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Studies Find Doctor-Prescribed Treatments Make Eczema Worse

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If you suffer from eczema, you've probably tried every treatment under the sun, from taking oatmeal baths to applying doctor-prescribed steroid creams. In a shocking turn of events, recent studies have found that standard treatments for eczema are probably making your condition worse- not better. Find out more below.

Eczema is a common skin disorder that creates itchy, dry patches on the skin. In mild cases, eczema feels like a constant dry rash, but in extreme cases, eczema can be so severe that most of the body is covered in dry, flaky, itchy skin.

Eczema can interrupt a person’s normal life, and have side effects that are not only cosmetic, but may actually make it harder to engage in everyday activities like work, exercise, and even going outdoors.

There are thousands of products sold to help cure and soothe eczema, but many ingredients in these products may actually make eczema symptoms worse.

In fact, most of the cures prescribed by your doctor are probably contributing to your dry, flaky, and itchy skin. According to recent studies by dermatologists, skin with eczema does not respond the same way to creams and ingredients as healthy skin. Some products that will soothe healthy skin will actually make eczema worse.

According to these shocking studies, the more topical medications and creams you use for eczema, the more likely you are to develop an allergic reaction to ingredients in those creams. In fact, a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology in December 2013 found that individuals with eczema are more sensitive to many common cosmetic preservatives and prescribed treatments for the skin condition.

If you suffer from eczema, avoid the following ingredients to keep your skin as healthy as possible:


Quaternium-15 is known as a formaldehyde releaser. This ingredient releases formaldehyde into the body, which can trigger an autoimmune response in individuals with eczema. Researchers also theorize that these chemicals penetrate the skin and bind to immune cells, triggering a reaction in the eczema-prone skin.

Imidazolidinyl Urea

Just like quaternium-15, imidazolidinyl urea is a formaldehyde releaser. In the 2013 study, individuals with eczema were more likely to have an allergic reaction to creams and topical treatments containing this ingredient.

DMDM Hydantoin

DMDM hydantoin is another chemical that releases formaldehyde into the body. In the 2013 study, this chemical ingredient was also shown to irritate eczema symptoms and cause an allergic reaction.


Individuals with eczema should avoid this strange-sounding chemical. According to the 2013 study, this chemical produces allergy-like symptoms when used on eczema-prone skin.


This preservative is present in many topical skin treatments. According to research, about 8 percent of all people have some kind of allergic reaction to this ingredient. However, individuals with eczema are more likely to develop a reaction to formaldehyde.

Researchers do not know why formaldehyde causes more of a reaction in eczema patients, but they theorize that since eczema is an autoimmune system disease, the use of any outside ingredients can trigger an outbreak.

Other researchers theorize that since eczema sufferers are more likely to apply more creams and topical treatments to their skin, they could simply develop an allergic reaction to formaldehyde over time from extended use of the chemicals.


Water is good for the skin, right? It turns out, water is much better on the inside of your skin than the outside. Water is a drying ingredient when applied externally to the skin. In fact, using water on the outside of your skin can strip the protective oil barrier that your skin needs to remain healthy. Water can make eczema symptoms worse by destroying the protective oil barrier and exposing your skin to outside contaminants. A study from the UK in 2010 found that water-based emollient creams actually made the skin worse. Eczema sufferers should stay away from water-based creams and lotions.


Fragrances are added to lotions and washes to make them smell better. However, many of the fragrances added to creams and lotions are made from synthetic chemicals. These chemicals can leach into the skin, making eczema symptoms worse. If you have eczema, avoid fragrances at all costs. However, simply finding “unscented” products is not enough. Often, unscented products actually contain fragrances. Your safest bet is to either make your own creams or choose products that are labeled as “fragrance-free.”


Alcohol has the same effect on the skin as water. Alcohol strips the oil skin barrier and causes the skin to dry faster. Additionally, many individuals with eczema are sensitive to alcohol. Products with alcohol, including hand sanitizers, should be avoided by individuals who have eczema. Check labels carefully, as alcohol is in more products than most people realize.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

Sodium lauryl sulfate is a detergent that has been linked to a variety of health problems. At first, it was linked to cancer, and as of 2010, researchers have found that it makes eczema worse. The 2010 study from the UK found that SLS breaks through the barrier that protects the skin and causes the skin to dry out faster and have other eczema-like symptoms, including dry, itchy skin and flaky, stinging skin. According to the study, SLS even hurt participants with healthy skin. After one month of use, participants with healthy skin had 10 percent thinner skin that lost water faster and led to increased rashes and dry skin. Individuals with eczema should avoid SLS when at all possible.


Lanolin is an oil gathered from sheepskin. Lanolin is a natural oil, and in some cases, can be effective at reducing eczema symptoms. However, some individuals with eczema may have an allergic reaction to the oil. Researchers are unsure why the sheep oil leads to reactions, but some researchers have suggested that certain ingredients in the oil have an irritating effect on the skin. You can try using lanolin-based products, but if your skin does not improve or gets worse, discontinue the use of the product.

Isopropyl (Any Form)

Isopropyl is typically added to products to create a smooth finish. You will often find it in cosmetics and lotions. These products are manufactured from fatty acids, and in some cases, lanolin. The trouble with isopropyl ingredients is that it can clog pores and often contains traces of alcohol. This can lead to dry, itchy skin that can make eczema flare-ups much worse. Avoid these chemicals when possible.


Many doctors prescribe steroids to reduce inflammation and control eczema symptoms. This is one of the main medical treatments for the condition in adults and children. However, there is some evidence that topical eczema steroids can actually make the condition worse. Some ingredients in steroid creams are linked to eczema outbreaks, and long-term use of the cream makes skin thinner, leading to an increase in eczema symptoms.

In general, it is best to avoid using steroid creams for treating eczema, as they are at best, only a temporary solution to the problem and can make eczema much worse in the end.

Benzalkonium Chloride

This commonly-used preservative is present in many cleaning and cosmetic products. The ingredient is used to preserve the formula by removing bacteria from the formula. Although the reaction rate to this chemical preservative is low, in eczema sufferers, the preservative can lead to more frequent, worse outbreaks of dry, itchy skin.

Propylene Glycol

Propylene glycol is an ingredient used in many cosmetic and skin-care products. The product is an organic alcohol that absorbs water and is often used as a skin-conditioning agent. A 1997 study conducted by French researchers found that using propylene glycol in skin products can lead to the development of eczema-like symptoms- generally due to an allergy to the ingredient. For individuals with eczema, the alcohol could dry the skin and make eczema worse.


Although the study listed above did not find that parabens made eczema symptoms worse, parabens can make eczema worse. Studies have shown that about 1 percent of individuals with eczema are also sensitive to parabens. Although the numbers are small, it could lead to a worsening of eczema symptoms. The three most likely parabens to contribute to eczema symptoms include methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben.

Butylhydroxytoluene (BHT)

BHT is an antioxidant food additive that can be irritating to individuals with eczema. Contact with BHT can result in dry patches, itchy skin, and even blisters and painful boils. Products that contain BHT range from cosmetics to skin cleaners. There are many names for this chemical preservative, which makes it hard to avoid. However, BHT is present in many non-organic skin products, including bar soap, liquid soaps, deodorants, body washes, eye makeup, foundation makeup, shampoos, lotions, and diaper rash creams.

Effective Treatments for Eczema

If the above standard ingredients used for treating eczema are so bad, what can you use to make skin healthy and smooth without irritating it? The following methods will help you clear eczema the right way, rather than making the problem worse:

Safe Topical Treatments

The following topical treatments will help heal eczema rather than make the problem worse. These methods are safe, effective, and will not strip the protective barrier on your skin.

Safe External Treatments
Coconut Oil: Simple coconut oil is highly effective for healing the skin. Coconut oil is not only gentle and safe, but it also contains anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties that can heal the skin. Coconut oil is absorbed into the skin and can moisturize it without stripping your existing skin barrier. 
Magnesium Oil: Magnesium is highly beneficial for the skin. Magnesium can help the skin detox and remove any irritants that are causing the flare-up in the first place. Simply rub magnesium oil into the skin where it is dry or itchy. As a bonus, magnesium from the skin is easily absorbed into the body and will provide a variety of other benefits, including memory boosts, better bones, and even a reduced risk for getting heart disease and other life-threatening diseases.
Sea Salt Spray: The combination of minerals and salt at the beach is beneficial in healing all forms of skin problems. You can recreate “beach therapy” for your skin by creating your own sea salt spray. Mix a few magnesium flakes and a couple of teaspoons of sea salt into a bottle of warm, distilled water. Spray onto the skin for a relaxing, soothing treatment that will help heal itchy, flaky skin and prevent eczema flare-ups. 
Oatmeal: An oatmeal bath or poultice can provide soothing relief to itchy, dry skin. 

Internal Treatments

Since many researchers link eczema to autoimmune disorders, it makes sense that internal remedies can help heal eczema and prevent flare-ups. These methods will help heal eczema from the inside out:

Avoid Inflammatory Foods: Inflammatory foods may trigger the immune system to trigger eczema flare-ups. Chronic inflammation is caused mainly by three ingredients in the diet: Sugar, vegetable oil, and processed grains.  Avoid these items and you may find that your eczema symptoms reduce dramatically.

Heal the Gut: Another possible trigger for eczema is your gut health. According to recent studies, the balance of bacteria in your intestines and stomach is extremely important for your overall immune system. Adding beneficial bacteria in the form of probiotics or by eating fermented foods can significantly improve your immune system and may help eliminate some autoimmune problems.

Take Immune-Boosting Supplements: The following supplements have been linked to a reduction in eczema symptoms in multiple studies:

Immune-Boosting Supplements
Omega 3: Just like GLA, omega 3 fatty acids are also an important acid for skin health. In a study from 1989 conducted by University Hospital in Norway, supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids was able to improve eczema symptoms in study participants.

GLA: According to studies, GLA is a fatty acid essential for the balance of skin health. Many individuals with eczema are low in GLA. A study from 2000 conducted by Laxdale Research Center in the UK found that supplementation with GLA improved skin condition in most cases of eczema.

Artichoke: Artichoke is a simple vegetable, but it has been shown to fight inflammation. Supplementing with artichoke extract may reduce eczema symptoms in some individuals.

Selenium: Selenium is thought of as the “mood-boosting” chemical, but some studies have linked it to eczema as well. One study from 2001 gave children with eczema supplements containing selenium. After taking the supplements, children with moderate to severe eczema showed a reduction in symptoms and flare-ups.

Avoiding Chemicals That Worsen Eczema

Unfortunately, many of the products typically assigned to eczema sufferers actually make the condition worse. However, this does not mean that a person with eczema has to suffer in silence. In fact, many topical and internal remedies are effective at reducing eczema flare-ups and improving the condition of your skin. A mixture of diet changes, eczema-fighting supplements, and healthy topical treatments offer a whole-body approach to healing eczema once and for all. Following these treatment methods will work to heal the skin, rather than simply mask the symptoms or make the problem much worse.





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