Can You Grow Out of Eczema? We Asked Derms

We have good news and bad news.

If you're a parent of a child with eczema, or suffer from it yourself, you're probably all too familiar with the infuriatingly fickle skin condition. According to the National Eczema Association, over 31 million Americans are affected by some form of eczema, typically presented as dry, discolored (often red), swelling, and/or oozing patches along the skin.

"Itchiness is another hallmark symptom," says Joshua Zeichner, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. "It usually develops on the inside of the elbows and behind the knees; however, it can occur almost anywhere on the body."

But eczema looks different on everyone, which is why it's still a mystery to even the most well-versed dermatologists. While some only remember it as a childhood experience, others never really seem to shake it off. But where exactly does eczema come from, and does it ever really go away? Here, Dr. Zeichner helps us break down the causes and effects of this all-too-common and often discomforting skin condition.

What causes eczema?

"Eczema occurs when the skin barrier cannot adequately protect itself from the environment, leading to microscopic cracks, loss of hydration, and inflammation," explains Dr. Zeichner.

He says eczema is typically passed down through genes, but in some cases may result from or be exacerbated by allergens, cold, dry weather conditions, and even certain skincare practices. "This includes over-scrubbing and using formulas that contain harsh ingredients, such as hydroxy acid or retinol, which can lead to direct irritation with skin barrier disruption," he explains.

Proper bathing is especially important for those suffering eczema. "Excessive exposure to water, especially at hot temperatures, can strip the skin of oils essential for proper barrier function, making matters worse," Dr. Zeichner cautions. He recommends keeping showers short (10 minutes or less) and temperatures around what you'd expect a heated pool to feel like in the summertime. "Then make sure to apply moisturizer immediately afterward."

Can someone outgrow eczema?

Technically, yes—usually if they were born with it. In a study from the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, most eczema will present itself in early childhood. The good news? Most babies who develop eczema in the first few months of life will show improvements by the age of 3, and around two-thirds of them will suffer only occasional breakouts or completely outgrow their symptoms by their teen years. Even when it does appear in adults, it tends to be milder.

can-you-grow-out-of-eczema: woman scratching back
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However, a small percentage of babies who develop eczema will not outgrow it. And in certain instances of adult onset, eczema does develop after individuals turn 18. In fact, the National Eczema Association finds that roughly one in four adults with eczema report initial symptoms coming on later in life. "When eczema is caused by genetics or developed as an adult, it can have longer-lasting effects, with flare-ups occurring throughout life," says Dr. Zeichner. "If the eczema is caused by external factors like dry weather or irritating skincare products, it will usually improve once the aggressor is eliminated."

What's the best treatment for eczema?

According to Dr. Zeichner, eczema is often dealt with in one of two ways. "First, you'll want to repair the skin barrier using good moisturizers, ideally with ceramides (lipid-restoring) or colloidal oatmeal (soothing). Second, you'll want to reduce the inflammation, in which case over-the-counter anti-inflammatory creams can be useful," he advises.

In the event that over-the-counter treatments are not helping, Dr. Zeichner suggests visiting a board-certified dermatologist for prescription treatment options. It is possible to keep the rashes at bay— even if it's something you won't grow out of.

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