When you have a chronic condition like eczema, shopping for skin care is no simple Saturday afternoon task you can easily check off your to-do list. You see, unlike folks with completely healthy and uncompromised skin barriers, those with eczema have to be extra careful (wary, even) when it comes to the products that they choose to purchase and put on their skin. In other words, they can’t just stroll into any store and buy whatever smells nice or happens to be on sale. Instead, shopping for skin care when you have eczema requires research, reading countless reviews, and, in many cases, relying on dermatologists for recommendations.
While it shouldn’t be such a feat, the fact is, myriad skin-care products on the market still contain common allergens that can result in adverse reactions for people with eczema (or really any skin condition for that matter). Some are aware of those allergens and simply steer clear of them, but others could definitely use a primer. For this reason, we went ahead and compiled a handy — and hopefully helpful — list of common ingredients to avoid in skin care if you have eczema. Knowledge is power, people; never forget that.
Ingredients to Avoid at All Costs:
Much like certain foods or alcoholic beverages, there are some ingredients that are worse for eczema than others. For instance, any credible dermatologist or skin-care expert in the game will stress the importance of avoiding skin-care products that feature synthetic fragrances and dyes, as both can be a major trigger for eczema flare-ups. A good rule of thumb? If it smells like anything remotely resembling a Bath & Body Works candle, do not put it on your skin. Additionally, it’s also important to point out that some fragrances go under the radar with names like cinnamic alcohol, cinnamic aldehyde, eugenol, isoeugenol, geraniol, hydroxycitronellal, and oakmoss, so definitely don’t slack when it comes to reading labels.
Preservatives are another common culprit known to exacerbate eczema, because, as Chicago-based dermatologist Peter Lio explains, they have “a direct damaging effect on the good bacteria that our skin needs.” Preservatives, such as methylparaben, methylchloroisothiazolinone, and butylparaben, all of which aid in preventing products from going bad, are present in many over-the-counter creams and ointments, as well as even baby wipes. “Most creams and lotions really do require some kind of preservative, unless they're sealed in an airtight container, so there are not many versions out there — only a couple of companies, including Gladskin, have figured out a way to develop and deliver a cream that doesn't require any kind of preservative, which is pretty revolutionary,” explains Lio. “By solving the problem not with a chemical, but by using an airtight system, you can actually keep the bad bacteria out, but keep the product preservative-free, which I think is a really important innovation and advancement that hopefully other companies will learn and try to adapt,” he adds.
Other huge no-no ingredients for eczema include alcohol, including ethanol, isopropyl alcohol, and alcohol denat, all of which are ultra-drying for the skin and Cocamidopropyl betaine, a surfactant derived from coconut oil that's found in foaming products like soap, shampoo, and facial cleansers.
Ingredients to Be Cautious Of:
Aside from the ingredients listed above, there are other offenders that those with eczema should be aware of, as they’ve been known to cause negative reactions in those with sensitive, easily irritated skin types. Essential oils, for example, fall into this category, as some can be too potent and aren’t suitable for using directly on the skin — especially if they’re undiluted or you’re unfamiliar with the quality of the brand. For this reason, you should always consult your doctor first, as well as do a patch test on your wrist before trying anything new.
Then you have benzalkonium chloride, an antibacterial agent found in a variety of eye-care products — such as contact solutions and artificial tears — as well as no-rinse hand cleansers. While it’s a strong antiseptic, meaning it’s excellent at killing off bacteria, even minute concentrations can cause adverse reactions in those with eczema.
The Bottom Line:
When it comes to shopping for skin care as someone with eczema, it’s best to educate yourself on the ingredients you should avoid before hitting the store so that you can feel confident making a purchase. It’s also important to remember that the fewer ingredients there are, the less likely it is that the product will spur a reaction. And, of course, when in doubt, it can never hurt to consult your dermatologist first.