Though it’s not so common, people can develop eczema later in life, even if they’ve never suffered from the chronic condition before. What's going on, and what can you do about it?
It’s tricky to diagnose or determine the main cause of adult-onset eczema, as everyone’s eczema presents differently. Overall, though, eczema in adults tends to act the same way as most variants of eczema: inflammation plus a faulty skin barrier makes skin dry, sore, and insanely itchy.
What causes adult-onset eczema?
Most people living with eczema can hardly remember not having it, and more often than not eczema starts at a very young age. About 1 in 5 children have childhood eczema, but most outgrow it as they get older. When diagnosed in adults, however, the condition tends to persist, meaning that it’s something they might always be prone to, even if flares come and go.
Studies have shown that adult-onset eczema is more common than one would expect, and it tends to present differently than when diagnosed in childhood.
Physiological changes to the skin as it ages is likely to be the main culprit; as the skin structure changes over the years, wrinkles start to form, and the skin becomes more fragile, less elastic, and more sensitive to damage and irritation, as well as slower to heal.
Add general health and well-being to the mix, and anything from hormonal changes to developing allergies can make people more susceptible to experiencing eczema for the first time.
Equally, if your diet changes or you’re lacking the right kind of nutrients – which again is something that changes with age – then you could be more prone to developing adult-onset eczema.
A first incidence of eczema might follow a newly diagnosed medical condition like diabetes, or any other chronic illness which brings about changes to your physiology. Starting new medication can also impact your skin.
Eczema can also be triggered by environmental changes such as moving from a soft to a hard water area, moving from an arid to a humid climate or vice-versa; even just the seasons changing can trigger eczema flare-ups!
So, it’s important to keep on top of what your body needs. Learning to recognise its cries for help will put you on a good path towards living with your skin condition more comfortably, even if you can’t cure it.
What's different about adult-onset eczema?
What’s interesting, however, is that eczema in adults tends to occur in different places on the body than it does in younger sufferers. While that may sound strange, it seems that it’s much more common for adults to develop eczema in creases and folds; that includes the backs of knees, the insides of elbows, around the neck area, and especially around eyes and eyelids.
Aged skin that has lived more won’t be as resilient as it once was; the skin becomes thinner and loses fat, making it even harder to retain or even absorb moisture. This can lead to leathery patches where the eczema has occurred, and often the skin can darken, too – in particular around the eye area. This can be especially hard to manage, so when using products, you should be extra mindful of what you’re putting on the extremely sensitive skin around your eyes.
Unfortunately, this does not exclude any other patches of skin that are especially prone to eczema - like your face, hands and feet - so don’t forget to pay them attention, too!
Managing adult-onset eczema
As with any eczema, finding strategies that work for you is key to managing the condition.
Even if you’ve never had to worry much about what you put on your skin up til now, it’s possible that you’ll need to change your skincare favourites as you move into later life. Try switching to hypoallergenic, unscented toiletries and cosmetics, paying extra attention to daily moisturising, and adding an enriching facial oil to your routine. Your newly-sensitive skin is likely to need extra hydration, and to avoid ingredients that could cause irritation.
Adult-onset eczema and mental health
We’ve already mentioned the physical challenges of living with eczema, but it can have a profound effect on your psyche. Remember that you are not alone in your skin struggle: there are babies, children, teenagers, adults and elderly sufferers who feel your pain and may even have some insightful ways on how to hold your own. Do some research into your condition so you be two steps ahead; find a blog or someone to talk to that faces a similar struggle.
Finally, as silly as it sounds, not caring about what others think and talking openly and honestly about condition is one of the best things you can do for your mental health! Look at your skin in all its individuality as the beautiful canvas of a well-lived life.
Recommended products for eczema-prone skin:
Skin Salvation balm with beeswax, hemp & chamomile (from £7.99 for 30ml)
Balmonds Daily Moisturising Cream with shea butter, hemp & calendula (from £13.99 for 100ml)
Balmonds Bath & Body Oil with lavender, hemp & chamomile (£12.99 for 200ml)
If you require medical advice we recommend you always contact your healthcare professional.
If you or someone you are caring for seems very unwell, is getting worse or you think there's something seriously wrong, call for emergency services straight away. For general medical advice, please contact your healthcare professional, this article does not contain or replace medical advice.
Do not delay getting help if you're worried. Trust your instincts.