Scientists may have improved their understanding of the causes of eczema, but there is still no cure and the best approach may be a natural, topical one.
US scientists say they have discovered an underlying genetic cause of eczema - a find that could one day lead to new therapies for this troublesome condition.
About one in five children develop atopic eczema or 'dermatitis', with the majority of cases being diagnosed before the child has reached their fifth birthday.
The condition is characterised by itchy, red, dry and cracked skin, with lesions typically occurring behind the knees, on the front of the elbows, on the side of the neck and around the eyes and ears.
Most people find that the condition clears up by the time they reach adulthood, although some continue to experience symptoms throughout their lives.
Researchers at Oregon State University in the US now say that the condition may be more common in people with inadequate levels of a protein called Ctip2.
According to the team, whose latest findings are published in the journal PLoS One, this protein controls the synthesis of lipids or fats, which are needed to keep the skin healthy and hydrated.
Without sufficient levels of the protein, the skin may therefore become dry and irritated.
The researchers have now found that the Ctip2 protein also suppresses an inflammatory protein called TSLP, which is produced by skin cells and can trigger inflammation.
Inadequate levels of Ctip2 - which can be the result of a person's genetic make-up - therefore appear to contribute to the development of eczema in two different ways.
Arup Indra, an associate professor at Oregon State University, explained: "The skin's ability to resist inflammation is going down just as the amount of inflammation is going up, and the underlying reason is that Ctip2 is not doing its job.
"Either or both of these problems can lead to eczema."
Eczema is a frustrating condition with no known cure, but natural approaches can greatly improve the hydration and overall condition of a person's skin without them needing to resort to powerful steroid drugs.
For instance, Inlight's Ecz-Easy balm is an organic cream emollient that is specifically designed to soothe inflamed and itchy skin.
Suitable for all skin types and even for babies, Ecz-Easy's combination of natural ingredients - including jojoba, evening primrose oils, black cumin seed oil, marigold, plantain, chickweed, olive oil and turmeric - help to nourish, calm itching and ease inflammation.