Being comfortable in your own skin is tough when you’ve got uncomfortable skin. Accurate diagnosis and treatment is paramount to addressing the cause and providing relief so that you can put your best face forward.
Some conditions have similar symptoms and may be difficult to tell apart. Improper treatment can exacerbate the condition and prolong healing time. While a dermatologist can, of course, diagnose dry skin, acne or eczema, there are some signs and factors that can help you determine your own skin condition.
Inflammation is one of the body’s natural responses to irritation, caused by an increase of blood and fluid (which bring immune cells and nutrients) to an area. The increase in fluid often results in puffiness or swelling, redness and/or temperature increase.
How inflammation presents can help differentiate dry skin, acne and eczema.
Dry skin causes the least amount of irritation and, hence, inflammation. Typically, the only time dry skin gets inflamed is when the tightness or itchiness causes you to scratch and/or tear the skin.
With acne, bacterial overgrowth causes the immune reaction. Inflammation is typically localized at the site of infection—i.e., blemishes.
Eczema has the most pronounced inflammatory response. The skin is often both dry and flaky and puffy or swollen with red, warm spots and small fluid-filled blisters that may ooze.
In many cases, inflammation is an acute response that will subside when the immune system has neutralized an irritant. For eczema, however, the inflammation is often so pronounced that anti-inflammatory medications such as cortisone are used to manage the itching and irritation.
Another factor that can help you distinguish between acne, dry skin and eczema are the irritants that incite their presentation.
Acne is caused by an overproduction of bacteria that are normally present on/in the skin. These bacteria react with sebum (your skin’s natural oils), causing blemishes. In an open pore, the sebum oxidizes, turning black, hence the development of a blackhead. If the bacteria and sebum are trapped in a closed pore, the result is a whitehead. Generally, whiteheads have a small ring of red at the base due to inflammation as your immune system moves in to the area to localize and eradicate the bacterial infection. Gently cleansing and avoiding touching your face is encouraged to minimize the spread of bacteria (and acne) to other areas of your face.
Dry skin is caused by loss of moisture from the skin. The irritant in this case is usually environmental, such as drier air and colder temperatures. Over-bathing, showering in hot water, soaking in chlorinated pools and using drying topical products like alcohol and strong concentrations of salicylic acid all increase moisture evaporation at the skin’s surface. For most cases of dry skin, discontinued use or exposure to irritants, along with application of moisturizers and increased water consumption will alleviate the condition.
Eczema does not flare up in response to any single irritant. For some people, eczema can be attributed to a specific irritant such as a detergent; for others, dietary choices may be irritants as eczema is often also associated with allergies or food intolerances.
Acne, dry skin and eczema may also be side effects of medication and/or signs of an endocrine disruption or other medical condition. If the condition persists for weeks after all known irritants have been removed, you should see your doctor or dermatologists.
It may be possible to rule out a certain kind of skin condition based on your skin’s response to different types of topical applications. For instance:
Moisturizers (along with increased fluid intake and a balanced diet that includes essential fatty acids) will remedy dry skin. However, applying thick moisturizing creams can exacerbate acne as the increased oils lead to more clogged pores and bacterial infection. Moisturizers typically have little to no effect on eczema.
Acne is the only skin condition that may improve with ointments or other topical creams intended to reduce excess oil and/or eliminate bacterial. These products are likely to worsen both dry skin and eczema.
Topical anti-inflammatory medication, such as cortisone, will reduce redness for both acne and eczema. However, because long-term use can cause rebound inflammation and the ointment is not formulated to keep the pores clear, it is not recommended for acne and should only be used for short-term treatment by those suffering from eczema flare up.
Hale Cosmeceuticals has a number of topical skincare products that are formulated for dry skin, oily, acne-prone skin and those with sensitive skin. To find cleansers, moisturizers and other treatments that can relieve inflammation, take our personal skincare assessment and contact us to order.