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Eczema in Adolescents

Medically reviewed by Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D.
Written by Alison Channon
Updated on June 10, 2021

KEY TAKEAWAYS:
  • Eczema frequently begins in childhood, but it can continue into adolescence and adulthood. Many people don’t “outgrow” childhood eczema.

  • Eczema can lead to emotional and social difficulties. Many teens and young adults with eczema experience embarrassment or social isolation.

  • Sticking to a treatment plan and skin care regimen can help manage eczema.


Eczema is a chronic, inflammatory skin condition where people develop dry, itchy, and scaly rashes. Eczema is not contagious. People with eczema, especially atopic dermatitis, have a less effective skin barrier that leads to dry skin and lets in irritants that trigger an abnormal reaction from the immune system. Read more about eczema.

Eczema can begin as early as the first few months of life – upwards of 90 percent of people with eczema develop the condition before age 5. About half of those with moderate or severe eczema also experience food allergies, asthma, and allergic rhinitis – commonly called hay fever. Many parents of young children with eczema are told they will “outgrow” eczema, sometimes by health care providers. While this may be the case for some children, many people continue to experience eczema as a chronic condition during adolescence and throughout their lives. The areas of skin affected by eczema can change from infancy to adolescence.


Emotional and Social Impact of Eczema on Teens

Beyond the physical discomforts of eczema, symptoms like itchy or scaly skin can negatively impact people’s emotional well-being and social life. Sleep is affected, as well as performance in school. Social isolation, stigma, and bullying are commonly reported by children and teens with eczema. These negative experiences can contribute to mental health problems in some young people.

A study of approximately 3,550 18- and 19-year-olds found that mental health problems were more prevalent in teens (especially girls) with eczema than those without.

While it’s common for teens to struggle with emotional difficulties related to eczema, many are able to become more accepting of their condition and grow in self-confidence over time. Speaking with a therapist or other mental health provider can help you manage difficult emotions related to eczema. If you have thoughts of self-harm, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.


Sticking to Eczema Treatment

Sticking to a regular eczema treatment routine as prescribed by a doctor is the best way to manage eczema over the long term, minimize flare-ups, and avoid infections. Sticking to a routine can be tricky for lots of reasons, especially for teens who are busy with school or other activities. Applying lotions, moisturizers, or treatments such as topical corticosteroids correctly can be time-consuming, and remembering to take medications can be challenging if you’re not used to a medication routine. It can also be frustrating when treatments don’t appear to be making a difference, or when it’s unclear why symptoms are getting better or worse.

Alongside the everyday challenges and frustrations of following a treatment routine, teens often don’t have enough information about eczema treatment. As responsibility for eczema care shifts away from parents to teens, they don’t always receive enough information or support from their doctors to make a smooth transition. The result of this knowledge gap can be improvised treatment routines that differ from doctor recommendation

One of the best things to do is take steps to be an active participant in your eczema care. A first action can be talking to your doctor about your treatment plan to ensure you understand all of the steps, what to expect, and how to know if it’s successful. It’s also important to remember that eczema is a complex and chronic skin disease that is not your fault, although there are things you can do to improve it. There is no quick fix. Managing eczema requires incorporating treatment and self-care practices into your daily habits.

Tips for Teens With Eczema

Making lifestyle adjustments to manage eczema can be difficult for everyone, especially teens and young adults. At an age when many people are exploring different modes of self-expression, it can be hard to accept that aspects of personal care such as hair color, fragrances, makeup, or jewelry may trigger eczema. Late nights and erratic sleep schedules, common among young adults, can worsen skin problems. Sticking to a good skin care regimen every day may seem burdensome at first, but over time it will just feel normal. Adopting a daily routine that protects your skin can help it stay its healthiest.

Limit Fragrances

Perfumes, colognes, and other fragrances are a common eczema trigger. While everyone wants to look — and smell — their best, choosing fragrance-free options and limiting your exposure to scented hair products, body washes, sprays, lotions, antiperspirants, deodorants, colognes, and perfumes can help reduce the chance of a flare. Bland is better, so choose plain products for skin with eczema.

Showering and Bathing

Long, hot showers or baths may be relaxing, but they can damage the skin barrier of people with eczema. Shorter — five to 10-minute — showers or baths in lukewarm water are better for the skin. Wash your body with a gentle, fragrance-free, non-soap cleanser and avoid harsh scrubbing.7 Wash your hair with fragrance-free shampoos and conditioners. Try your best to limit the amount of shampoo or conditioner that touches your skin — you can wash your hair in the sink instead of the shower or bath to avoid product touching your skin.

Once out of the shower or bath, gently pat your skin so it’s mostly but not completely dry — avoid harsh rubbing with a towel. Apply a generous amount of moisturizer within three minutes of toweling off. Wait for the moisturizer to absorb into the skin before getting dressed.

Makeup

Finding makeup that doesn’t irritate the skin can be challenging and highly individual. Depending on your specific sensitivities, you may need to avoid certain ingredients. One good bet is to avoid products with added fragrance.

Acne

Acne and eczema can be a tricky combination. Many acne products dry out the skin, because acne-prone skin tends to be oily. These over-the-counter and prescription acne treatments can make eczema worse. Conversely, some products used to treat eczema can cause acne, so be sure any moisturizer used on the face is noncomedogenic (does not clog pores). Talk with a dermatologist or allergist about what drugstore or prescription acne treatments can work for you.

Shaving and Hair Removal

Shaving, depilatory (hair removal) creams, and waxing can all be sources of skin irritation. Skip shaving foams and aftershaves. Instead use thicker lotion or cream to shave the face, legs, underarms, or any other part of the body. Your dermatologist can recommend a brand. If you’d like to explore other hair removal options like waxing, depilatory creams, or laser treatments, be sure to test the process on small area of the skin before trying on large areas.

Jewelry and Piercings

Pay attention to the metal content of earrings and other jewelry. Nickel, a metal commonly used in inexpensive jewelry, can cause itching and rashes. High-quality stainless steel and titanium jewelry for piercings is less likely to cause an allergic reaction.

Hair Coloring

It’s fun to experiment with highlights or new hair colors, but it’s important to remember that both at-home and salon hair dyes contain chemicals that may irritate the scalp, face, or neck. Try a small patch test before dying your hair to avoid widespread skin irritation.

Tattoos

People with eczema have a higher risk for allergic reactions to permanent and semi-permanent (henna) tattoos. If you want to get a tattoo, consider having a small patch test first — although it may not predict exactly how your skin will react to the procedure.

Stress

Stress is a common eczema flare trigger. If you notice that your eczema flares more during stressful periods, consider asking your doctor for stronger medication leading up to stressful events such as final exams. Also, it's easy to forget your skin-care routine during stressful times, so be sure to keep up with your treatments as best you can.

Late Nights

Some teens report that staying up late can exacerbate their eczema. You can still enjoy a night out, but it may be best to only stay out late when you’re able to sleep in the next day. It’s also important to note that alcohol can negatively interact with some eczema medications, particularly antibiotics and antihistamines. Recreational drugs can also be problematic. Talk with your doctor about any possible medication interactions.

Find Your Team

MyEczemaTeam is the social network for people with eczema and their loved ones. Here, more than 36,000 members from around the world come together to swap stories and advice, discuss daily life with eczema, and meet others who understand the diagnosis.

Do you have tips for managing eczema? Share your experience in the comments below or by posting on MyEczemaTeam.

References
  1. Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis). National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Retrieved from https://www.niaid.nih.gov/diseases-conditions/eczema-atopic-dermatitis. Accessed November 2019.
  2. Atopic Dermatitis: Symptoms. American Academy of Dermatology. Retrieved from https://www.aad.org/diseases/eczema/atopic-dermatitis-symptoms. Accessed November 2019.
  3. Dennis, H. (2019). Live Your Life: A Guide for Teenagers With Eczema. Live Your Life: A Guide for Teenagers With Eczema. London, England: National Eczema Society.
  4. Ghio, D., Muller, I., Greenwell, K., Roberts, A., Mcniven, A., Langan, S., & Santer, M. (2019). ‘Its like the bad guy in a movie who just doesnt die’: a qualitative exploration of young peoples adaptation to eczema and implications for self‐care. British Journal of Dermatology. doi: 10.1111/bjd.18046
  5. Eczema Prevalence, Quality of Life and Economic Impact. National Eczema Association. Retrieved from https://nationaleczema.org/research/eczema-facts/. Accessed November 2019.
  6. Halvorsen, J. A., Lien, L., Dalgard, F., Bjertness, E., & Stern, R. S. (2014). Suicidal Ideation, Mental Health Problems, and Social Function in Adolescents with Eczema: A Population-Based Study. Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 134(7), 1847–1854. doi: 10.1038/jid.2014.70
  7. How to use baths to manage your eczema. National Eczema Association. Retrieved from https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/treatment/bathing/. Accessed November 2019.



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Updated on June 10, 2021
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Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D. is a dermatologist at the Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here
Alison Channon has nearly a decade of experience writing about chronic health conditions, mental health, and women's health. Learn more about her here

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