Eczema is one of the most common skin conditions, affecting roughly 10% of all adults. While it can affect anyone, regardless of skin colour, it affects dark skin much more frequently and severely than Caucasian skin.
From dry and itchy skin, to fluid-filled bumps and lesions, eczema can affect any area of the body from the scalp to the soles of feet and to varying severities. A familiar concern for women of colour is the skin discolouration, or hyperpigmentation, triggered by eczema. These dark patches of darker brown, grey or purple skin can last for months, or even years.
With effective treatment both the eczema and resulting hyperpigmentation will disappear over time, but even when treated, eczema often re-occurs making a good skincare regimen essential to prevent or lessen further occurrences.
While it is easy to generalise eczema, like many common skin conditions, it is an umbrella term for several conditions, including some more common in women of colour, such as papular eczema.
Common types of eczema
Atopic dermatitisis the most common form of eczema. It usually starts in childhood, and often gets milder or disappears completely by adulthood. It causes a rash that often appears in the creases of skin such as elbows or knees. Skin may appear darker or thicker and small bumps may appear and leak fluid, easily getting infected. It can be a genetic condition, but can also be triggered by irritants, allergies or infection.
Papular eczema affects a disproportionately large number of people with dark skin. It is most common on the torso, arms and legs and causes small bumps to appear on the body around hair follicles, resembling permanent goosebumps. The bumps sometimes become filled with fluid which can lead to weeping lesions.
Contact dermatitis is a reaction to something that has touched the skin. There are two types of contact dermatitis – ‘allergic’ which is an immune system reaction, and ‘irritant’ which is a reaction a chemical or other irritant. It causes dry, itchy skin which burns and stings. Itchy bumps called hives may also appear along with fluid-filled blisters which may crust over. Over time the skin may thicken and feel scaly or leathery.
Dyshidrotic eczema causes small sore or itchy blisters to form on fingers, toes, palms, and soles of feet. The skin can crack and flake or feel scaly. It can be caused by allergies, damp skin, stress or exposure to substances such as nickel, cobalt, or chromium salt.
Hand eczema, unsurprisingly, only affects the hands. It is most common in women who work in jobs where chemicals are used regularly, such as hairdressing or cleaning. Symptoms include dry and itchy skin which may form cracks or blisters.
Neurodermatitis causes thick, scaly patches to appear on skin, typically on arms, legs, back of the neck, scalp, soles of feet, backs of hands and genitals. The skin can become very itchy, especially when you are relaxed or asleep. If the skin it scratched it can bleed and become infected.
Nummular eczema causes circular coin-sized spots to form on the skin. It looks very different to other types of eczema, and can be extremely itchy, resulting in scaly skin. It can be triggered by a reaction to an insect bite, or allergic reaction to metals or chemicals.
Eczema varies in severity from person to person. While the most aggressive symptoms of eczema where the skin has become severely infected may require medical treatment in the form of steroid creams, they are not recommended long term due to the damaging effect on the skin.
A good skincare regimen and using the right products is therefore essential help to minimise flare-ups and their severity, and at the same time reduce the resulting hyperpigmentation.
It is important to soak and moisturise skin during eczema flare-ups. Soaking the affected areas in lukewarm water for around 15–20 minutes can help hydrate the skin. The skin should be patted dry before applying a moisturising cream – never rub the skin as this can make the eczema worse.
A fragrance-free moisturiser such as Emeilleurq’s Tetrapeptide Intensive Moisturiser can be used several times a day. Containing organic shea, mango and cocoa butters, this this lipid-rich moisturiser nourishes dehydrated skin.
Products containing hyaluronic acid such as Emeillerq’s Mela Defense Crème are also particularly effective in treating eczema. The creme also contains sunflower, coconut and avocado oils which soothe, hydrate and nourish skin.
A cold compress can be applied to the skin to help alleviate pain or itchiness. Make sure to avoid rubbing, scratching or picking eczema as this can cause infection. Try to avoid any known triggers and when handling chemicals always use protective gloves. Wearing loose-fitting clothes made from soft fibres like cotton can also help to reduce flare-ups.