4 Ingredients Derms Are Begging You To Stay Away From If You’ve Got Eczema

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For those prone to eczema, it can feel like flare-ups are impossible to avoid during the colder, dryer months of the year. The harsh conditions and lack of humidity in the air wreak havoc on your skin barrier, making it peak season for the itchy, uncomfortable rashes associated with the condition. And while it's crucial to know which actives you should be slathering on every day to stave off these sensitivities this time of year (namely ceramides, humectants, and emollients), it's just as important to know what ingredients to avoid.

"There are ingredients that can potentially be drying or irritating, and so someone with eczema should proceed with caution and use gentle formulations and use other moisturizing products that support the skin barrier,” says Hadley King, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. However, “every case of eczema is different, and also formulations can be very different as well, so there really aren't absolute contraindications here," she adds.

In other words, if you're dealing with eczema, there are certain ingredients that should be added to your eczema-friendly routine with extreme caution (or, in some cases, not at all). Keep scrolling to find out what they are.

4 Ingredients to avoid with eczema

1. Fragrance

Though aromatic skin-care products can be a treat for the senses, they can be damaging to your skin barrier. “Most fragrances in products are a mix of 10 or more individual ingredients,” says Sandy Skotnicki, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and the author of Beyond Soap. “They are typically irritating to patients with eczema and can also cause true allergy.” One important thing to note: Opting for a formula that touts itself as "fragrance free" won't always keep you in the clear. Many skin-care products use essential oils to give them their scents, so it's important to look for products that aren't only free of artificial fragrance (labeled as parfum), but also devoid of natural, potentially-irritating extracts as well.

2. Alpha-hydroxy acids

Alpha-hydroxy acids are chemical exfoliants that work by melting the "glue" that holds dead skin cells to the surface of your skin. Though they tend to be gentler than your typical physical exfoliants (aka scrubs that work by sloughing off those dead skin cells), they may still be to aggressive for those with eczema.“Hydroxy acids can be drying and irritating, but the strength and formulation can make a difference,” King says. Generally, lactic acid— which has hydrating properties and is known to be one of the gentlest AHAs—is the safest bet for eczema-prone skin.

3. Retinoids

As beneficial as retionoids can be for fighting acne and wrinkles, they have a reputation for being irritating—which is bad news for anyone dealing with eczema. Thankfully, that doesn't mean you have to cut them from your routine entirely. Once again, Dr. King,  notes that strength and formulation can make a difference, as can the order in which you apply your retinoid within your routine. According to derms, the best way to use retinol on eczema-prone skin is to massage a pea-sized amount onto your face after applying moisturizer, which will help prevent excessive drying.

4. Lye

While we likely don’t have to tell you the perils of washing your face with bar soap, it never hurts to share a reminder. “True soap bars, in particular those that say all-natural, are made with lye the old-fashioned way,” says Dr. Skotnicki. “This means the soap pH is 10 or 11 which damages the skin barrier.” Fortunately, she says that Ivory is the only commercially-available true soap bar, so as long as you steer clear of it, your eczema shouldn’t be at risk of flaring up due to the soap you use.

What to do if you accidentally irritate your skin with one of these ingredients

Most skincare products contain a variety of ingredients, which makes it quite easy to mistakenly apply something that your eczema-prone skin may be better off without. As such, if you find that your skin is reacting poorly to a product and check the label only to find an irritating ingredient, Dr. King says to nix it from your routine.

If you’re not sure which product is the culprit, she says to temporarily stop using any questionable products until it’s clear where the irritation is coming from. “Stick to bland moisturizing products that hydrate, support the skin barrier, and lock in moisture,” she instructs, noting to look for soothing ingredients like colloidal oatmeal, bisabolol, and aloe vera. “And if needed, hydrocortisone cream or ointment can also help.”

Looking for a specific product recommendation? “For eczema flare-ups, I love Dove's Body Love Sensitive Care Body Lotion,” says Dr. King. “It has a rich moisturizing formula that supports the skin barrier with ceramides, and contains the ideal combination of humectants, emollients, and occlusives.”

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