State of Skin is our monthlong exploration of what women love, hate, and need to know about their skin — from the most common concerns to the best kept secrets in beauty.

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STATE OF SKIN: How My Eczema Led Me to Find Aquaphor
Credit: Erin Glover/InStyle

Eczema has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. As a child, I mostly saw it flare up on my left thigh from time-to-time. Then in my mid-twenties, my eczema decided to start showing up on my face.

The thing with this condition is that it's annoying (and sometimes painful) to deal with, no matter where it is on your body, and when it's on an area that you can't really cover up with clothing, it can be straight up embarrassing. So you can probably imagine how horrified I was one morning when I woke up with puffy, itchy, flaky, red skin all around my eyes — thank God I was working from home at the time.

Looking back, I probably should have anticipated a flare-up. The days leading up to it, I noticed that the area would sting a little bit after I applied my nightly eye cream, but since I'd never had eczema on that part of my body before, I assumed my skin was just dry. However, according to Dr. Fran Cook-Bolden, a New York City-based dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon, experiencing eczema on or around your eyelids is not uncommon, especially if you're someone who gets regular manicures, like me.

"The skin around the eyes is very thin, fragile, and sensitive compared to the skin on many other areas of the body," the MD tells me. "Eczema around the eyes is commonly the result of an irritant like toluene sulfonamide formaldehyde resin which is often found in nail polish. We rub or touch our upper and lower eyelids more than we realize, and if you routinely wear nail polish, you are at risk of eyelid eczema around the eyes. This is called contact dermatitis."

Luckily, since this wasn't my first rodeo with eczema, I had a pretty good grasp on how to treat it. I started off by cleansing my skin with CeraVe's Foaming Facial Cleanser — since its formula includes ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamides to cleanse and soothe the skin without causing further irritation — then followed up with a hydrocortisone cream (which by the way, Dr. Cook-Bolden warns shouldn't be used for extended periods of time, since it can thin the skin after prolonged use).

I started to get some relief by the end of the day, but my skin still felt dry, which I knew may make things worse. Since I already knew that my go-to eye cream would further irritate my already compromised skin, my next thought was to reach for some Aquaphor to layer on my eyes after I applied the hydrocortisone ointment to my lids — and it worked like a charm.

By the next day, the skin around my eyes was still a little bumpy, but for the most part it was back to normal and certainly didn't feel dry. "As the name states, Aquaphor is a 'healing ointment,' Dr. Cook-Bolden explains. "It is a 41% petrolatum-based ointment that forms a semi-occlusive barrier over the dry, irritated, or otherwise compromised skin. Not only does Aquaphor protect and soothe the skin, the barrier it creates enables oxygen and water to reach the skin, hydrate the skin, and aid in the healing process."

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Since my horrendous flare-up, I've had small breakouts here and there. But the moment I start noticing the slightest bit of irriation around my eyes, I follow this same routine and get almost immediate relief.

However, if you've been dealing with this skin issue for a while yourself, Dr. Cook-Bolden recommends going to a professional to get an expert opinion. "Although it can be a time consuming process, taking up to three visits to your dermatologist or allergist, when you know what’s causing the eczema and what to avoid, the time is well spent," she says.

I'm still not exactly sure what caused the initial flare-up around my eye area, but since I had just started visting a new nail salon at the time, the brand of polish I was wearing likely triggered my eczema. Now, I make sure to use the pads of my fingers, rather than my nails, to rub or scratch my eye area if needed, because I definitely do not want to go through that again. And you should definitely make sure to check out the list of ingredients on your polish before you paint your nails. "Many makers of nail polish have become aware of this phenomenon and have changed to toluene sulfonamide formaldehyde-free formulations," the dermatologist adds. "Essie nail polish is one."

Thankfully, my eczema has dramatically calmed down over the past year. But I always have hydrocortisone cream and some Aquaphor on deck, just in case.