If you’re constantly dealing with inflamed, itchy, dry patches of eczema, you’re probably familiar with the struggle to find the best eczema creams out there. It’s incredibly tough to find a product to help treat eczema, especially one that doesn’t irritate your skin further. Eczema creams are not one-size-fits-all, and it is way too easy to spend a ton of money on products that don’t provide relief. So how can you be sure you’re using the right one for you? We tapped board-certified dermatologists to give you the information you need about how to find the best eczema cream for you right here.
What is eczema, anyway?
By understanding what eczema actually is and what causes eczema, you’ll be better equipped to care for it—especially if you’re dealing with a flare-up. Eczema refers to a group of skin conditions in which the skin barrier is not able to maintain the necessary moisture to provide protection from allergens and environmental stressors. The most common form of the condition is atopic dermatitis.
“People with eczema tend to have dry, irritated, inflamed skin,” Shari Lipner, MD, PhD, an associate professor of clinical dermatology at Weill Cornell Medicine, tells SELF. “Choosing the right moisturizer can help in preventing eczema flare-ups and treat the eczema.”
“[Eczema] also involves inflammation, as our skin plays a huge role in terms of our immune system,” Ivy Lee-Keltner, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and the medical director of Direct Dermatology in California, tells SELF. This inflammation can lead to “itchy skin that can be dry and flaky. Lighter skin tones can be red and irritated, and darker skin tones can be grayish purple or look like a darker brown discoloration.”
What should you look for in eczema creams?
The best eczema creams and lotions are “thicker moisturizers,” Adarsh Vijay Mudgil, MD, a double board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Mudgil Dermatology, tells SELF. It’s especially important to look for a product that contains hydrating humectant ingredients (like hyaluronic acid and glycerin) as well as skin-soothing and -protecting ingredients (like ceramides, petrolatum, and colloidal oatmeal). Humectants help pull moisture into the skin, while ceramides and occlusives help reinforce the skin barrier, ultimately helping to protect the skin from irritants that might trigger an eczema flare-up.
“I think the main thing is to find a product that you love and that you can afford, because it really is about daily maintenance,” Dr. Lee says. “That’s the unglamorous part of eczema, is finding a skin care routine or skin care product that’s going to be your go-to, one that you actually want to use.”
What about slugging?
If you’ve heard about the “slugging” skin care trend, Dr. Lee says it can be quite beneficial for soothing eczema. Essentially, slugging is just a colloquial term for occlusion, which derms have been recommending for years. How does it work? You use a thick ointment or ultra-occulsive moisturizing cream (like Vaseline or CeraVe’s Healing Ointment, both highlighted in the list below) after cleansing and sometimes after using a separate moisturizer, and leave it on all night to seal in the moisture eczema-prone skin craves.
Should you use topical steroid creams?
Dr. Lee suggests using topical steroid creams or ointments to help tame flare-ups. You can find over-the-counter options or ask your dermatologist for a prescription-strength product. “Use them temporarily for when you need to get control of the eczema,” she says. Once you’ve calmed the flare-up, she recommends going back into your “maintenance phase,” which includes all of the gentle skin and body care products we discuss below. (Talk to your derm about how long you should use a steroid cream for your eczema; most experts recommend limiting the use of them due to potential side effects with long-term use, like thinning of the skin.)
What ingredients should you avoid in eczema creams?
Of course, there are ingredients you’ll want to avoid too, Dendy Engelman, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Medical Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery, tells SELF. Ingredients to watch out for include fragrances, exfoliating acids (like glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acids), harsh soaps, and retinol, she says: “These can further irritate the skin by drying them out.”
Nada Elbuluk, MD, the director of the Skin of Color Center and Pigmentary Program at USC, also notes to look at ingredient lists for any known allergens, because that can also cause a flare-up. “I also recommend avoiding physical exfoliants and even certain fabrics such as wool, which can make eczema worse [for some people],” she says.
So, what are the absolute best eczema creams to hydrate and strengthen the skin while protecting against flare-ups? The colder months, in particular, are not fun, so we took a look at the best moisturizers on the market to help get you through the season. To narrow down the list, we used the National Eczema Association’s Seal of Acceptance, dermatologist-approved favorites, and the guidelines above to recommend soothing options your skin will love.