Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a common skin condition that affects 2 to 7% of the population and often first appears in early childhood1. Although eczema isn’t contagious, the inflamed and itchy skin can be very uncomfortable for children and adults alike.
Because it affects everyone in different ways, eczema is not easy to treat and should involve the expertise of a qualified practitioner but understanding and managing symptoms may be helpful to relieve general discomfort while you get to the bottom of any flare ups.
What Is Eczema?
Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition resulting in itching of the skin, inflammation and redness with dry thickened skin and sometimes small blisters that may burst1. Scratching and rubbing leads to darkened thickened skin commonly seen on front of wrists, elbows, and back of knees.
The increased amount of histamine and other allergic compounds that are released in eczema patients result in this inflammation and itching and if there is compromised immunity coupled with continual itching and scratching, this can then lead to the predominance of the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus in the skin flora in 90% of eczema patients - this can then cause severe infections of the skin2.
Causes of Eczema
Eczema is not contagious but is caused by a combination of a family history of eczema, due to a mutation of a gene called filaggrin, and environmental factors. Most people have two copies of the filaggrin gene, which forms the skin barrier and repairs damage to the skin. But those who have only one copy for filaggrin may find that, when exposed to allergens or irritants in the environment, their skin has trouble repairing and that’s when inflammation can occur3.
Many eczema patients also develop hay fever and/or asthma, which may be associated with a type of hypersensitivity reaction from the immune system1.
Triggers of Eczema
There are many conflicting thoughts on what triggers a flare up of eczema, because it’s so different for each person in what causes it and how it presents - even sometimes for the same person over the years.
It is more common to get eczema, though, if you have a family history of eczema and/or allergies such as hay fever and asthma.
Some triggers may include:
- Environmental irritants
- Heat or change in weather where skin may be irritated or more dry
- Food allergies - although this is rare and will often flare up immediately around the lips and mouth3, 4
- Emotional stress - although this doesn’t cause eczema, it may provoke symptoms
Symptoms of Eczema
There are varying degrees in the severity of eczema that affect people differently and, often, symptoms arise as a result of everyday life - such as changes in the weather leading to drier skin, irritants in soap and various household detergents, and even showering or washing hands more often.
Symptoms of eczema can include:
- Dry and flaking skin
- Weeping skin
- Lesions (sores)2, 5
8 Ways To Help Manage Eczema
Although there may be a genetic predisposition to eczema, there are different strategies that can not only help to calm the symptoms but also to help reduce flare ups through diet and lifestyle.
In some severe cases doctors may prescribe corticosteroid creams, but let's take a look at some natural and lifestyle options that can be tried to alleviate symptoms associated with eczema.
1. Avoid Skin Irritants
As with most health conditions, there is little we can do when genetics are involved, but we can try to be mindful of what we come into contact with on a daily basis.
It is important to avoid skin irritants, such as detergents or cosmetics, and consider the fabrics and other items that might come into close proximity to the skin.
Here are some of my suggestions for reducing skin irritation:
- Choose hypoallergenic products
- Avoid chemical perfumes, fragranced skin lotions, and strongly scented shampoos and skincare products6
- Remove clothing labels and wear loose-fitting 100% cotton, or other soft, smooth materials next to your skin. Avoid scratchy materials, such as pure wool, polyester or acrylic
- Wear protective gloves, with cotton liners, when using chemicals or detergents
- Avoid chlorinated pools especially if you cannot, moisturise your skin when you get out
If you are trying a new cosmetic or skincare product for the first time, consider testing a small amount on the inner forearm to test for adverse reactions before applying the product more substantially.
2. Bathing and Showering
Although hot showers can further dry out the skin, bathing (and showering) in lukewarm water can be soothing and may help reduce itching, redness, and scaliness.
You may like to try adding oatmeal, goat's milk, or Kunzea Bath Salts to the water and, when finished, gently pat the skin dry with a soft towel to avoid further irritation.
Applying a moisturiser, such as Original Kunzea Cream, within three minutes of bathing will also help to “lock in” the moisture. Ensure the skin is thoroughly dry before application.
Oatmeal Bath: To prepare an oat bath, get an old stocking and fill with oatmeal. Tie the open end of stocking around the tap nozzle and allow warm water to run through the stocking filled with oats which will give a milky consistency to the bath water. Soak for 15-20 minutes. Please take caution if you are allergic to gluten or oats.
3. Digestive Health
A good probiotic is essential for gut health and certain strains are now thought to help eczema specifically14. A condition called “leaky gut” means that increased gut permeability can lead to allergies, as well as compromising immunity, which may increase the chances of an eczema flare up for those prone to it.
It is advisable to see a health practitioner or go to a reputable health store and source the most appropriate probiotic for your age and lifestyle.
4. Moisturisers and Anti-Inflammatory Ointments
As eczema-prone skin is more prone to inflammation when it becomes rough and itchy, moisturising regularly - especially when the weather is particularly dry - may support skin from getting too dry8.
If you live or work in an air-conditioned or heated environment, you may need to apply extra moisturiser throughout the day to ensure your skin stays moist.
In addition, eczema may respond to anti-inflammatory creams and balms. They can come in various strengths, but it is best to use the lowest strength that works adequately for you.
At Zea, we have developed our Kunzea Balm as both a moisturiser and an anti-inflammatory ointment for inflammatory skin conditions. It may help in the management of eczema, dry skin and redness.
For a double strength option, you may like to try Kunzea Cream.
Although there is little proof that food can trigger eczema flare ups, it has been found that around a third of people who experience eczema also may have food allergies or sensitivities, or may find that certain foods can further inflame the skin after an outbreak9, 10, 11.
Common food allergens include milk, eggs, peanuts and - to a lesser degree - wheat, citrus, and chocolate5. If you suspect a food allergy, it may be worth trying an elimination diet and seeing a dietician or medical professional for proper allergy testing and nutritional advice to eliminate this possibility3, 7.
Green Tea: Reducing excess histamine release is important and flavonoids are a natural way of doing this. Certain supplements may help as may drinking large amounts of green tea3. In a month-long study in Japan, people who drank 3 cups of green tea daily felt relief from their itching in just one week.
6. Diffusing Essential Oils
Diffusing essential oils may not directly help in easing the itch and inflammation of eczema, but may help with managing unhealthy stress, which can precede a flare up8. You may also find aromatherapy, massage, mediation, and bath soaks helpful to ease tension, but it’s important to find ways that work for you to relax.
In addition, some aroma diffusers may have the dual-benefit of also being a humidifier. The ultrasonic waves create air moisture to combat the drying effects of heating and air-conditioning.
Using a humidifier while you sleep will help to moisten the air in your bedroom and can be ideal, even in warmer climates4.
7. Manage Temperature Control
There isn’t much we can do about the changing weather, or even working in temperature controlled environments, but avoiding (or managing) abrupt changes in temperature and humidity, where possible, can support the skin better.
At home, try not to overuse the heater in winter and the air conditioner in summer. Cracking a window or using a humidifier - especially overnight - can help balance artificially acclimatised spaces.
In cooler months, dress warmly when leaving the house and remove layers as you go back inside. When the weather is hot, avoid physical activity that can make you sweat heavily and overheat the skin3.
8. Find Out What Works For You
Eczema is a very common complaint in people of all ages but the onset, symptoms, location of flare ups, and what works is also different for each person. To feel empowered managing your eczema, it’s important to find what works for you.
Keep track of your eczema flare ups in the hope of learning your eczema triggers and what helps alleviate your symptoms.
Some other suggestions you might like to try:
- Have an allergy test for common environmental allergens (such as dust mites, grass pollens and moulds) to see if it may be a trigger;
- Keep fingernails short to prevent damage to skin from scratching;
- Try not to scratch or scrub skin too hard when washing6;
- Develop daily skincare routines
- Swim in the sea in warm weather whenever you can – salt water is known to reduce the symptoms of eczema3
Everyone is unique so what might work for you, may not work for someone else.
Love The Skin You’re In
Although eczema is fairly common, there is still no known cure for it and it’s important to remember that genetics are out of our control. The itching and inflammation can be irritating (and, in some cases, quite debilitating), but it can also have further impacts on our mental wellbeing and confidence - especially if you experience flare ups on the face, hands, and other more exposed areas.
Manage what you can, take care of the skin and avoid known irritants, finding what works for you and what potentially causes your symptoms. But it’s also essential to learn to love the skin you’re in so true healing can begin.
About the Author - Michelle Brass ND
With over 25 years of experience in the natural health industry, Michelle has dedicated her life to helping others embrace the therapeutic benefits of nature. Throughout her time as a health practitioner, she has used and recommended countless traditional and conventional treatments to her clients - as she believes an integrative approach to health and wellness is very important. Michelle is passionate about using and promoting essential oils and, in particular, Kunzea Oil, as she has seen them help thousands of people over the years. She knows that using essential oils in your daily life can help bring balance to the mind, body and soul. She is constantly trialling and testing new products with her loyal clients.
To learn more about Michelle, go to her full bio page.
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