What is Atopic Dermatitis?

Author: Beiersdorf

Date: Apr 2018


Atopic Dermatitis (or Atopic Eczema) is a non-contagious chronic disease in which skin on the face and/or body is constantly dry, itchy and irritable. In other words, it is an inflammatory illness – and one that is becoming increasingly prevalent, particularly in the Western world. It affects 10% of the global population (between 10-20% of children and 2-5% of adults are affected) and, over the past 30 years, cases have grown by 200-300%.

Babies and small children are most commonly affected. 90% of patients experienced symptoms before the age of five and 80% before the age of two.

In young children and babies, the most commonly affected area of skin is the face although, as they get older, the rash may spread to the body. Facial Atopic Dermatitis affects all ages and usually appears as dry and scaly patches on the scalp, forehead, round the eyes and behind the ears. Outbreaks are also very common on the cheeks, particularly in babies.

Symptoms differ from person to person, from season to season, even from day to day. Sufferers describe two distinct phases in atopic skin – inactive („interval“) and acute (“flare-ups”).

Illustration of skin with symptoms of Atopic Dermatitis.

1. Impaired skin barrier function facilitates the invasion of microorganism
Activation of immune cells, inflammation
3. Itch


"In an acute flare-up sufferers experience: light to intense itching and skin that is red to deep red, flaky, uneven to swollen, sore and even mildly bleeding."

During a non-flare-up phase, symptoms are dry to very dry, slightly flaky, irritable skin (a condition - not a disease - also known as Xerosis) and the affected area may have small, healed cracks.

As well as the problems caused by the skin irritation itself, Atopic Dermatitis can lead to further physical and psychological issues such as lack of sleep, discrimination, stress and a general lack of self-confidence – particularly in the case of facial Atopic Dermatitis. As a result, sufferers often restrict their daily lives by changing what they wear, what they eat, the make-up they choose and the activities they take part in. Relationships can even be affected if the sufferer feels his or her attractiveness is diminished by their symptoms.

Dry and scaly skin appears in other skin conditions, such as hypersensitive skin, where the compromised skin barrier leads to increased trans-epidermal water-loss. Where skin might show subjective and objective symptoms as a reaction to external aggressors.

Atopic Dermatitis can lead to several physical as well as psychological issues, such as (amongst others) discrimination, stress and low self-confidence/

Acute flare-up symptoms can be intense itching, red to deep red skin, flaky, sore and even mildly bleeding skin.

There are four pathogenetic factors of Atopic Dermatitis:

  1. Hereditary filaggrin deficiency; a deficiency of natural moisturising factors (NMF) such as amino acids.
  2. Disturbed epidermal lipid metabolism (ceramides, cholesterol and free fatty acids) and impaired barrier lipid formation. These lead to dry skin with a disturbed barrier function. This then makes it easy for infectious agents to penetrate:
  3. Bacteria growth (Staphylococcus aureus) and the secretion of super-antigens.
  4. Environmental influences such as irritants, allergens, pollution.

Dry, irritated skin results in inflammation and itchiness. Constant itchiness can lead to constant scratching. This disrupts the skin barrier, which results in a humid growth environment for bacteria. This, in turn, causes irritation and subsequent itching and inflammations. And so the Atopic Cycle continues (see illustration).

Supporting Treatments:

Eucerin AtoControl Bath and Shower Oil is soap-free and enriched with a high concentration of Omega-3 and Omega-6 Oils to gently cleanse and soothe skin with Atopic Dermatitis. The body wash for Atopic Dermatitis relieves itching and supports skin’s natural barrier. Even with regular washing, skin is protected from further dryness and itching. The cleansing oil can be used daily during flare-ups as well as during the periods between flare-ups when skin is less irritated.

Eucerin AtoContol Bath and Shower Oil does not contain fragrance and is suitable for adults, children and babies over three months.

Eucerin AtoControl Lotion is a daily-use body lotion that has been specially formulated to soothe and intensely moisturise irritated and itchy skin. The easily-absorbed, water-in-oil lotion is enriched with soothing Licochalcone A, Ceramides and Omega Oils to strengthen skin’s barrier, relieve dryness and itching and prolong the period between flare-ups of Atopic Dermatitis.

Eucerin AtoControl Face Cream has been specially formulated to provide basic daily care for atopic skin and can be used during flare-ups as well as in the calmer periods between. It is clinically and dermatologically proven to hydrate, soothe and reduce dryness. The non-sticky formula is enriched with Licochalcone A and Ceramides to regenerate and strengthen skin’s barrier and relieve tightness and itchiness.

Eucerin AtoControl Acute Care Cream has been specially formulated to offer relief and intensive care for skin undergoing a flare-up of Atopic Dermatitis. The formula has a unique active ingredient complex of soothing Licochalcone A, anti-bacterial Decanediol and anti-itching and cooling Methoxypropandiol (MPD). This complex, combined with a high concentration of Ceramides, strengthens skin’s barrier, alleviates dryness and relieves itchiness at a sensory level, thereby reducing the need to scratch.

Fragrance-free, the cream for Atopic Dermatitis flare-ups can be applied as often as needed on affected areas and has been shown to support sleep and improve quality of life for those with Atopic Dermatitis. Suitable for adults, children and babies over three months.

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Last revised: 25 April 2018

Next review: 30 April 2019