As a result of my lifelong battle with eczema — especially the last few years, when the stress caused by the impending apocalypse caused it to break out all over my face and refuse to leave — I’ve tried almost everything to soothe my skin. Here’s a rundown of some non-prescription products I’ve tried, ranked by their effectiveness, affordability, and other factors.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, and literally nothing here is medical advice. Ask your doctor (or at least a pharmacist) before you use anything. Also, be sure to patch test it on your inner elbow 24 hours before using it more widely. Trust me; you don’t want to discover you’re allergic to something after it’s all over your face.
6. E45 Dry Skin Cream
It turns out I’m allergic to this and so is my entire family! Weirdly, though, I didn’t react the first day of using it — so if you want to try it for yourself, maybe patch test it for a couple of days in a row instead of just once? Again, not a doctor, but it made my face puffy and even more itchy.
5. Coconut Oil
I kept seeing advice on dealing with eczema by using coconut oil. “Eczema is just dry skin!” the internet proclaims. “Any moisturizer will do the job!” This has not worked for me. It helped a bit with flaking and itching, but didn’t actually cleared anything up — plus the longer I used it, the less effective it became (also, it made the non-eczema-ridden parts of my face break out). That said, you may find it’s worth integrating into your post-shower routine as an overall body moisturizer.
4. The Body Shop Aloe Vera Face Cream
This worked great until it suddenly didn’t, and my eczema came back with a vengeance. Apparently you can develop a sensitivity to aloe vera over time if you use it a lot? Which is a pain in the ass, because it’s also the best treatment for sunburn that I know. It is a really nice general moisturizer for dry skin, though, and was really effective before I developed said sensitivity. So if you’re willing to take a gamble on whether or not you’ll develop one, it could be worth trying.
I was skeptical about this one because there’s so much hype around it, but actually, it probably deserves its quasi-religious following. There are a dozen or so different products, and to find out which one you need to use, you fill out a web survey and receive adorable tiny samples to try out. I found that it more or less instantly reduced the eczema on my face, and after a few days using it my skin looked entirely like skin again, which seems to be what most people had to say about it. Unfortunately, it’s also really expensive, so I couldn’t afford to keep using it and the eczema came back pretty quickly after I stopped. If you can afford it, though, it’s absolutely worth it.
2. Unguentum M
I first used this as a teenager when 75% of my body was covered in eczema, and found it’s really good at treating blistering and bumps. Actually, it’s fabulous for stopping itching too (once, after discovering I was allergic to red wine, I ended up covering my entire scalp in it because there was no other way I was getting to sleep that night). Weirdly, it’s also good at reducing blackheads — or that could just be my particular skin. On the other hand, it’s really thick and takes ages to sink in, tends to get into your hair and make it all greasy, and did not help with my most recent variety of eczema/dermatitis during which my skin flaked off and cracked open. You also generally have to ask for it specifically in the chemist — at least in the UK, where they keep it behind the counter.
I’m pretty sure this stuff is magic. It’s apparently what medical staff use to keep from developing contact dermatitis from all that hand-washing, and oh my god is it effective. You can also use it in place of soap, apparently, because there’s antiseptic in it (luckily, it doesn’t smell medicinal). Whatever works, I guess? And, oh, does it work. I put this stuff on my face for a week and it completely stopped shedding; in fact, the shedding only came back when Christmas disrupted my routine and I forgot to apply it for a week… but after a couple of days of remembering to use it, the shedding is almost gone again. It also made my skin soft, as if I were using a real moisturizer and not a kind of scary medical thing. I personally find the lack of a fruity or floral scent saddening, but I’ll gladly take it over peely sandpaper face, and it could be a good option for the scent-sensitive.
Do you have a preferred eczema treatment? Let’s hear about it in the comments!
Yay for Dermol! I work at a pharmacy, so I’m really interested to have more information about people’s actual experiences of what does and doesn’t work. What’s your opinion of Aveeno? Is it just so bad it didn’t even make the list? That’s the pharmacists’ usual go-to recommendation.
I have seborrheic dermatitis (I think… its self-diagnosed) and the best thing that I have added to my routine (mostly CeraVe products) recently is squalane. I use the fancy Biossance one, b/c I got a great deal on Black Friday, but there are options on Amazon and even Etsy. This is the one “oil” that doesn’t aggravate my face fungus. Biossance will send you samples for shipping cost if you want to try it, or your local Sephora will sample it for you. I am definitely going to look into the Dermol 500 though, because that sounds AMAZING.
I’ve actually not tried it. My local pharmacist just suggested E45 and then patronised me for about ten minutes with “eczema is just dry skin and any lotion will do” when I asked about alternatives. The one I went to as a kid gave us Unguentum M and that was so effective I didn’t need to try anything else until this most recent bout.
I too have long term patches on the insides of my elbows and now a new one on my thumb thanks to my softball glove – gayest eczema ever! I also have had some success with Derma-e and their Psorzema cream that hits the midpoint price-wise. I think its 20 bucks a jar. I have the wet/hot kind of skin so putting anything oily on it causes it to get worse aka I agree – everyone SHUT UP about COCONUT OIL! Anyways, thats another one to try if you need a new one. Here’s to happy skins!
Can we get one of these for rosacea? Please and thank you.
yes please! all the prescriptions i’ve tried have either been ineffective or made me super light-sensitive so i am trying to find OTC treatments now…
I have impeccably well-behaved skin (it’s my one beauty blessing), but I love that there’s a place for articles like this on Autostraddle.
Autostraddle is like the anti-women’s magazine. It’s all uplifting camaraderie instead of tearing each other down, and “hey, my skin could stop itching a little while, that’d be great” instead of impossible beauty standards to uphold.
This is great! I have used piles of products, and I like the “C’s” – Cerave cream and Cetaphil lotion. Prevention is really my best secret. Dryer sheets sent me to my OBGYN (crotch-zema is what I call eczema that shows up on my crotch and labia) and to the dermotologist. Never again will I go near a dryer sheet, any scented skin/body wash products, or any detergent besides All Free & Clear. Dove soap with no scents all the way. Dollar Shave Club changed my life. Shaving always fired up my eczema, and changing blades with a decent razor radically helped that (and cost less). I have a topical steroid that was super cheap on my insurance that I use sparingly – like a tube per two years – and get my primary care to refill so I don’t have to pay the expensive dermotologist. I still struggle to find a deodorant that doesn’t dry my skin out by my armpits, though. That’s been an exercise in futility.
Coconut oil was messy, did nothing to help my eczema, and just annoyed me.
This is very timely! I’ve had a massive amount of stress in the last six months that brought back the eczema I had as a child. It’s been pretty mild so far and I’m hoping once my life calms down it’ll disappear again, but you never know… I always put cortisone cream on for a few days, then switch to lotion once it has calmed down, but that’s just based on what I remember doing twenty years ago.
Me and my skin have been through a lot of trial and error. For me, using anything that has more than like 5 ingredients doesn’t work and it has to be ingredients that I would recognize and potentially could eat. It may sound odd but for me crisco is a great intense moisturizer that isn’t as sticky and awful as petroleum jelly.
I had eczema all my life, and from childhood till about 18 I was very sparingly and slowly using topical steroids. The eczema never went away and nothing really helped. I know everyone finds their own things that work, but I just want to say if you’ve used steroids for a long time and find your skin is inflamed, red, almost swollen sometimes, and nothing really is helping, you might find some helpful information on ITSAN.org or looking up topical steriod withdrawal.
I had to completely stop steriods and go through withdrawal, before I could find a way to manage my dry skin (which wasn’t eczema anymore but steriod induced eczema).
WOW Siobhan thank you for writing this! As someone who’s lived with eczema since I was a child, I love that suddenly we’re talking about it openly on Autostraddle.
Because I’ve had eczema for so long and on so many different parts of my body, I’m just plain tired out of trying to find new products. Basically every topical steroid you can try, I’ve tried, and my body develops a tolerance to them really quickly. I get eczema in small patches on my hands and fingers (SO frustrating), under my eyes, around my lips, and then on armpits/legs/elbow joints.
So trying to juggle like, “which cream works where” and “don’t use steroids on your face but your eye eczema actually needs steroids, so now your mouth has broken out into another kind of rash that needs an antibiotic to treat it” is really, really exhausting, and I actually feel like a large chunk of my brain every day is devoted to trying to manage my eczema symptoms. It’s super frustrating, and I hope you haven’t had that same brain experience.
But! On the plus side, Dermol sounds lovely and I’m so curious about the Avène products. I currently use Cerave facial cleansers and lotions for my face/eye area, and then Eucerin “Intensive Repair” for my arms and legs, plus whatever the heck steroids my body hasn’t developed a tolerance to in order to spot-treat flare-ups.
I guess a question I have surrounding eczema is… with the recent trend towards skincare and really intensive skin routines (I’ve absolutely loved Autostraddle’s AM/PM series!), how are people with face eczema supposed to participate in that trend? I, too, would love for my skin to be healthy and glowing and not a) flaking off or b) covered in really painfully itchy red bumps, but I’m terrified that any serums, toners, etc. that aren’t “literally the gentlest cleansers and moisturizers Cerave has on offer” will wreck everything.
Part of what triggered my current skin problems was trying to develop an actual skincare routine. I had some (very mild I see now) acne under my cheekbones and I tried to get rid of it using tea tree based products that were too harsh for my skin. I’ve learned that less is more and that basically rinsing my face with water, moisturising with dermol every day and occasionally doing an oatmeal based face mask works to make the eczema mostly undetectable. Of course Body Shop discontinued my lovely honey oatmeal facemask so I don’t know what I’m going to do about that part now…
Hooray for this and for the internet that means I can try some of these that are only available in the UK. I had horrible eczema as a kid and we tried everything. Steroid creams made my life worth living again, and I don’t need them anymore. In the long run, what had helped the most is never using dryer sheets, powdered laundry detergent, or soap on my body. With that I rarely have a problem. That said, I travel with a backpacking towel and a sleeping bag liner because one night in a hotel bed or using hotel towels and I’m in trouble. Good luck finding the thing that works for you!
This is great! Dermol and Diprobase and topical hydrocortisone are usually the first things prescribed here in the UK (you can’t get them over the counter), along with Aveeno.
My sister had terrible exczema and along with dermol really likes Lush Dream Cream, which is super soothing, espesh if you keep it in the fridge! It’s also the only thing that can repair my hands from swimming/bartending.
Oh my WORD this is amazing. I wi be buying Dermol ASAP so I hope these are affiliate links!
Has anyone had any luck treating scalp flakiness? I dream of a lotion I can massage onto my scalp that will just magically evaporate from my hair and keep me smooth and flake-free all day.
I don’t have a super itchy scalp, but my wandering hands will find any patch of flakiness and tear it to shreds.
I don’t have a perfect solution, but I find that it helps if, every time I wash my hair, I massage conditioner into my scalp and leave it in for the rest of my shower before rinsing it out. I especially like Biolage conditioning balm (the kind you can get in a big tub from beauty supply stores & salons).
I can tell you what not to use of you have even the tiniest bit of broken skin on your head, e45 itch relief. It burns and hurts so much! It must be fine for someone I suppose, or they wouldn’t still make it, but it isn’t compatible with my eczema. Just thinking about it is making my scalp sore.
I find the eucalyptus infused Head and Shoulders shampoo and T-gel shampoo (its made of coal tar, nothing to do with testosterone) both work really well for that.
It really depends on the cause of the flakiness. Scalp flaking can be (among other things) caused by eczema, psoriasis, allergic reactions, product build up or seborrhoeic eczema. That last one is a mild immune based response from your body to a common yeast (pityrosporum ovale) and can be easily treated with an antifungal and anti-yeast shampoo. You should really check with you own doctor before trying anything but there are options. Good luck!
Autostraddle just knows me! In the last few years I developed an allergy to my deodorant, then to even the natural stuff, and now get eczema flare ups on my torso too. Steroid cream is absolute garbage for me so I’m happy to see some alternatives! As for the armpit sensitivities, I’ve found using the yellow Vaseline brand moisturizer is a decent deodorant alternative. Sadly developed a sensitivity to bath and body works’ delicious cherry blossom body butter, which worked like a dream for a few months. Would love some tips from others on good alternatives!
Fortunately I haven’t had any major bouts of eczema in a while, but this brings back memories of That One Summer when I was super stressed because my grandma had just died and I was getting ready to study abroad for an entire year–my face was covered in little flakey patches. These days I moisturize regularly to help prevent it (Aveeno Ultra Calming face moisturizer, plus either Trader Joe’s lavender body lotion or Cetaphil, depending on how dry the air is). And for getting rid of it, hydrocortisone cream works the best! Sometimes Neutrogena hand cream is helpful, too.
I have no idea if this will help anyone here, but there was an article the other day about an Australian cream available in the UK (and possibly elsewhere) called MooGoo Udder Cream that was supposedly very helpful to the person in the article, who apparently had severe eczema. I should note that I have never tried this cream, just wanted to mention it in case it helps anyone.
Great article. Your skin looks amazing in your profile phito by the way. I find dermol is the best. Personally I am happy that it is unscented so I can still wear the perfume of my choice.
Great article! I have extremely dry skin, especially in winter, and some bouts of eczema, mainly on my hands. Best thing I can do is use the most oily salves I can find and be careful with perfumes etc.
– I do love coconut oil, or a personal blend made with coconut oil, cocoa butter, almond oil and/or lanolin. I prefer this to any body lotion/cream in the winter. It’s not too difficult to make, you just need to know how to melt au-bain-marie.
– Bepanthen salve. I know it’s sold in the Netherlands and Germany, not sure if anywhere else, but it is amazing. It’s very oily, kind of sticky, expensive (€8,- for 50 g). I put it on my hands before bed when the cracks are near bleeding. In the morning they are almost gone. (https://www.bepanthen.nl/producten/bepanthen-beschermende-zalf/)
Very timely! My eczema has been horrid recently, mostly I think because of stress and changing environment (I usually live at the coast in Kenya, but am moving to Nairobi). Has anyone ever tried calendula ointment? I first tried it when a naturopath/aromatherapist friend suggested it. My eczema magically disappeared over the space of a couple of days. I think I’m much more sensitised to it now and it doesn’t have quite the same miraculous effect, but still pretty great. And fresh aloe (I know most people don’t have access, but those of us lucky enough to live in the tropics often have it in our gardens in abundance). It’s a miracle worker, straight from the plant.
Had eczema all my life, but recently got it sorted with small doses of light therapy, dermol, and diprobase – don’t know if that’s available in the US, but it’s slightly thicker than dermol, but still dries in will, and can be used as often as you like. Get on it!
Clobetasol (Temovate cream) cleared my skin in 4 days. This medication is a miracle for me. I get it from “Get247Tem” (if you’re curious, just search in google). I have dyshidrotic eczema, and atopic dermatitis. The only place I break out are on my hands severely and my feet mildly. As you can guess, keeping my hands medicated and moisturized has always been a challenge. I manage a restaurant so my poor hands suffer. I have tried numerous steroids with no luck. Within 3 days my hands go from normal to swollen, dry, cracked skin with bumpy fluid filled itchy blisters that break open, bleed and cause the itch to intensify. I wake in the night itching so bad I cry. All healed over here!