As the chill in the air gets even more intense, our dry skin conditions will inevitably get worse – but if you’re one of the thousands of people in the UK that suffer from eczema, the cold weather brings with it even more discomfort and pain. The dry skin condition is highly individual, with symptoms varying from
person to person, but it effects one in twelve adults in the UK. Although
it’s more common in children and many people ‘grow out’ of the condition
when they reach adulthood, it can be incredibly debilitating and have a
huge impact on confidence. It’s still little understood by the masses,
with even suffers themselves struggling to get to grips with the reasons behind
their itchy and sore skin – but here’s the lowdown on eczema, its causes, how you
can manage it and some of tips that have helped my loved ones completely turn it
What Exactly Is Eczema?
Essentially it’s a dry skin condition that can cause the surface to
become scaly, red and itchy – in more severe cases it may also cause
weeping, crusting or bleeding of the skin. Constant scratching can cause
the condition to become even worse, with skin splitting and being left
open to infection. The word ‘eczema’ comes from the Greek word ‘ekzein’,
which means “to boil” – it’s not uncommon for skin to look like it’s
been placed under boiling water, hence the name. Eczema isn’t contagious
and can’t be transferred from one person to the next, although there is
evidence to support genetic predisposition to the condition; you’re
more likely to suffer with eczema if there is a family history.
So What Causes Eczema?
Our skin is made up of a thin outer layer, a fairly elastic middle one
and a fatty layer at the deepest level. Each layer contains skin cells,
water and fats, all of which help maintain the condition of the skin
while protecting it from infection. If you’re a sufferer of eczema your
skin is likely to not product as much fat and oil as others and will be
less able to retain water. The protective barrier is therefore not as
good as it should be, gaps open up between skin cells because they’re
not sufficiently ‘plump’ and moisture is then lost from the deeper
layers – allowing bacteria or irritants to pass through more easily.
It’s this irritation and lack of moisture that causes skin to become
inflamed, irritated, itchy and broken.
Are There Specific Irritants?
Some everyday substances can significantly contribute to breaking down
of the skin and removing natural oils, including anything that ‘foams’
(soap, bubble bath and washing-up liquid.) Because eczema sufferers’
skin is prone to drying out and easily damaged, it’s more likely to
become red and inflamed on contact with substances that are known to
irritate – including fragrances, colourants and preservatives. Exposure
to water can also cause the skin to become even more irritated, as when
it evaporates it takes essential oils involuntary along with it;
reducing the time you’re in the shower, minimising baths and
moisturising as soon as you step out will definitely help. However, each
individual will have different triggers and react differently to
products, depending upon the severity of their condition and their
skin’s ability to protect itself.
What About Sports And Physical Activity?
Our sweat, by its very nature, is
acidic and can irritate the skin if it’s extremely sensitive or has
split in certain areas. Eczema can be particularly prolific around the
arms, inner elbows and neck where sweat resides – so it’s good to be
aware of how your skin reacts and how you can minimise the irritation.
Although thick deodorants are likely to block the skin and cause
irritation of its own, adjusting your diet and avoiding sugary and
acidic drinks may significantly help.
Should You Use Steroid Creams?
Topical steriods (applied directly to the skin,) can help control
itching and swelling – they’re often prescribed by the doctor in various
strengths to get the symptoms of eczema under control. However, they
also weaken the skin’s surface and (when used in the long-term) can
become a crutch on which to rely on; they’re not intended as a long-term
treatment, so should only ever be used when necessary. From my
experience, doctors rely on steroid creams far too much and are not
willing to offer any alternative; this can cause skin to be so reliant
upon steroid creams that it ceases to function normally. The result of
which is the need for stronger and more potent creams, causing a
never-ending circle of reliance upon super strong lotions and potions
that will provide no benefit in the long-term.
So What Alternatives Are Available?
The key, in my experience, is to build up the skin’s ability to repair and nourish
itself so steroid creams can be phased out. Introducing high potency
fish oil tablets into your daily routine can make the world of difference,
helping skin to lubricate itself and protect against further
infection. Taking nine Lambert’s 1100mg caplets
a day has revolutionised the way in which my boyfriend’s skin is able to take care
of itself, removing the need for any form of steriods or topical
treatment whatsoever. Integrating simple, fragrance free emulsions into a morning and evening routine will ensure skin is hydrated and as healthy as possible too. It’s a
long-term plan that requires an investment in both time, money and
effort, but we’ve seen the results pay dividends over the last year or two.
What Products Can I Use To Help?
Although removing reliance on steroids and introducing fish oil tablets
has made a huge impact, there’s still a need for products to help
further moisturise and take care of the skin – without irritating it and
causing further problems. The key is to look for products with a
minimal amount of fragrance, preservatives, foaming ingredients
(anything with ‘sulphate’ on the end) or colourants in their formula;
this will cut out most of the irritants that can make the condition
worse. In addition, products that contain urea (which promotes hydration
in the skin) will also offer support on a daily basis.
Although I’m in no way medically trained, by trial and error (and through expert consultations) I’ve been able to significantly help loved ones that have been suffering with this often debilitating skin condition. Doctors often don’t understand how to deal with eczema, but talking to the right skin experts that have first hand experience can really help you on your way to a healthier approach. The key thing to remember is that
eczema can be controlled; you just need to understand what you’re
Have you any experience of eczema? Have you found your own way of keeping the condition
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