The National Eczema Society estimates that today 1 in 5 children and 1 in 12 adults suffer from some form of eczema or allergy prone skin. The aim of writing this article is to offer some helpful skincare tips* based on our experience.
*Disclaimer: No medical claim is implied or intended in relation to the products or information below. This article is intended as a helpful guide and contains suggestions based on many years of personal experience, current knowledge and research. At the moment the law requires that unless a substance or product has a medical license, no claim can be made as to its efficiency for a medical condition.
Step 1: Keep the skin clean – especially important for eczema-prone skin
Bacteria, particularly Staphylococcus aureus, are one of the most important triggers of eczema (they are found on over 90% of eczematous skin and 5% of normal skin). Staphylococcus aureus can activate the immune system around them, which manifests as an irritation on the skin.
Wash hands frequently and keep fingernails short. Keep the skin clean using cool or warm (not hot) water and use mild, non-irritating cleansers as necessary. Dry gently.
The skin’s lipids (fatty substances) that hold skin cells together, tend to be less abundant with eczema and dermatitis. This can be due to unusually low production by the skin cells, but may also be due to excess removal of lipids through repeated use of harsh soap and detergents. It is therefore very important to avoid cleansing products that may further dry and irritate the skin (see below).
Step 2: Use the power of plants to alleviate itching and promote healing
Scratching itchy skin activates the immune system in the affected area as it causes the release of chemical trigger substances which initiate other immune reactions. Hence the ‘itch-scratch cycle’. The conventional answer to this problem is steroid creams which suppress the immune system.
But stopping itching and inflammation with herbs such as chickweed and chamomile is kinder to the body and may offer a more long term solution. In fact, the level of concentration of the particular chamomile we use in our preparations has been shown to be at least as effective at reducing inflammation as mild hydrocortisone (steroid), but without the negative side effects.
Other herbs such as calendula and aloe vera have proven powerful skin-healing capabilities. A damaged aloe vera leaf seals over quickly with a film and a rubber-like protective coating to prevent the loss of water. In a short time, the wound heals completely.
The enzymes that enable this process have a similar effect in humans. Aloe vera helps foster the growth or healthy new tissue and has been shown to penetrate to the water-retaining second layer of skin, helping to eradicate dead cells which not only rejuvenates the skin but also fights infection.
Step 3: Moisturise naturally
Emollients or moisturisers are extremely important to rehydrate dry, allergy prone skin. By penetrating between the skin cells, a good emollient helps to substitute for the lack of the skin’s own lipids, reducing dryness, moisture loss, and access by infection-causing organisms.
Commonly prescribed emollients, including aqueous cream, are based on petroleum derivatives like paraffin wax, mineral oil and petroleum jelly which tend to clog the skin pores because the molecules are too large to be absorbed.
Whilst this petroleum barrier reduces moisture loss, it also prevents the skin from breathing and releasing the heat generated by inflammation. Generally described as ‘inert’ with no active skin benefits, petroleum oils tend to absorb the vitamins A and E from the skin, so vital for its maintenance and repair. Products such as ours, based on virgin cold-pressed plant oils, with all their health- promoting vitamins and minerals intact, are readily absorbed by the skin, provide excellent moisturisation and actively encourage the natural healing process.
As an added bonus, these oil-soluble vitamins protect the skin from premature ageing by combating ‘free radical’ damage caused by exposure to the elements and pollution! Shea butter, olive and coconut oils are particularly effective. Little and often is the key, keeping the skin moisturised at all times.
Step 4: Avoid potential irritants
Searching for products which contain natural ingredients is a good start, but finding products without synthetic fragrances, irritant preservatives and detergents is much more difficult! Seeking out products free from synthetic chemicals is highly desirable for us all, as the long-term cumulative effect of putting them on the skin is believed to be a trigger for skin-sensitivity in the first place, but for those with eczema and allergy-prone skin it is absolutely crucial.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list, the following substances are some of the most common culprits of skin sensitivity:
- Fragrance or ‘parfum’: Synthetic fragrance (often listed on the ingredient label as ‘parfum’) is widely recognised by dermatologists as being the number one cause of adverse skin reactions to cosmetics, toiletries and laundry products. Note that ‘fragrance free’ or ‘unscented’ on a product label indicates the lack of perceptible smell, but the product may still contain fragrance chemicals.
- Parabens (butylparaben, ethylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben): These preservatives are well-known skin sensitisers, particularly to those with eczema and have also been linked to cancer. Widely used in skincare – and foods!
- Methylisothiazolinone (MI): This harsh preservative is increasingly used as an alternative to parabens in many skin care products. Following the discovery of data showing the rising incidence of contact allergy to this preservative, the EU is considering restricting its use.
- Sodium lauryl(eth) sulphate (SLS): An industrial engine-degreaser found in most shampoos and bath products. It may strip out the skin’s natural oils leaving it dry and irritated. Eczema-prone skin is particularly sensitive to SLS. Similar forms include sodium coco sulphate.
Step 5: Take the holistic approach
Whilst topical (skin) applications can alleviate eczema a great deal, it is worth looking our for possible allergy triggers in the diet. Cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, gluten and food additives (like flavourings, colours and sweeteners) are common culprits, particularly in children.
Breastfeeding infants is widely recommended whenever possible. Keeping a food diary may also identify the cause of sudden ‘flare-ups’. Trial and error – and lots of patience – may be well rewarded!
Studies show that a common factor among atopic (hereditary) eczema is a lack of fatty acids and in particular gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Taking a high GLA food supplement like Evening Primrose may thus be a good idea. For the little ones, a pierced capsule squeezed into food is easily disguised.
Pure cotton or silk are the best and kindest fabrics. Opt for light layers that can be peeled off as necessary and protect affected areas from exposure to strong sunshine. Choose skin-friendly non-bio laundry wash, avoiding fragrances and fabric softeners.
For more information on eczema or to have a look at some products our customers have found helpful on eczema-prone skin, click here.