Living in a northern climate is brutal on your skin. From November to April you feel like you’re part snake, part dog with fleas – dry and itchy. When I was younger a little lotion was all I needed to get through the winter but now that I’m 40 my skin care regime is much more complicated.
Five winters ago I noticed a red circle between my eyebrows. I was a lifeguard as a kid and growing up in the 80s, I didn’t use sunscreen as much as I should have and therefore this little red circle sent a wave of panic through my body. It wasn’t skin cancer. It was eczema or dermatitis. I got some topical steroid cream prescribed and a few weeks later it was gone.
The next winter the circle was back and it brought some buddies with it. This time the steroid cream didn’t work. It lessened the redness and soothed the itchiness but the eczema patches remained. By the following winter the problem was bad enough that people began asking about it. It was really embarrassing. Back to the dermatologist to learn there really isn’t much a person can do to combat eczema. For extreme cases there are extreme measures but my situation was more vanity than emergency. She gave me a list of suggestions and another prescription for steroid cream.
Last winter the problem was the worst it had ever been. The patches covered most of my eyebrows, hairline and cheeks. It was at an eye-exam that I found out why it had gone so far. My optometrist asked about it and it turned out she also battles with the same problem. She asked if I was using topical steroid cream. I said yes. She asked if I was using it sparingly. I paused. Then she confessed that like me, when the cream wasn’t working, she just used more even though as a medical professional, she knew that wasn’t a good idea. Turns out if you use too much it creates swelling instead of reducing it. She said to be patient and follow the dermatologist’s suggestions.
This winter I religiously followed this facial skin care regime and I have no visible patches of eczema on my face. It is still dry and itchy but it isn’t red and flaky.
Don’t Rub or Scratch
This is the most important step to follow. As I was told, Eczema is the itch that rashes. Controlling the impulse to relieve the itch is no small feat but it is imperative. If you scratch or rub, it will flare up and once it does, that rash really doesn’t want to go away. Taking an antihistamine can help if the itching is driving you crazy.
Use Gentle Soap
This was a tough one for me because, quite frankly, I’m lazy. I don’t have much hair so I wanted to use body soap from head to toe. Turns out this is not a great idea for people with sensitive skin. Now I use gentle soap for people with sensitive skin. No particular brand name works better than any other.
Vaseline at Night – Facial Lotion in the Day
You can use Vaseline or any petroleum jelly in the day but I find it feels gross and looks ridiculous. At night I use Vaseline to seal in moisture. In the day I use facial lotion. If I know I’m going to be outside I’ll use the SPF stuff but otherwise I don’t because I don’t like the SPF odour.
Use Topical Steroids As Directed
Topical steroids only do their job when you use them properly. I learned this the hard way. When my dry skin is extremely itchy or gets that hard-shell feeling that eczema does before it is about to break out, I use topical steroids. I only use the medicine as directed for a couple of days until the eczema is at a point where I can manage it without steroids. I’ve only had to do this twice this winter. I use steroid cream in the morning because it is lighter and doesn’t feel greasy. It does have an unpleasant odour but the benefit outweighs the inconvenience. At night I use steroid ointment which is really just medicated petroleum jelly.