Dealing with eczema on skin of color? It can show up differently depending on your skin tone. Learn about the symptoms of eczema and your treatment options.

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Eczema On Skin Of Color: Appearance, Symptoms, And Treatment

04/24/20238 min read

Your skin color is part of what makes you you. But when it comes to eczema, it’s important to remember that it can appear differently depending on the shade of your beautiful skin. If you’re curious about eczema on skin of color, stick around.

In this article, we’ll discuss the appearance of eczema on skin of color as well as symptoms of this common skin condition. Then, you’ll read several tips for treating your eczema and easing the discomfort. But before that, we’ll do a quick review of eczema and skin of color in general.

Table Of Contents

Eczema And Skin Of Color

Young woman touching her skin

Eczema is an umbrella term for several skin conditions, but the most common form is scientifically known as atopic dermatitis. This is what people typically refer to when they say “eczema.”

Symptoms of atopic dermatitis include inflammation, dryness, and itchiness. This type of eczema is often found in elbow creases, behind the knees, on the neck, and on eyelids.

Other types of eczema include:

  • Contact Dermatitis: Caused by an allergen or irritant like jewelry, fragrances, or cosmetics with an ingredient you’re allergic toy
  • Dyshidrotic Eczema: A type of eczema that’s typically on your palms, soles of your feet, and edges of your fingers and toes in the form of itchy blisters
  • Papular Eczema: Small, itchy bumps on the stomach and arms
  • Neurodermatitis: Thick, scaly patches that are intensely itchy
  • Nummular Eczema: Red, scaly circles that appear on your lower legs and itch and ooze
  • Stasis Or Varicose Dermatitis: A more serious condition that requires a prompt doctor’s visit caused by poor blood flow and varicose veins

So, what makes eczema eczema? Healthy skin that’s working at 100% serves as a protective barrier between your body and the outside world. One of the jobs of this barrier is to keep moisture in your skin.

If you have eczema, your skin barrier is compromised. That means moisture escapes more easily, — causing dry skin — and that irritants make more of an impact. Eczema is often a lifelong condition that can relapse or flare up at certain times as a result of various triggers.

Eczema is said to affect nearly 32 million people in the United States, and that number includes people of every ethnicity and skin tone.

However, research suggests that people of color are more likely to develop eczema. The condition is also more prevalent in children. According to a 2023 National Health Interview Survey, black children were more likely to have eczema than white, Hispanic, or Asian children.

This is thought to be due to both environmental factors and genetics. For example, pollution is a particularly difficult environmental factor. People who live in cities are more susceptible to the condition. If you live in a place with more allergens, like dust or mold, you’re at greater risk, too.

Additionally, while the exact cause of eczema is a bit of a mystery, if it runs in your family, you’re more likely to have it. Some genetic mutations that affect the skin barrier cells and skin immune cells are more prevalent in certain ethnic groups and get passed down from parent to child.

Studies also suggest that eczema and atopic dermatitis might cause more itchiness and irritation for people of color. This may result in requiring higher doses of medication to relieve the symptoms.

Eczema On Skin Of Color: Appearance

If you’ve heard that eczema is a red rash (in addition to being dry and itchy), that’s true. But it’s only part of the story because that’s how it shows up on light skin tones. On darker skin tones, eczema looks more like a dark brown, purple, or gray rash.

Plus, the National Eczema Association notes that a unique form of eczema can show up on skin of color.

They state: “Black Americans more commonly develop small bumps on the torso, arms, and legs (called papular eczema). Sometimes, bumps develop around hair follicles and resemble goosebumps (this is known as follicular accentuation).”

After a flare-up, people with darker skin often have more changes in skin color than people with lighter skin. The healed patches may be lighter or darker than the rest of your skin.

Symptoms Of Eczema

Woman scratching itchy eczema on black skin

If you have eczema, you’re probably well aware of many of the symptoms. But if you’re still trying to figure out if this skin condition is what’s plaguing you, make an appointment with your dermatologist.

In the meantime, here are a few of the common symptoms to watch for:

  • Skin inflammation
  • Dry skin
  • Itchy skin
  • Scaly skin
  • It comes and goes (flare-ups)
  • Brown, purple, or gray patches of skin
  • Swollen, warm patches of skin
  • Small bumps, like goosebumps, on your trunk, arms, or legs (these are called papular lesions)
  • Dark circles around your eyes
  • Pigmentary changes or scarring

In addition to the physical symptoms, eczema can also cause emotional symptoms, like an uptick in stress. Specifically, pigmentary changes and scarring can result in increased anxiety about the condition.

In fact, according to the National Eczema Association, nearly 30% of people with atopic dermatitis report symptoms of depression and/or anxiety.

Another risk of eczema for people of color is that if left untreated, the skin can thicken in the areas where there has been repeated scratching.

The Importance Of Diagnosing Eczema On Skin Of Color

The first step to treating eczema is identifying the condition. Early intervention is tied to more successful outcomes, making a quick diagnosis even more crucial.

But getting diagnosed can be a greater challenge for people of color because much of the literature on the condition references its appearance on light skin. In addition, there are social and economic factors that can affect the diagnosis and treatment for people of color.

Having a greater familiarity with what eczema looks like on non-white skin will help both those suffering from the condition and the medical community to quickly identify it.

How To Treat Your Eczema

Once you know eczema is what you’re dealing with, it’s time to take action. While there’s no definitive cure for eczema, there are ways to help avoid flare-ups and soothe your itchy, irritated skin.

Eczema might look different based on your skin tone, but caring for your eczema-prone skin is similar across the board. Below, we’ll list several traditional and alternative treatment options.

Don’t Scratch

Man scratching his face with eczema on skin of color

Eczema can be unbearably itchy, but you aren’t doing yourself any favors by scratching it. Scratching only serves to irritate your skin even more. And, for skin of color, scratching might lead to thick skin and skin discoloration.

Taking an antihistamine or using topical creams may help to reduce the itchiness. But you’ll want to keep your hands busy and, if the itch comes back, resist the urge to keep scratching.

Avoid Fragrances

Atopic skin is dry and sensitive. Treat it tenderly by avoiding moisturizing creams that contain fragrances. They might smell nice, but fragrance is an irritant. Instead, look for lotions and creams that are “fragrance-free,” not just “unscented.”

Speaking of irritating ingredients to avoid, you’ll want to think past your daily moisturizer. Stay away from perfume and cologne and look for gentle, fragrance-free household cleaning products, laundry detergent, and fabric softener.

Avoid Triggers

To rein in your eczema flare-ups, learn what triggers your eczema and avoid it. It may be a certain type of metal, sweating, stress, or a particular skincare product. Triggers can also be environmental, such as cigarette smoke, humid or dry weather, and allergens.

Sometimes, even things that seem good for you can be problematic, like washing your hands, face, or body. Too much washing causes dryness and can trigger eczema. And harsh soaps can make things even worse.

Pay Attention To Your Clothes

Clothing choice can also impact eczema. Tight-fitting clothes can look great, but they are not so great for those suffering from this skin condition. The friction of the fabric rubbing against the skin can trigger a flare.

Loose clothes are a better bet when it comes to staying comfortable. You also want to avoid clothing with irritating seams or fastenings.

In addition, certain fabrics, including wool, can be irritating to the skin barrier. Others, like polyester and nylon, can cause overheating and sweating that can lead to itchiness.

The best material for those with eczema is 100% cotton because it’s cool, breathable, and absorbent. Besides cotton, bamboo is another good choice, as it’s soft and breathable and has antibacterial properties.

A natural material like silk is another soft, breathable material that tends to be more comfortable if you’re suffering from eczema. However, because silk is harder to wash and can stain easily, it may not be as practical of a choice as cotton or bamboo.

Another thing to remember when you get dressed is that even though it’s exciting to show off a new outfit, you don’t want to wear anything without washing it first. New clothes can sometimes have irritating chemicals left over from the manufacturing process.

Make sure you have a non-irritating, fragrance-free detergent to wash your new clothes with before you wear them, and double rinse if you can.

Lastly, in addition to paying attention to the fit, choosing the right materials, and washing before wearing, you’ll also want to dress in layers to manage your eczema. That way, as the day heats up or cools off, you can adjust your outfit accordingly.

Manage Stress

Couple doing yoga to reduce stress

As with any health condition, stress only makes things worse. When you experience stress, stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol increase.

This can suppress your immune system, potentially leading to an eczema flare-up. It’s hard to fully eliminate stressful things in your life, but you can anticipate that something stressful will happen and have a go-to technique to help manage it.

Yoga and meditation are good options to manage stress, as well as breathing exercises. You could also do more rigorous exercise, like swimming or running, but be careful if sweating exacerbates your condition. If it does, take a lukewarm shower directly after.

Get Enough Sleep

It’s important to get the right amount of sleep each night. Creating a relaxing sleep routine can help.

This might include creams and anti-itch ointments as well as getting off the electronics an hour or two before bedtime. You’ll also want to make your room dark and cool at night.

Another thing to try at bedtime is wet wrapping. Simple soak gauze in cool water, and then cover your itchy areas with the wet cloth and layer a dry cloth over it. Leave the wrap on overnight. For hands or feet, you can use gloves or cotton socks instead of gauze.

Wet wraps are best applied after showering, applying moisturizer, and taking medications. The idea is to rehydrate and soothe your skin while protecting it from inadvertent (or purposeful) itching during the night.

Adjust Your Diet

An array of healthy food sitting on a wooden table

If you’re dealing with eczema, take a close look at what you’re eating, as certain foods can be better and worse for your skin. It’s believed that some foods can trigger flare-ups and are best to be avoided.

It’s also been suggested that those with eczema are more likely to have food allergies. With this in mind, if you can tie flare-ups to certain dietary choices, stop eating the offending food. It’s best to focus on a healthy diet for your eczema and for your body in general.

A healthy diet includes fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens and antioxidants like berries, as well as nuts, fatty fish, olive oil, tea, and yogurts or other probiotics. You’ll also want to pour yourself a few extra glasses of water and skip the alcohol.

It’s probably obvious, but processed and sugary foods should be avoided because they are more likely to have potentially triggering ingredients and are bad for your overall health.

Of course, there are no hard and fast rules, as everyone’s ideal diet is unique to their own body. If you find yourself struggling or unsure of what to eat, find a nutritionist who can help you make healthy choices.

Take A Warm Bath

As much as you might want a nice, hot bath, stay away from hot water. It does no favors to eczema-prone skin. The same goes for very cold water. Just like Goldilocks, you want it to be not too hot and not too cold, but just right.

Speaking of baths, soaking in a colloidal oatmeal bath with lukewarm water for 15 minutes can help soothe your eczema-prone skin. To make your own oatmeal bath, grind whole, uncooked oats in a blender until it forms a powder. Then, use a cup (more or less) in your warm bath.

Care For Your Skin In The Shower

When you take a shower, make it work for your skin, not against it. As we just mentioned, it’s important to use warm (not hot) water. But how else can you make your shower great for your skin?

Keep your shower relatively short — ideally less than 10 minutes — since, as we mentioned, the water itself can be drying. And use products made specifically for sensitive skin.

Choose a body wash designed for sensitive skin that helps lock in moisture (just what your parched skin needs) and leaves your skin feeling soft and smooth. This is the perfect way to cleanse your skin and go easy on it at the same time.

Meanwhile, keep your hair clean and tend to your scalp with Dry Scalp Daily Shampoo. With ingredients like pyrithione zinc (ZPT), almond oil, and vitamin B-3, this shampoo reduces flaking, itching, and dryness on your scalp caused by dandruff.

In case it sounds like Greek to you, pyrithione zinc is an active ingredient used to treat dandruff and help prevent the recurrence of flaking and itching. Almond oil helps moisturize, and vitamin B-3 helps lock in moisture for healthy-looking skin.

Finally, when you hop out of the shower, use a clean, gentle towel to pat yourself dry. Don’t rub. Then, always apply a moisturizer made for eczema-prone skin. That brings us to our last (but maybe most important) point.

Apply Eczema Cream

Woman applying eczema cream

When you have eczema, increasing the moisture content of your skin is essential. Use fragrance-free emollients at least once per day, ideally, immediately after bathing or showering.

Our Eczema Daily Calming Cream contains colloidal oatmeal, which softens and soothes the skin. It is also made with coconut oil, vitamin E, vitamin B3, and a proprietary blend of 22 botanicals.

Eczema Daily Calming Cream gently addresses the acute symptoms of eczema by providing a soothing and protective barrier. Then, it works to restore balance and promote clearer-looking skin over time.

Here at Bodewell, we design skincare products specifically for your skin condition, with clinically tested ingredients that work so you’re ready for just about anything.

Know When To See Your Doctor

Although for many people, eczema symptoms can be managed at home, you want to look for signs of severe eczema and be sure to reach out to your doctor if you have more intense pain, bleeding, or signs of infections.

If the eczema is severe, your doctor may prescribe medications, like topical corticosteroids or systemic medications that address the immune system. Other non-steroid creams may also be considered.

If your eczema is interfering with your sleep or your ability to live your life normally or it’s affecting your mental health by making you feel depressed or anxious, it’s a good idea to address these concerns with your doctor.

More Living And Less Worrying

Young couple enjoying good skin days

If swollen, itchy, dry skin is showing up in dark brown, purple, or gray patches on your skin, you just might have eczema. While people of color are more likely to have eczema, the good news is that the treatment of eczema on skin of color is the same.

In most instances, you can tend to your skin at home. Start by kicking the habit of scratching to the curb and avoiding your triggers.

As far as skin care, Bodewell can help with our products designed for eczema-prone skin, such as Dry Scalp Daily Shampoo and Eczema Daily Calming Cream.

Your skin is unique and so are these products. Inspired by science and nature, our products were created with eczema in mind and start working from day one. They help calm your skin so you’ll have more days living and enjoying life and fewer days worrying about your skin.

Here’s to you and your beautiful skin.


American Academy of Dermatology Association
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Eczema Association
National Library of Medicine

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