Top 10 ways to treat eczema

03 June 2024

Eczema is a common skin condition that can develop at any age, but often starts in childhood.

It's usually a long-term condition, where the main symptoms are red, dry, itchy skin that may weep, blister, or crust.

While the exact cause is unknown, it tends to affect people who have other allergies such as hay fever and asthma.

Symptoms often flare up due to certain triggers, which can include soaps, detergents, the weather, stress, and - in some cases - food allergies.

The most common form of eczema is atopic eczema, which is linked to your immune system's allergen response.

And the good news is that there are lots of treatments available for it. Here are 10 of the best.

Did you know? The term eczema comes from the Greek word 'to boil'.

Top 10 effective treatments for eczema

1. Moisturise, moisturise, moisturise

According to the NHS, "complete emollient therapy" is the most important treatment for anyone with eczema.

This means applying a moisturiser - or emollient - two to three times a day and washing with a soap substitute instead of soap, which can dry and irritate the skin.

The emollients recommended to treat eczema come in three main forms: lotions, creams, and ointments.

Ointments contain the most oil, which makes them very effective but can leave your skin feeling greasy to the touch.

Some people therefore prefer a lotion or cream for regular use.

When treating eczema with emollients, it's important to continue applying them even when your symptoms die down.

You should also apply the moisturiser of your choice gently by smoothing it on in the direction of the hair growth.

Top tip Using your fingers to get moisturiser out of its container may cause it to become contaminated and a source of infection. Instead, try using a moisturiser that comes in a pump dispenser.

2. Use topical corticosteroids

If your eczema is severe, it's a good idea to see your GP, who may well prescribe a topical corticosteroid that you can apply directly to the affected areas.

These range in strength from very mild to very strong and are usually applied once or twice a day for a short period.

They are an effective way to treat flare-ups but they can cause side effects such as thinning of the skin if over-used.

3. Change your diet

Some people with eczema find their symptoms flare up in response to certain foods, such as eggs and cow's milk.

But even if this is the case for you or your child, it's important to discuss any drastic changes, such as cutting out dairy, with your GP first.

You can, however, try to incorporate foods that can help with eczema symptoms thanks to their anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties into your diet.

These include:

  • oily fish such as salmon and mackerel.
  • leafy green vegetables such as kale.
  • nuts and seeds.
  • brightly coloured fruits such as oranges.

4. Take antibiotics

If eczema causes your skin to weep or crust over, this can be a sign it has become infected. Your GP may therefore prescribe a course of antibiotics to clear up the infection.

One way to avoid this is to use an antiseptic as part of your moisturising routine. However, using antiseptics too often or for too long can make eczema worse, so these too should not be over-used.

Know your numbers Up to 1 in 5 children are affected by eczema at some point.1

5. Try bandages and wraps

In some cases, your GP may prescribe medicated bandages or wet wraps that you can wear over the areas of skin affected by eczema.

These can either be used over emollients or with topical corticosteroids to prevent scratching and stop the skin drying out, giving it a better chance to heal.

6. Watch out for allergens

As eczema is often linked to allergic reactions, it's sensible to take steps to avoid allergens where possible. Things you can try include:

  • wearing non-powdered, non-rubber gloves to protect your hands and avoid your skin coming into contact with potential irritants when doing jobs around the house.
  • not having pets if you have an obvious allergy to them or their fur.
  • using non-biological washing powder and rinsing your clothes twice after washing to remove detergent residues.

7. Take oral steroids

If your eczema is very severe or widespread, you may need to take oral steroids rather than applying topical corticosteroids to your skin during a flare-up.

These work by suppressing your immune system and should only be taken when prescribed by a doctor.

8. Use ultraviolet (UV) light

While exposing affected areas of skin to sunlight can ease some people's eczema symptoms, others find the sun can trigger an eczema flare-up - especially if they overheat.

So, it's still best to apply suncream and avoid getting too much sun if you have eczema.

That said, adults with chronic eczema can sometimes benefit from ultraviolet light treatment, or phototherapy, which is offered in some hospitals and can help to reduce inflammation and itching.

Did you know? While atopic eczema is the most common form of the condition, there are lots of other kinds of eczema. These include discoid eczema, which causes circular patches on the skin, and seborrhoeic eczema, which causes a scaly rash on the face and scalp.

9. Take antihistamines

Both over the counter and prescription antihistamines can help to relieve the itching associated with atopic eczema.

The best type for you will depend on how your symptoms affect your life.

If, for example, your experience severe itching during the daytime, a non-sedating antihistamine can help to manage your symptoms so you can carry on with your life.

But if you're struggling to sleep due to itching at night, a sedating antihistamine may be a better choice.

10. Practise self-care day to day

Over time, people with eczema learn the triggers of their flare-ups and try to avoid them when they can.

As a rule, however, everyone with eczema can benefit from following certain rules, such as:

  • wearing comfortable, lightweight clothes made of materials such as cotton and silk.
  • keeping your nails trimmed short to limit the damage if you can't resist the urge to scratch.
  • taking cool showers and avoid hot baths and saunas.

Know your numbers Around 1.5 million adults in the UK live with atopic eczema. That's about 3% of the total adult population.2


About the author

Jessica Bown is a freelance writer and journalist.