If I had a list of patients’ most frequently asked questions, “Do I have eczema?” would be at the top. This is a misunderstood skin condition that is often mistaken for dry skin—but there’s a big difference.
What is eczema? It’s a general term for any type of skin inflammation, and while the most common type is called atopic dermatitis, there are many forms. The tell-tale signs of eczema—which seems to have a strong genetic cause—include itching, dry scaly patches, and in some cases, blisters and oozing lesions. Eczema is frequently seen on the face, neck, inside the elbows, behind the knees and around the ankles. What causes eczema? Recent research has shed light on the root cause, with a genetic defect in the skin protein filaggrin being the most likely culprit. In healthy skin, this structural protein found in the lower layers of the skin is converted to natural moisturizing factor (NMF) in the upper layers of the skin. As the skin turns over, filaggrin breaks down into NMF amino acids, which bind water and help the skin hold moisture inside the cells. With defective filaggrin, the skin has less NMF, which leads to patches of dry skin.Though we now have more insight into the cause of eczema, we have yet to come across a new way to treat it. Although there’s no product that can supplement the skin with NMF, I recently came across a skin mist by Twinlab called Na-PCA. It has yet to be studied for the treatment of eczema, but for less than $10, it’s worth a try. Follow this mist with CeraVe Moisturizing Cream at least twice a day, and you should see relief from itching, redness and dryness. There are additional steps you can take to keep skin healthy and comfortable, such as using fragrance-free laundry detergent and avoiding foaming soaps and bubble baths. And if nighttime itching is an issue, Benadryl can help. But if these steps don’t provide relief, talk to your dermatologist about prescription options that can help soothe the inflammation.