I've Had Eczema Almost My Entire Life — Here's What It's Really Like to Live With

Courtesy of Lucy Abbersteen
Courtesy of Lucy Abbersteen
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Like roughly 10 percent of the US population, I have eczema. It first appeared when I was around three months old. Now that I'm an adult, It's manageable mainly, though it does flare up occasionally, causing my skin to break out in that tell-tale itchy red rash and subsequent dryness.

Usually, it appears in the crooks of my elbows and sometimes in patches on my legs, ankles, hands, and the center of my neck. Changes in the weather (especially when it's hot), allergies and hay fever, and stress are all triggers for me, but I'm mostly able to manage these flares. When I was younger, however, it was a very different story.

In my first few years, my eczema was prevalent. It was constantly sore on my hands, legs, and ankles. Thinking back, I really feel for my mom; getting a baby to sleep can be difficult at the best of times, but getting a baby with eczema to sleep takes it to new heights. I don't remember, but she used to cover me in over-the-counter moisturizers, desperately trying to keep the itchy, dry skin at bay. Every night, she'd put me in mittens to prevent me from scratching and a sleep suit with feet to protect the angriest areas of skin. Though there were times it was "less bad," she says there was never a point when I was eczema-free as a toddler.

Throughout my childhood, I can vividly remember disliking spending time outdoors because things like heat, wearing sun cream, or sitting in grass (particularly) always made my skin more itchy. I knew I was "supposed" to enjoy being outside — and don't get me wrong, I still played with friends — but I much preferred being indoors or, at recess, being in a shady area on the playground. This made me far less likely to spend the afternoon scratching my skin.

Courtesy of Lucy Abbersteen

If you have eczema, too, you know that it's a vicious cycle: itching is so difficult to resist, but the more you itch, the worse it gets. It can feel relentless. I grew to loathe the process of moisturizing the skin on my body as it often initially made the itchy feeling worse before the lotion soaked in. As a teen, I avoided applying it unless I had to — precisely the opposite of what eczema-prone skin needs, but I had little skin-care knowledge back then, and my focus was on being itch-free wherever possible.

For most of my teenage years, from 11 to 16, the eczema was persistent on my arms but looked most severe on my legs. It would be itchy as it healed and though I tried to resist, scratching would cause it to bleed and scab. To my knowledge, I don't think it ever got infected, but as a teen, I was very self-conscious of how it looked. I would rarely wear anything that meant my legs were on display, and if I did, I would wear tights, even at the height of summer. Though I have a small amount of scarring from that time, I've had little-to-no eczema on my legs in my twenties — although, in what turned out to be some pretty helpful irony, it flared up on my arms, hands, and legs recently.

At 29, I have a good handle on my eczema symptoms; working this out is a fairly personal process. It's taken some trial and error to find what works best on my skin. Steroid creams are a hot topic, but I personally have no issues when I use them occasionally to help manage any breakout "rashy" areas. I also try to avoid very hot showers where possible during a flare-up.

When my skin is dry and itchy, I use La Roche-Posay's Cicaplast Baume B5 ($20). Recently, my hands were so sore that they looked almost sunburnt, but applying a thick layer of this really took this down. I wish CeraVe had been around when I was younger; the Moisturizing Lotion ($15) is great for general use, while I use the thicker Moisturizing Cream ($19) on areas that are prone to getting very dry. Both are plain, gentle, and formulated with ceramides to support healthy skin barrier function. (Though I've not used it, I know the brand has an eczema-specific range in the US, too.) It's easy to see why so many dermatologists recommend both brands.

Between getting older and a societal shift in attitudes around how we look, I'm fortunate that I feel far less bothered by my eczema being visible; I don't think I even own a pair of nude tights anymore. As for moisturizing, I'm better at that, too. Now that I'm a beauty editor, I've heard from enough dermatologists over the years how important it is to look after the skin barrier, especially when you have eczema. The phrase "self care" is used a lot, but rather than being a chore, I now see it as a way of looking after myself and my skin.

Lucy Abbersteen is a London-based freelance beauty editor with eight years of experience in the industry. She started her career at Marie Claire UK and has since written for several outlets, including Refinery29 UK, Woman & Home, and PS.