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Atopic dermatitis - self-care


Dermatitis - atopic on the arms
Hyperlinearity in atopic dermatitis - on the palm


Eczema is a chronic skin disorder characterized by scaly and itchy rashes. Atopic dermatitis is the most common type.

Atopic dermatitis is due to a skin reaction pattern, similar to an allergy that causes long-term inflammation of the skin. Most people with atopic dermatitis also are missing certain proteins from the surface of the skin. These proteins are important in maintaining the skin barrier function. As a result, their skin is more easily irritated by minor irritants.

Taking care of your skin at home may reduce the need for medicines.

Alternative names

Eczema - self-care

Help for Itching and Scratching

Try not to scratch the rash or your skin in the inflamed area.

Antihistamines taken by mouth may help with itching if you have allergies. Often you can buy them over-the-counter. Some antihistamines can cause sleepiness. But they may help with scratching while you sleep. Newer antihistamines cause little or no sleepiness. However, they may not be as effective in controlling the itch. These include:

Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or hydroxyzine may be taken at nighttime to relieve itching and allow for sleep.

Day-to-day Skin Care

Keep your skin lubricated or moisturized. Use ointment (such as petroleum jelly), cream, or lotion 2 to 3 times a day. Moisturizers should be free of alcohol, scents, dyes, fragrances, or chemicals you know you are allergic to. Having a humidifier in the home may also help.

Moisturizers and emollients work best when they are applied to skin that is wet or damp. These products soften the skin and help it retain moisture. After washing or bathing, pat the skin dry and then apply the moisturizer right away.

Different types of emollients or moisturizers may be used at different times of the day. For the most part, you can apply these substances as often as you need to keep your skin soft.

Avoid anything that makes your symptoms worse. These may include:

When washing or bathing:

The rash itself, as well as the scratching, often causes breaks in the skin and may lead to infection. Keep an eye out for redness, warmth, swelling, or other signs of infection.

Medicines From Your Doctor

Topical corticosteroids are medicines used to treat conditions where your skin becomes red, sore, or inflamed. "Topical" means you place it on your skin. Topical corticosteroids may also be called topical steroids or topical cortisones. These medicines help "calm" your skin when it is irritated. Your provider will tell you how much of this medicine to use and how often. Do not use more medicine or use it more often than you are told.

You may need other prescription medicines such as barrier repair creams. These help to replenish the normal surface of your skin and rebuild the broken barrier.

Your provider may give you other medicines to use on your skin or take by mouth. Be sure to follow the directions carefully.

When to Call the Doctor

Contact your provider if:


Dinulos JGH. Atopic dermatitis. In: Dinulos JGH, ed. Habif's Clinical Dermatology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 5.

Eichenfield LF, Boguniewicz M, Simpson EL, et al. Translating atopic dermatitis management guidelines into practice for primary care providers. Pediatrics. 2015;136(3):554-565. PMID: 26240216

James WD, Elston DM, Treat JR, Rosenbach MA, Neuhaus IM. Eczema, atopic dermatitis, and noninfectious immunodeficiency disorders. In: James WD, Elston DM, Treat JR, Rosenbach MA, Neuhaus IM, eds. Andrews' Diseases of the Skin: Clinical Dermatology. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 5.

Ong PY. Atopic dermatitis. In: Kellerman RD, Rakel DP, Heidelbaugh JJ, Lee EM, eds. Conn's Current Therapy 2023. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2023:1045-1048.


Review Date: 6/7/2023  

Reviewed By: Elika Hoss, MD, Assistant Professor of Dermatology, Mayo Clinic, Scottsdale, AZ. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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