cause irritation, leading to or worsening eczema flares.
Be sure to cover up the skin on your face with a scarf or another garment when going outside in the winter, especially when it’s windy. You may also find it helpful to apply moisturizer more frequently than you do during the warmer months.
Using a humidifier indoors during winter can also help prevent your face from drying out and cracking.
Whether you have chronic eczema on the face or the occasional flare, it’s important to work with a dermatologist to find a treatment plan. An allergist can also help you figure out what’s triggering your eczema.
There’s no cure for eczema, but a variety of treatment options are available based on the cause of your eczema and the severity of your symptoms.
Some medications are available as topical creams, ointments, or emulsions that can be applied directly to the affected skin. These types of medications are available both over-the-counter and by prescription.
If topical therapies aren’t helping your eczema, your dermatologist may suggest a stronger medication that can be taken orally or injected.
A variety of options are available for eczema treatment. If you experience unwanted side effects with your current medication, talk with your dermatologist about other options that may be a better fit.
Eczema on the face can be bothersome, but there are many ways to protect your skin and help control your flares. This includes:
- using eczema-friendly moisturizer
- avoiding known triggers
- protecting your skin from cold weather, wind, and pool water
- following your treatment plan
If you’re still coping with eczema on the face after trying some of these tips, get in touch with a dermatologist to explore other ways to address flares.