From Acne to Eczema: How to Look After Your Skin
As the body’s largest organ, the skin is constantly exposed to the elements. It pays to establish a consistent daily skincare routine that’s right for your particular skin type, and to treat outbreaks of acne and eczema as soon as they appear.
Updated: Monday 24 January 2022
The skin is the body’s first line of defence against bacteria, viruses and harmful chemicals, it helps to regulate temperature, and maintains our fluid balance by controlling moisture loss. Its importance is evident, however, not everyone’s skin is created equally. Whether your skin is oily, dry, combination, or sensitive will dictate how best to care for it. In addition, our skin is more prone to breakouts at different stages of our lives, and treating these flare-ups promptly is key to reducing the risk of long-term damage.
In this article, we explain the causes of the UK’s most common skin condition, acne, as well as exploring what causes eczema, before laying out the best methods to treat them.
When we think of acne, we might picture a vast spread of red spots on the face, or perhaps multiple indentations on the cheeks caused by acne scarring. Whilst these more severe acne symptoms are not uncommon, the majority of people get acne to a lesser extent, up to 85% of all those between the ages of 12 and 24 in fact. Acne is a common skin condition occurring when hair follicles are blocked with oil or dead skin, resulting in pimples, blackheads and cysts on the face, back or chest. It’s often triggered by hormonal changes, which is why it is most common in the teenage age group, but it can also occur in adults.
How Do I Treat Acne?
Acne will usually subside after the teenage years if treated accordingly, but some adults continue to suffer from the symptoms. Left untreated, acne can cause permanent scarring, which is why it’s important to treat acne as soon as it’s observed on the body.
- Over-the-counter medication - Adapalene is a topical treatment that you can buy as a cream or a gel. Popular brands such as Differin are clinically proven to prevent and clear mild to moderate acne thanks to the active ingredient retinoid adapalene. The anti-inflammatory medicine is highly effective at controlling whitehead and blackhead formation, as well as restoring natural skin tone and texture, and is suitable for daily use.
- Prescription medication - Treatments such as Epiduo Gel combine the benefits of adapalene with benzoyl peroxide, an antiseptic that reduces bacteria on the surface of the skin by counteracting the excessive secretion of sebum, a common trait amongst acne sufferers. A highly effective treatment, you can start to see visible results from as little as 1 week after beginning a daily application routine.
Other ways to help clear acne
- Do not wash the affected areas of the skin more than twice daily, as frequent washing can cause skin irritation. Use mild soap and lukewarm water, and be gentle with the skin; try not to exfoliate too hard as this can worsen the condition.
- Getting a good night’s sleep can reduce your levels of stress, which is known to aggravate acne.
- Eating slow-burn carbohydrates will prevent sudden spikes in insulin levels increasing acne symptoms.
- Drinking plenty of water will help to flush internal toxins from the body and reset your metabolism.
- Alternative treatments for acne include borage, lavender and topical tea tree oils, but the effectiveness of these natural methods are largely anecdotal.
Although not as common as acne, eczema still affects 1 in 5 children in the UK. It’s characterised by skin irritation and itchiness, usually visible as dry and cracked skin. Eczema can affect areas of skin ranging from small patches to being more widespread, often appearing as red inflammation on light skin, and purple or grey areas on darker skin. It’s caused by having very dry skin that can’t retain much moisture, leaving the skin vulnerable to certain triggers. These triggers can include the following: irritants such as soaps and shampoos, environmental factors such as cold or dry weather or allergens, food allergies, clothing made from materials like wool or synthetic fabric, and hormonal changes. Whilst it tends to develop in children in their first few years of life, it’s also possible to develop it for the first time during adulthood. A predisposition to eczema can be passed genetically, although the condition is not infectious.
How Do I Treat Eczema?
Whilst there’s no magic treatment option to cure eczema for good, there are numerous methods of managing the symptoms that can help to relieve the discomfort.
- Topical corticosteroids - these anti-inflammatory treatments reduce redness, itchiness, dryness and swelling when applied to the affected area. Depending on preference, these come in Hydrocortisone Cream form, or as a Hydrocortisone Ointment. Since the ointment is more oil-based, it will take longer to be completely absorbed, meaning it’s great for eczema relief over longer periods. Eumovate 0.05% is another cream treatment option, containing the corticosteroid Clobetasone Butyrate which is also effective for dermatitis. We do not recommend using these on the face, however, as they operate by reducing the body’s immune system response to the area applied, which may aggravate acne or other skin conditions.
- Emollients - these moisturising topical treatments soothe and hydrate the skin, and come as lotions, sprays, creams, ointments, and soap substitutes. Dermol 500 is a highly effective antimicrobial emollient known to provide rapid relief from eczema-related itchiness, that can be used as both a moisturiser and soap replacement. Doublebase Gel is a popular alternative suitable for all skin, and contains isopropyl myristate and liquid paraffin as the active ingredients to treat dry or chapped skin. The E45 line has a great selection of topical moisturising treatments in their range, such as the specially-formulated E45 Eczema Repair and E45 Emollient Bath Oil. Alternatively, products such as Aveeno’s Skin Relief Lotion contain a prebiotic Triple Oat Complex and shea butter that’s rapidly absorbing and immediately effective on dry and irritable skin.
- Antihistamines - For severe itching, antihistamines such as Piriteze or Clarityn tablets can be an effective solution.
Other ways to help manage eczema
- Whilst eczema can cause the urge to scratch your skin in an attempt to relieve the itching, this will damage the skin often leading to more eczema. Keep your skin covered with light clothing and your nails cut short to reduce the damage from habitual scratching. For problematic areas, you could consider a bandage to allow uninterrupted healing underneath.
- Try to avoid common eczema triggers, such as certain material fibres and environmental conditions. Wear soft, fine-weave clothing made from cotton or natural materials, and keep the rooms in your home cool as heat can aggravate eczema.
- Use specialist soaps such as the Aveeno Dermexa Body Wash or Dermol 500 that are designed to not cause skin irritation.
- Some foods, namely eggs and cow’s milk, can sometimes trigger eczema symptoms, so try avoiding these for a period of time to see if you notice any improvement to your skin.
How Else Can I Care For My Skin?
- You should build and maintain a daily skincare routine that’s tailored to your skin type. Include cleansers, serums, moisturisers and sunscreen for healthy, happy skin. Cetaphil Moisturising Lotion is a great daily-use moisturiser for long-lasting hydration, whilst Nivea Sun Protect & Moisture Sun Spray is a convenient, non-greasy method of both UVA and UVB sun protection.
- Improve your diet by ensuring the foods you eat are from a variety of different groups. Cut down on saturated fats and sugar, and up your wholegrain starchy foods and protein.
- Get a full night’s sleep so your body has ample time to rest and renew, since sleep increases cell regeneration which includes your skin.
- Exercising regularly will increase blood flow around your body, giving your skin and natural, healthy glow.
- Drink six to eight glasses of water per day to stay hydrated, as this is key to healthy skin. Drinking alcohol can cause dehydration, so be conscious of having too many alcoholic drinks.
- Smoking causes your skin to lose elasticity at an increased rate, so try to quit or cut down if you can.
Authored by Toby Watson
Pharmica Medical Writer
Toby (BSc) is an experienced medical writer, producing educational articles on many areas of health including sexual health, fitness, nutrition and mental health.
He particularly enjoys debunking misconceptions around heath conditions and their treatments, researching each topic in detail and writing easily-accessible content.