Is Eczema a new phenomenon?

Is Eczema a new phenomenon?

Is Eczema a new phenomenon?

In support of National Eczema Awareness Week (2023) we thought we would look into the history of eczema and see if this is a modern phenomenon.

It turns out that eczema is not a new condition. Humans have been suffering from it for hundreds if not thousands of years, though how it was diagnosed, treated and even simply named in the past was highly contested.  

Over 2,500 years ago, the Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates treated someone with thick, scaly skin with a need to itch all over his body. Also in the ancient world, according to the famous Roman historian Suetonius, the Emperor Augustus had  “a number of hard, dry patches….. caused by an itching of his skin.”  

So eczema was present before the added allergies and chemicals present in modern life. But there were few treatments, and in the UK at least, no widespread access to soft materials such as cotton and silk to soothe sensitive skin until at least the 17th century. Wool was the base material for most clothing. 

Dermatology didn’t really feature in medicine until the 19th century. Before then, much of what appeared on the skin was often considered an expression of what was happening inside the body, a reflection on the body’s “humours” and whether they were in balance or not. As such, it was not always considered appropriate to treat what the body exhibited or expunged, as this was seen as evidence of the body trying to rebalance itself back to full health. 

As crazy as it sounds, this view of medicine retained a strong grip on doctors and the public view of health for almost 2,000 years until science and medicine developed in the 19th century. The scientists of that era pursued many different avenues to understand the condition we know as eczema, better. Were all skin eruptions the same or were there many varieties? Were rashes that appeared on the head and face the same as those which appeared on the body? Were childhood conditions the same as adult ones? Many different terms and definitions circulated as a result. 

The discovery of allergy and then atopy - defined in 1923 as a type of inherited hypersensitivity to environmental allergens - helped the understanding of eczema further. The defining point came in 1933 when Fred Wise and Marion Sulzberger introduced the term atopic dermatitis. 

Early treatments were controversial, apparently even strychnine and arsenic were tried! Sulphur was popular in the Victorian and Edward periods, and cortisone was widely used in children in the early 1950s before the side effects on development and growth stopped it. 

Since then, although our understanding and treatment have improved, there is no final consensus on the best treatment for each individual.

At Eczema Clothing we believe that everyone’s skin is different and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Whatever your journey, we’ll be on your side providing soft, scratch free surroundings for your skin, while the history of eczema continues to be written…. 


We are delighted that NES is raising awareness of this debilitating condition and is leading a campaign called More than "Just an itch" this year.  It shines a light on the mental health impacts of eczema that are so often overlooked.  Click here for more info on this from NES. 


  • Ive had eczema all my life 61 yrs & drs used tell my it would gone by the time i was 7
    Needless to say i still have it , my grandson has been diagnosed with it .. i feel so sorry for him when he has breakout as i know how hes feeling hes only 3
    . And i feel for all children who have it .. adults too
    No eczema clothing when i was groing up
    I ordered 2 sleep suits for my grandson they are brilliant so soft & he loves them , even sleeps in them when eczemas not nad

    Lorraine on

  • I cannot find a bra that does not leave my skin, red, itchy and sore!! I have a collection, all from companies selling to people with eczema. It’s the elastic! I know you can’t make a bra without elastic (as someone at Rigby & Peller, corsetière to Queen Elizabeth II, told me) – but why can it not go inside a hem??

    Vivien Walsh on

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