Your skin care routine may play a bigger role in triggering your eczema than you think. Some of the most common triggers of eczema are dry skin, stress, and irritants. Because soap is a common irritant, people with eczema often have to be careful when choosing how to wash their skin.
Whether it’s for your hands or body, you’ll want to find a soap that gets you clean without aggravating your eczema symptoms, such as itchiness, dryness, and inflammation.
But what exactly should you look for? Is there anything you should avoid? Let’s take a look at the ingredients you should pay attention to when purchasing soap, as well as some MyEczemaTeam members’ experiences and recommendations.
Standard soaps can be very drying. This is mostly because they’re made with harsh chemicals that deplete the skin’s moisture and natural oils, essentially stripping the moisture barrier of the skin. As one MyEczemaTeam member shared, “Soaps dry me right up.”
To protect your skin from eczema flare-ups, you’ll want to use a gentle cleanser that doesn’t dehydrate your skin. Here are a few things to look for when shopping for soap.
The normal pH level of human skin is between 4 and 6, while the average pH of soap is 9 to 10. This difference means traditional soap increases the skin’s pH to a level that may worsen the symptoms of eczema. One study found that washing two times a day with a traditional alkaline soap caused damage to the skin barrier, leading to dryness and irritation.
To avoid the aggravation of eczema symptoms, the study recommended opting for solid cleansing bars containing synthetic detergent, or syndet for short. The primary ingredient of syndet bars is a nonsoap surfactant — a compound that lowers the surface tension in a liquid, allowing it to act as a detergent. Unlike traditional soaps, syndets have a neutral or slightly acidic pH, making them less irritating to the skin.
Syndet bars are a good choice for cleansing thanks to their mildness and hydrating properties — both of which are beneficial to dry, eczema-prone skin. In a separate clinical trial studying the benefits of mild cleansing with syndet for individuals with eczema, syndet was found to reduce the severity of eczema lesions, maintain hydration, and improve the overall condition of the skin.
Some examples of syndet bars that may work well on eczema-prone skin include:
One MyEczemaTeam member shared their experience using a syndet-based cleanser: “I’ve been having a good day with no problems and no itching. I’ve been using my Dove soap and body wash without perfume, and that has helped me a lot.”
Glycerin is an ingredient that counters the drying effects of soap by acting as a humectant, a substance that preserves moisture. Humectants are used in lotions, soaps, and even food.
Glycerin also actively draws moisture to your skin. You may have noticed that natural soap seems to “sweat” — this is because it contains large amounts of glycerin, which draws moisture from the atmosphere. It has the same moisturizing effect on the skin.
While many natural soaps contain glycerin, it’s important to note that naturally made soaps are only a good option as long as they aren’t heavily fragranced.
The National Eczema Association (NEA) examines ingredients and testing data to determine whether certain products are suitable for people living with eczema. The NEA’s Seal of Acceptance program helps people with eczema and other chronic skin conditions choose products that are less likely to cause allergic reactions or exacerbate symptoms.
Even if you find a soap that appears to have the right ingredients, it’s a good idea to check whether the NEA has approved it for people with eczema. Or, if you’re having trouble finding the right soap, visit the NEA’s website to find products that have been tested and approved by the NEA for eczema-prone skin.
Now that you have an idea of some of the ingredients and properties found in good soaps for eczema, let’s take a look at what you may want to avoid.
Like syndet, sulfates are surfactants, meaning they attract both oil and water. Because of this, they’re commonly found as foaming agents in soaps, as well as shampoos and detergents. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is one particular type of sulfate.
Unfortunately, while they’re good at cleansing, sulfates can also strip the skin’s natural oils. This causes dry skin, irritation, and sometimes allergic reactions — even in skin not affected by eczema. Therefore, it may be a good idea to opt for sulfate-free soaps for eczema-prone skin. Look for soaps labeled "SLS free."
More than 2,500 different types of chemicals can go into making a fragrance. Because of this, manufacturers often just list “perfume” in their ingredients. This makes it hard to pinpoint the specific chemicals in a soap that may cause irritation.
It’s estimated that 1 percent to 4 percent of the general population is sensitive to fragrances, while as many as 15 percent of people with contact dermatitis have fragrance sensitivities. As one MyEczemaTeam member noted, “I’ve found that scented soaps, detergents, etc., can be very irritating to my eczema.” For this reason, it may be safer to opt for soaps with their ingredients listed — so you know exactly what you’re getting. In this case, bland is better. Avoid products with dyes and fragrances, and stick with simple nonscented cleansers.
If you’re looking for a face cleanser, body wash, or hand soap that will hydrate your skin without aggravating eczema symptoms, the following nonprescription options have been formulated with skin sensitivities in mind.
This bar soap from Dove is made with a skin-sensitive formula that is free from irritating foaming agents, artificial colors, and artificial fragrance. The hypoallergenic formula includes moisturizing cream to keep your skin hydrated and prevent flare-ups caused by dry skin.
With a formula designed by dermatologists, CeraVe’s body wash is made to cleanse and calm your skin. Ingredients include three essential ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and omega oils, which CeraVe says are intended to restore your skin to its healthy, natural state. The soap also has no parabens, sulfates, or fragrances and is accepted by the National Eczema Association.
Along with the above cleansers, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology recommends these nonsoap cleansers for people with eczema because they’re free of sodium lauryl sulfate, which can cause irritation:
Proper handwashing is one of the directives given by the World Health Organization (WHO) to reduce the spread of infections, including the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. However, as you probably know, frequent hand-washing with a skin condition like eczema can cause your skin to become dry, cracked, itchy, and painful.
The following tips from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America can help you maintain healthy skin while protecting yourself and your loved ones from infection.
Increased contact with alcohol contained in hand sanitizers can irritate the skin. Hand-washing with a gentle cleanser is the better alternative, when possible.
Apply moisturizer after each hand-wash. Carry your moisturizer when you’re going out, and apply it immediately after washing your hands.
After washing your hands, pat them dry with a disposable towel or tissue. Do not rub your hands dry, as this can cause irritation.
If you wear disposable gloves, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America advises you to change them often and keep your hands clean.
If you worry the harsh soaps used in public places are not suitable for your hands, it may be a good idea to carry travel-size bottles of soap and moisturizer. Make sure to keep the outside surface of these containers clean to avoid spreading germs.
Many members of MyEczemaTeam, the social network for people living with eczema, have shared their experiences and tips on the best soaps to use.
Have you found soaps that work well or affect your skin? Looking for recommendations on what has worked for others? Check in with MyEczemaTeam. There are approximately 32,000 members of MyEczemaTeam seeking and sharing community advice and support. Comment below or create your MyEczemaTeam account to join the conversation.