Skip to Content

View Additional Content In This Section

Atopic Dermatitis: Taking Care of Your Skin

Introduction

Key points

Good skin care is an essential part of controlling the itch and rash of atopic dermatitis. To help prevent a cycle of itching, scratching, and rash, you can:

  • Keep your skin hydrated and avoid dry skin.
  • Avoid skin irritants.
 

Atopic dermatitis is a long-lasting (chronic) skin condition that causes intense itching and then a red, raised rash. It usually develops in early childhood and continues into the teen years. Adults also may have it or have milder symptoms than they did as children, along with sensitive-skin problems.

If you have atopic dermatitis, your skin is very sensitive to irritants and is prone to becoming itchy and developing a rash. Scratching may seem to relieve the itch. But scratching often results in a rash and leads to a self-perpetuating cycle of itching, scratching, and rash.

Test Your Knowledge

Scratching helps soothe atopic dermatitis itch.

  • True
    This answer is incorrect.

    Although scratching is the most natural response to an itch, it is also the most damaging. With each scratch, the skin becomes more inflamed and damaged, making the itch worse than before. Over time, the skin can become raw and infected or thick and leathery (lichenification), either of which makes it harder for the skin to heal.

  • False
    This answer is correct.

    Although scratching is the most natural response to an itch, it is also the most damaging. With each scratch, the skin becomes more inflamed and damaged, making the itch worse than before. Over time, the skin can become raw and infected or thick and leathery (lichenification), either of which makes it harder for the skin to heal.

  •  

Continue to Why?

 

Skin affected by atopic dermatitis (atopic skin) must be kept well hydrated. Although researchers have yet to fully understand the causes of atopic dermatitis, it is known that skin dryness plays a big part in symptoms getting worse.

Dry, atopic skin:

  • Is overly sensitive to irritants.
  • Is less able to hold moisture.

Keeping the skin hydrated makes atopic skin:

  • Less sensitive to irritants.
  • More responsive to medicine treatment.

Test Your Knowledge

After I find the right medicine for atopic dermatitis, I won't have to be so careful about skin care.

  • True
    This answer is incorrect.

    Keeping skin well lubricated and hydrated is important when treating atopic dermatitis. For medicine to be effective, it must be well absorbed by healthy, moisturized skin. Sometimes good skin care is all that is needed to control a mild itch and rash.

  • False
    This answer is correct.

    Keeping skin well lubricated and hydrated is important when treating atopic dermatitis. For medicine to be effective, it must be well absorbed by healthy, moisturized skin. Sometimes good skin care is all that is needed to control a mild itch and rash.

  •  

Continue to How?

 

Good skin care is an essential part of controlling the itch and rash of atopic dermatitis. To help prevent a cycle of scratching, itching, and rash, keep your skin hydrated and identify and avoid skin irritants.

Keeping your skin hydrated

To care for your skin:

  • Soak in clean, lukewarm water for 3 to 5 minutes. Your skin will absorb water and still retain its natural oils. Losing the natural oils makes the skin drier. You may shower when atopic dermatitis is under control or when an outbreak is mild.
  • Avoid washing with soap during every bath. When soap is needed, use a gentle, nondrying product, such as Cetaphil, CeraVe, or Aveeno. Use soap regularly only on the underarms, groin, and feet, and rinse immediately afterward. Don't let children affected by atopic dermatitis sit in soapy water.
  • Avoid adding bath oils and bubble bath to the bathwater, because they can reduce your skin's ability to absorb water.
  • Avoid using scrub brushes or washcloths.
  • Pat your skin dry after a bath or shower. While your skin is still moist or even wet, apply a moisturizer immediately—within 3 minutes of leaving the bath or shower. Waiting longer allows the skin to dry out.
  • Apply the moisturizer several times a day.
  • In warm, humid climates, greasy lotions or moisturizers may block sweat glands and make your skin uncomfortable. For greater comfort, use:
    • An oil-free moisturizer, such as Cetaphil.
    • Cream-based medicines and cream moisturizers, such as CeraVe.
  • Talk to your doctor about using a wet bandage over the affected area. It can help relieve symptoms but may not be a good idea if medicine is being used on the skin.

Moisturizers include Aquaphor, Eucerin, or Purpose. Or you may want to try a skin barrier repair moisturizer, such as CeraVe or TriCeram, that can help with burning, itching, and redness. For severe dryness, try petroleum jelly, mineral oil, or an all-vegetable shortening such as Crisco.

Avoiding skin irritants

Try to avoid skin irritants, such as:

  • Many soaps, lotions, and perfumes. Use a fragrance-free mild laundry detergent when you wash clothes, and rinse the clothes twice.
  • Scratchy clothing or bedding, such as wool and some acrylics. Cottons and cotton blends may be more comfortable.
  • Places with low humidity.
  • Sunburn.
  • Sudden changes of temperature.
  • Excessive sweating. Choose clothing and bedding fabrics that air can flow through easily. This will keep sweat from building up on your skin and irritating it.
  • Exercising in the heat of the day. Swimming may be a good choice for exercise. But be sure to wash and moisturize right away after pool use. The chemicals used in swimming pools can be irritating.
  • Emotional stress.

Test Your Knowledge

Daily washing with soap and water is an important part of skin care for atopic dermatitis.

  • True
    This answer is incorrect.

    While soaking in clean, lukewarm water is important for hydrating the skin, soaking too long or washing with soap removes the skin's layer of natural oils.

  • False
    This answer is correct.

    While soaking in clean, lukewarm water is important for hydrating the skin, soaking too long or washing with soap removes the skin's layer of natural oils.

  •  

Continue to Where?

 

For more information about skin care for atopic dermatitis, talk to your:

If you would like more information on skin care for atopic dermatitis, the following resources are available:

Organizations

American Academy of Dermatology
P.O. Box 4014
Schaumburg, IL  60168
Phone: 1-866-503-SKIN (1-866-503-7546) toll-free
(847) 240-1280
Fax: (847) 240-1859
Email: MRC@aad.org
Web Address: www.aad.org
 

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) provides information about the care of skin. You can locate a dermatologist in your area by using their "Find a Dermatologist" tool. Or you can read the latest news in dermatology. "SPOT Skin Cancer" is the AAD's program to reduce deaths from melanoma. There is also a link called "Skin Conditions" that has information about many common skin problems.


National Eczema Association for Science and Education
4460 Redwood Hwy
Suite 16-D
San Rafael, CA  94903-1953
Phone: (800) 818-7546
(415) 499-3474
Fax: (415) 472-5345
Email: info@nationaleczema.org
Web Address: www.nationaleczema.org
 

The U.S. National Eczema Association for Science and Education works to improve the health and quality of life of people living with atopic dermatitis/eczema.


SkinCarePhysicians.org
P.O. Box 4014
Schaumburg, IL 60618-4014
Phone: 1-866-503-SKIN (1-866-503-7546) toll-free
Fax: (847) 240-1859
Web Address: www.aad.org
 

This Web site from the American Academy of Dermatology provides information on the treatment and management of skin diseases. There are links to information about acne, actinic keratoses, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, skin cancer, and aging skin. There are also links to other resources, such as how to find a dermatologist in your area.


Return to topic:

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Amy McMichael, MD - Dermatology
Last Revised April 17, 2012

Last Revised: April 17, 2012

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2013 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

2650 Siskiyou Blvd., Medford, OR 97504

541-789-7000