Skincare Ingredients To Avoid If You Have Eczema

Your skin is your largest organ and the most extensive barrier between your body and the outside world. To fortify this barrier and keep your body functioning at its best, it's crucial to have a daily skincare routine. A well-formulated skincare routine not only keeps your skin clean and clear of hazardous microorganisms, but it also helps maintain your skin's overall health, prevents premature aging, and keeps you looking youthful for longer, according to Northstar Dermatology. However, because no two people's skin is the same, individuals with different skin issues have distinct skincare routines. The ingredients that work for some people might spell trouble for others — especially those with a chronic skin disease such as eczema.

A type of dermatitis and a lifelong inflammatory condition, eczema causes your skin to dry out, swell, and develop itchy, leathery patches that can erupt in occasional flare-ups, according to Cleveland Clinic. Rashes are among the most common symptoms of eczema. Those with eczema have a compromised skin barrier function and do not respond well to many skincare ingredients. Even the most innocent act of cleansing their face can give them a painful flare-up if their cleanser contains irritating ingredients. For those with eczema, the only way to avoid skin woes is to not use products that could trigger an allergic reaction. But what skincare ingredients should you dodge if you have eczema?


Made from sheep's wool, lanolin boasts immense hydrating effects and is excellent in improving rough and flaky skin. Unfortunately, lanolin can be an allergen for eczema. Instead of soothing and softening, lanolin can cause allergic reactions in eczematous skin, contributing to more flare-ups, dermatologist Dr. Jeff Yu tells The National Eczema Association. In a 2016 study published in Contact Dermatitis, researchers discovered that nearly half of 1,012 Dutch children with eczema, aged 0 to 17, showed sensitivities to lanolin alcohol and fragrances.

When searching for moisturizing lotions or serums, those with eczema or those who are allergic to wool should steer clear of products containing lanolin. Instead, look out for moisturizing ingredients that are friendly to eczema-prone skin, such as hyaluronic acid, oat or shea butter, glycerin, aloe, petrolatum, vitamin E, humectants, and niacinamide. Since lanolin is slightly comedogenic, it should not be used on congested pores or troubled skin, dermatologist Dr. Maryam Zamani tells Byrdie. Lanolin is great to use on intact skin, but make sure to use it in moderation to avoid an excessive sebum buildup that can lead to oily skin.


Alcohol — or ethanol — is one of the most frequently cited substances that causes eczema reactions. According to a study published in the British Journal of Dermatology, researchers discovered that a great number of patients with eczema were heavy alcohol drinkers. When applied topically, alcohol can also trigger eczema symptoms. Alcohol is often added to skincare products to help preserve the ingredients, increase the penetration of the substances, and make the product feel lightweight and cooling during application, dermatopathologist Gretchen Frieling tells Everyday Health. However, for those with sensitive skin or eczema, alcohol in general can dry out the skin and aggravate your symptoms.

Whether you have eczema or not, alcohol can cause systemic inflammation to your skin, dehydrating it and creating redness and flushing. Having said that, many alcohols — such as stearyl, cetearyl, and cetyl alcohol — are deemed safe to use in cosmetics. To err on the safe side, cosmetic chemist Dr. Shuting Hu (via HelloGiggles) recommends using skincare products with an alcohol content of no more than 1%, as products with such a low concentration of alcohol are unlikely to irritate the skin. Anyone with dry and sensitive skin may experience irritation or dehydration from any product with an alcohol level higher than 1%.

Synthetic fragrances

Synthetic fragrances are usually added to personal care products to mask the medicinal smell of other ingredients and make the products smell nicer. However, skincare or cosmetic products spiked with fragrances can infuriate eczema. The American Academy of Dermatology lists fragrance as one of the most common causes of eczema, affecting roughly one percent of the population. Any product with synthetic fragrances or organic scents has the potential to induce skin sensitization and aggravate your eczema symptoms, according to Balcones Dermatology & Aesthetics. Essential oils typically contain skin-irritating compounds, so they should also be kept out of your skincare routine.

If you have eczema or sensitive skin, it's best to steer clear of scented products altogether and opt for products labeled as "fragrance-free" — meaning they don't contain chemicals that add scent to the product. "Sensitive skin is almost universally found in the same people who may experience rosacea, eczema, dry skin, allergies and asthma," dermatologist Dr. Shari Marchbein tells InStyle. There's no precise way to predict if a fragrance in a skincare product irritates your skin. If you have eczema and you're in doubt, conduct a patch test first or consult your dermatologist before use.

Retinoids and retinol

When it comes to fighting acne breakouts and improving the appearance of wrinkles, retinoids and retinol are considered the game-changer in the skincare world. However, these vitamin A derivatives can be bad news for those with eczematous skin. According to dermatologist Dr. Michele Green (via Well+Good), retinoids can dry out and irritate eczema-prone skin, triggering red, itchy skin rash. However, adopting a few precautions might help you lessen the negative impact of retinoids and retinol on your skin. 

For eczema patients hoping to try out liquid serums or creams containing retinoids for the treatment of photoaging or mild acne, Dr. Raj Chovatiya, assistant professor of dermatology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, recommends starting out with retinol — a milder version of retinoids."Retinols are a better initial choice compared to prescription-strength retinoids," Dr. Chovatiya tells The National Eczema Association. Since over-the-counter retinol products have lower potency compared to retinoids, they are less likely to cause severe side effects. To start, apply a pea-sized amount of your retinol formula to your face for only one or two days per week. If your skin can tolerate the product, you can gradually increase the frequency.  

Propylene glycol

A humectant and a conditioner obtained from petroleum, propylene glycol is excellent in boosting moisture retention in the skin and the hair, keeping the skin hydrated, smooth, and supple. However, propylene glycol is a common trigger for allergic responses in people with eczema, sensitive skin, or a history of allergies, according to dermatologist Joshua Zeichner (via Healthline). 

In a 1982 study published in the journal Hautarzt, 248 eczema sufferers were patch-tested with propylene glycol at 100%, 20%, and 2% concentrations in water. According to the findings, two of the five patients developed an itchy eczematous outbreak after consuming 15 mL of propylene glycol. Even when you don't have eczema, slathering up with propylene glycol on a daily basis can trigger skin woes. Although it's deemed generally safe by the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA), propylene glycol was named the "Allergen of the Year for 2018" by the American Contact Dermatitis Society, per a study in the journal Dermatitis. If you've been prescribed propylene glycol, use it in sparse amounts as instructed and don't use it for more than the required time.