Eczema - if you know what this word entails, and I mean really know on a deep personal level, I feel you. Eczema is a bitch, there's no other way around it. You may remember that in my Fall Nail Polish post I complained about the state of my fingers and cuticles, which is how this post came about. Now, I don't claim to be an eczema expert or even that I have it particularly bad; I'm aware that for some people it's a lifelong condition that covers most of their body, and mine is only limited to my hands, and oftentimes, I'm even able to completely get rid of any flare-ups. But when I do have it (like now), it's a veritable pain in the ass, and I thought it may be helpful to share how I deal with it, especially if you've just started getting the symptoms.
I've considered including photos of my typical eczema patch but honestly, it's pretty gross - even writing about it isn't pretty. Mine takes the form of a reddened, rough area of skin that develops small blisters, which burst after a day or so (sorry!), and then that area starts drying up to the point of cracking and flaking. Other symptoms include ichting, burning, occasionally bleeding from deeper cracks. Told you it wasn't pretty!
Some of the flare-up triggers, established through personal experience, my mom's experience and talking to my dermatologist, include frequent hand washing and soaking in water, low temperatures but also humid climates, as sweat also seems to make things worse, contact with harsh chemicals (for example, in home cleaning products or nail polish remover), contact with established allergens (I'm allergic to cats and petting one makes things more itchy in mere minutes), lack of UV exposure, moisture trapped under rings or other jewelry. My mom believes eczema is at least partly a form of skin allergy and pinpointing your specific allergens should help in recovery, but my dermatologist was skeptical - essentially, it's an autoimmune condition and anything can become a trigger.
Consequently, avoiding the triggers I've listed above generally helps in keeping things under control. What this means in practice is that I always do the dishes and other house chores in rubber gloves (my mom, who worked in a chemical lab all of her career, especially recommends talc-free single-use nitrile gloves), try to keep my hands above water when taking a bath, often don't put on my engagement ring and wedding band, re-apply handcream multiple times a day and always always after washing my hands, always wear gloves in the fall and winter.
Here's my typical course of treatment: as soon as I notice a new eczema patch, I apply my usual hand creams and then apply a thin layer of the steroid ointment over the patch and leave it overnight. If I really want to make sure I don't rub it off on the sheets, I'll also put on some cotton gloves; as a bonus, they help to trap moisture in the skin as well. My mom recommends to repeat this process every day until the flare-up completely goes away, but I try not to do more than 2 or 3 consecutive nights. The steroid medication helps to dry out the blisters but leaves behind very dry, flaky skin, so I really load up on hand cream the next week or so. Unfortunately, my flare-ups tend to reoccur in the exact same spots, but using the steroid cream seems to prolong the eczema-free stretches of time.
In the photos, you can see some of the creams and potions I'm using on my hands. The L'Occitane Shea Butter Dry Skin Hand Cream ($28 for 5.2 oz) works nicely and absorbs fast, but most of the time I prefer to stick to less expensive options, like the Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Fragrance-Free Hand Cream ($3.50-$4.50 for 2 oz) or CeraVe Moisturizing Cream or Lotion ($10.99 for 12 fl oz). I find that occlusive creams, or the ones that leave a layer on your skin to trap the moisture inside, generally work best, which is why I really like using Neosalus Cream, a $$$ prescription moisturizer than leaves a layer on the skin even through hand washing. A fun thing to try are these nourishing sheet Hand Masks (the ones in the photo are from The Face Shop), although I've found that a thick layer of a hydrating face mask (like the Avene Soothing Moisture Mask) under a pair of cotton gloves works just as well for less.
I think that's all I can think of for now - let me know if you have any more questions, and of course please share your experiences with eczema and your favorite treatments in the comments! Oh, and a little update on my steroid-mangled fingernail: it doesn't look too hot right now but continues to grow out. Thanks for reading!