Skincare 101: What eczema has taught me
As someone who recently developed atopic dermatitis—the most common form of eczema—on the face, managing this skin dilemma proved to be quite a challenge as I had to overhaul my list of beauty essentials within a very limited time frame. This was no mean feat as 1) I love skincare and am a sucker for trying out anything I can get my hands on; but 2) I had to be extra careful with plying on random products on my skin as a bid to 'test it out' because some irritants might induce a slew of unfortunate flare-ups.
According to my dermatologist, the exact cause of ezcema is still unknown, but it could likely be attributed to genetics and environmental stressors. The symptoms I had were itchy, red patches around my eyelids and cheeks, so I had to cross makeup off my list—it really isn't worth poking eyeliner on swollen eyelids, I had learned. While I was prescribed a topical steroid (specifically, fluticasone propionate cream) by my dermatologist to treat the inflammation and itching, I didn't want my skin to be overly dependent on it, plus the possible side effect of skin atrophy (thinning) was looming in the back of my mind.
So after a plethora of patch tests and a revamped beauty shelf, I've gleaned a couple of practical lessons over the course of six months—since my first trip to the dermatologist. While this guide has personally worked for my skin—tried and tested, for real—it is by no means a foolproof method for those afflicted with eczema. Below, five beauty precepts I had to relearn with this condition:
Hydration is key
This needs to be taken seriously. From keeping up with your intake of H2O on a daily basis to re-applying moisturiser throughout the day, it's important to note that well-hydrated skin will prevent your skin from inflaming. When your skin is dry, it is more susceptible to inflammation (read: flare-ups that include flaky skin and red blotches). Expect your daily frequency of toilet breaks to hover between the 9-12 mark, but don't worry, your skin will be thankful for that.
When in doubt, patch test
A recent interview with a beauty entrepreneur taught me this useful tip. Test out new products by applying it on the most sensitive part of your body—your neck, inner thigh, jawline—and wait for 24 to 48 hours to observe any reaction on the skin. I found this handy after realising that my usual serums and moisturisers didn't work on eczema-ridden skin, no thanks to ingredients that dry out the skin such as glycolic acid, retinols, and fragrances.
There's no such thing as overly greasy skin
Once you get used to regular moisturiser reapplications, your skin would love you all the more, and it totally shows. What worked for me include heavy-duty creams and ointments—the latter has a higher oil content so that usually leaves a sheen on my face (but I'm not complaining!) Reapplications are necessary for jet-setters or those who work in a cool, arid environments, as the dry, recirculated air on the plane or in your workplace will likely wreak havoc to your skin.
Here's my go-to list: Cetaphil Moisturising Cream (fragrance-free; great for the preliminary stages), Origins Three Part Harmony Nourishing Cream For Renewal, Repair and Radiance (thick enough to seal moisture in, also thanks to Vitamin E and plant butters), First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream (I wouldn't suggest this for the eye area, but it's safe for the face, plus colloidal oatmeal helps to relieve itching).
Keep your skin protected
Look out for skincare products that vouch to strengthen your skin barrier, as this will retain water in your skin and ensure that it doesn't dry out quickly. I steered clear from serums and toners for the first month as my skin was still super sensitive, but I slowly incorporated these into my skincare routine after a couple of successful patch tests: Shiseido Ultimune Power Infusing Concentrate to help with skin regeneration, and Kora Organics Noni Glow Face Oil for extra nourishing in the evening. I love facial mists for a quick spritz of hydration when I am on the go—La Roche-Posay Thermal Spring Water and Caudalie Grape Water are my handbag staples.
In case of emergencies...
I still get the occasional zit outbreak, but I am wary of blemish treatments as those tend to dry my skin out. I'm partial to Cosrx One Step Original Clear Face Pads to decongest my pores and clear out my skin—leaving it on acne-afflicted areas for 20 minutes works wonders. It wasn't the easiest task to scout for a sheet mask that didn't include alcohol or fragrance (those tend to sting my skin), so I've resorted to Fresh Black Tea Instant Hydrating Face Mask and Origins Ginzing Refreshing Mask—both are great for a weekly skin refresh.