Healthy Skin Part 3: Living with Eczema
"Eczema flare-ups can hinder the ability to focus, or even complete simple daily tasks, and can really make it tough to get a good night’s sleep."
In today’s part three of the three-part series on inflammation and skin health, Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD, holistic nutritionist takes a look at eczema. We will discuss what eczema is, some of the most common symptoms, and most importantly, what causes it. Dr. Nancy will also share some tips and natural ways to treat and help prevent eczema flare-ups, as well as share an effective, all natural, homemade eczema cream.
- 4:02: What is Eczema?
- 9:04: Eczema Facts
- 12:10: The Skin
- 14:45: Reasons for Disruption
- 19:21: Common Eczema symptoms
- 21:53: Eczema versus Psoriasis
- 23:56: What Triggers an Eczema Flare-up?
- 27:05: Tips to minimize Flare-ups
- 31:56: Natural Remedies for Eczema
- 37:49: All Natural Homemade Eczema Cream
- 39:51: Wrap Up
What is Eczema?
Atopic Dermatitis, also known as eczema, is an inflammatory skin condition that presents itself with an extremely itchy rash. Although it’s not contagious and you cannot get it from touching someone else who has a flare-up, the itching associated with eczema can be absolutely unbearable. Aside from the itching, it can really affect your quality of life. Flare-ups can hinder the ability to focus, or even complete simple daily tasks, and can really make it tough to get a good night’s sleep.
Eczema, along with related skin conditions like dermatitis and allergies, tend to develop most often among people who already have very dry sensitive or rundown immune system. The rash associated with eczema can sometimes be accompanied by weeping blisters that leak out, and the skin of the rash site can either be really dry, cracked, or toughened. Most of the commercial lotions that you buy are filled with additives that will make your eczema even more inflamed. For many with eczema, the worst part is the itching. The itching associated with eczema can sometimes prove to be absolutely intolerable.
Eczema can develop anywhere on your body. However, it commonly presents itself on the hands, the back of the knees, the back of the neck and the inside of the elbows.
- Eczema occurs in both men and women. However, men seem to be at a greater risk than women.
- Eczema has been found to be associated with allergies. About one in three people who have eczema also have developed allergy-related symptoms like asthma or hay fever.
- About 70% of eczema cases in children begin before the age of five.
- 60% of infants or children with eczema continue to have symptoms at least periodically during adulthood.
- In American adults, it is estimated that about 80% of contact dermatitis or contact eczema is due to chemical exposure or irritation. This means that eczema is preventable if we take out all the toxins around us.
- For about 20% of those people, it’s related to allergies. At least 11 different disorders related to immune function and allergies can cause eczema.
- The hands are the body part most commonly affected by eczema, especially the knuckles, the elbow joints, and the crease joints of the body.
- Hand dermatitis, or eczema of the hands, accounts for 20 to 35% of all eczema cases in the US.
- Only about 35% of people with eczema visit a doctor for a diagnosis.
All About The Skin
The skin is made up of three layers. The outermost layer of the skin is called the epidermis and it is also made up of three layers, which are:
- The Basal layer
- The Spinous layer
- The Corneal layer which is the outermost layer of the skin. For people with eczema, it does not provide adequate protection due to the fact that it has been damaged by the skin’s inflammatory response. People with eczema really don’t have that protection for the outer layer. The corneal layer is very important for keeping the body protected from things like microbes or harmful bacteria that can enter through cuts. Because it’s a protective layer, the corneal is constantly renewing itself and shedding old damaged cells and growing new ones in their place. This process keeps the barrier of the skin strong and resilient in healthy people without eczema but becomes disrupted for those with eczema due to chronic inflammation.
Reasons for Disruption
- Genetics – One very common cause of eczema is having a mutated gene that results in reduced production of a protein called filaggrin, which normally helps maintains the corneal layer. When there isn‘t enough filaggrin, the skin becomes dry and it loses the ability to ward off infections.
- Reduced serum or oil production which results in dry skin. It can also be due to genetics or as a result of allergies, hormone change inflammation or changes in the immune system.
- Low Immune Function - This leads to inflammation and response to things like yeast and bacteria that live on your skin. Low immune function can be due to factors like medications, autoimmune disorders, untreated infections, chronic inflammation, nutrient deficiencies or poor gut health.
- Allergies – These cause the release of antibodies and a harmful immune system response. It can lead to something called Atopic Dermatitis or Atopic eczema. Allergic responses can be due to things like consuming certain foods, chemical exposure or contact with other harsh toxins and substances such as chemical perfumes, soaps or detergents. Atopic Dermatitis is not linked to things like pet or fur exposure. In fact, the opposite is actually true. Eczema has been found to be less common in children who have many siblings or dogs or who spend time in daycare settings and or around children with a young age. These things result in a stronger immune system and build up protection for eczema.
- Toxicity – This includes smoking or exposure to high amounts of pollution, heavy metals or pesticides.
Common Eczema Symptoms
Eczema symptoms all have one thing in common; they are all related to inflammation. This inflammation occurs on the corneal layer and once the barrier of the skin becomes damaged or dry, factors like lots of moisture or allergies then leads to an immune response, sensitivity and irritation that can be really hard to control, painful and uncomfortable.
Symptoms of eczema can be short-term or chronic; it can come in waves. Depending on the specific type of eczema you have the signs and symptoms of eczema can include:
- Inflamed skin such as skin that appears red and swollen
- Itching which makes the irritation worse
- Blisters or crusty patches of skin that can crack open, ooze and become scaly
- Peeling, flaking skin due to sever dryness. Developing cuts and cracks in the skin due to severe dryness
- Changes in the skin color and texture such as skin becoming tougher, rougher, darker and thicker
- Sensitivity to products like shampoos, detergents, lotions and cleaners. For this reason, it is advised that if you have skin conditions such as eczema, you got to find one that does not have additives
- Burning due to irritation or exposed raw skin
Eczema vs Psoriasis
While they sound alike, the two conditions are actually very different. While both eczema and psoriasis occur as a result of inflammation, low immune function and stress, psoriasis is an autoimmune condition where the immune system is actually attacking healthy skin cells. Eczema, on the other hand tends to be triggered by irritation from specific things like cloths, detergent, pollutants, allergies and food sensitivities.
A major difference between the two is that eczema tends to cause intense, persistent itching and can be almost impossible to stop scratching. In fact the itching is so bad that it’s really common for bleeding from overitching to occur during eczema flare-ups, while the discomfort associated with psoriasis is usually characterized by more of a burning or stinging as opposed to itching. Psoriasis also causes rays, silvery scaly patches to form on very inflamed skin.
There are also some differences in the location of where symptoms of these conditions tend to show up. For eczema it’s on the hands, the face, parts of the body that bend like the elbows and knees. Psoriasis often shows up in skin folds or in places like the face the scalp, palms and the feet, elbows and knees.
What Triggers an Eczema Flare-up?
Eczema tends to occur in waves or flare-ups and there are a number of things that can trigger a flare-up including:
- Food sensitivities, food additives and preservatives. Some of the most common ones include peanut, milk, soy, fish, wheat, eggs. Inflammatory foods like sugars processed foods and unhealthy fats also contribute to eczema flare-ups.
- Chemicals in detergents, soap, or shampoos.
- Sweating. This is typically caused by the residue of salt left on the skin, once the sweat evaporates. It is advice to take a lukewarm shower after a sweaty activity.
- Hot water. You’ve got to keep your water lukewarm or cool so that your skin stays calmer and less inflamed after hand washing or showers.
- Dry air, such as heaters and air conditioning can dry out your skin and since those with eczema already have skin veering on the dry side, the potential for a flare-up is exponentially higher.
- Allergies – Most people affected by eczema experience a flare-up due to some sort of a reaction, whether it’s an allergy to food, pollen or dust. The immune system goes into overdrive and resulting inflammatory response contributes to painful eczema flare-ups
Tips to Minimize Flare-ups
While a cure for eczema is yet to be discovered, there are a number of things that you can do to minimize the risk of painful eczema flare-ups, including staying hydrated. Drink plenty of clean water and moisturize daily, immediately after you shower or go swimming.
Shower immediately or as soon as possible after sweating. Sweat contains lactic acid, iron, zinc, copper, calcium and magnesium, and they are all on your skin and they leave this residue that contributes to inflammation and skin irritation. Rinse off to avoid a flare-up and remember to use lukewarm water and don’t rub your skin.
Moisturize right after you shower to lock in the moisture. Coconut oil is great for this.
Hit the beach and not the pool to avoid chlorine. Pool water is generally loaded with harsh chemicals like chlorine, which can dry out and irritate the skin. The ocean on the other hand is chemical-free in addition to having anti-inflammatory, antiseptic properties that can actually soothe eczema affected skin.
Wear loose fitting clothing made of breathable fabrics. Wool and synthetic fabrics like spandex can be really irritating to anyone’s skin. Someone with eczema should avoid wearing these fabrics at all cost, especially if they’re on the tighter side. So instead, opt for a breathable fabric like bamboo or cotton and linen and choose clothes that aren’t too form fitting, allowing your skin to breathe.
Invest in a humidifier. Air conditioners and heaters can create a dry environment which can trigger an eczema flare-up. A humidifier is an excellent way to bring a little bit of moisture into the air. As a bonus tip, add a few drops of your favorite essential oils into your humidifier. It’s a great way to infuse the room with great cleaning sense like lavender and rose, whichever oil that you love to use.
Leave your skin alone. Don’t itch and don’t scratch. Try to sooth it instead. Itching caused by eczema can be very tempting and satisfying in the moment to scratch or peel. However, scratching has been found to lead to complications because it can cause wounds or open cracks that allow bacteria in. This sometimes causes infections especially if the immune system is already weakened. It’s safer to try and leave the skin alone while you treat the underlying cause of eczema. Applying a natural moisturizer or cool compress can help you keep from picking at it.
Natural Remedies for Eczema
While dermatologists often choose to treat eczema symptoms with prescription topical creams and sometimes medications to kill the bacteria or alter immune responses, pacify the itching, it is advised to use natural treatments to treat eczema. These include:
- Applying natural topicals and essential oils.
- Reducing food allergies.
- Making dietary improvements.
- Avoid irritating skin care or beauty products by using only natural ingredients.
Some of the natural topical oils include coconut oil which boasts incredible anti-inflammatory properties. It is antibacterial, antifungal and it has antimicrobial properties that provide a soothing relief. It may speed healing. Applying it to the skin throughout the day as well as moisturizing with it before bed at night is a great way to keep your skin nice and hydrated.
Colloidal oatmeal is grounded into a nice, easily mixable powder that you can put to your topical creams or into a lukewarm bath. It is rich in skin enhancing vitamins, minerals, lipids and proteins, it can improve rough and dry skin for those with eczema.
Aloe vera — The gel of the aloe vera plant has antibacterial, wound healing, immune boosting properties that can help soothe dry skin, encourage healing and help prevent infections.
Lavender essential oil — In addition to the intense itching, eczema commonly causes anxiety, depression, frustration, and poor sleep. Lavender essential oil is an eczema treatment proven to help reduce these common symptoms that can help heal dry skin. Try using lavender oil, almond oil, jojoba, olive oil, or coconut oil. This is because lavender itself is very dry.
Eat a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods
Research continues to show that a healthy diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods can help reduce eczema symptoms by reducing the inflammation in the body and by strengthening your immune system. Preventing eczema flare-ups means you must prevent harmful foods and toxins with a healthy, all natural anti-inflammatory alternative. This includes a diet that is loaded with antioxidants, rich fruits and vegetables that are really good for you, lean proteins like organic grass-fed meats or legumes, including lentils and beans, organic bone broth, healthy sources of fats including omega-3 fatty acids, EPA, DHA from sources such as wild-caught salmon, avocado and coconut oil, walnuts, hemp seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, and foods known to fight inflammation including garlic, ginger, probiotics, olive oil, and curcumin.
Use healthy fats and healing oils topically to improve your skin health. Certain natural and essential healthy fats such as coconut oil, olive oil, almond oil, lavender, and tea tree oil, have anti-inflammatory and soothing properties, and when used as an external topical treatment or cream, they really help to keep your sensitive skin from flaring up and make a great skin cream to soothe the itching and discomfort associated with eczema flare-up.
All Natural Homemade Eczema Cream
This is loaded with the essential oils and it is great for cooling painful eczema flare-ups.
- 1/2 cup of coconut oil
- 1/4 cup of olive oil
- 1 tbsp of local raw honey
- 20 drops of lavender essential oil
- 10 drops of tea tree or melaleuca essential oil
Mix the ingredients together, and you can store it in the refrigerator and it will eventually turn solid. It is very easy to store and you can put it anywhere you want. It is not toxic and it really, really works.
Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that affects over 30 million people. It is characterized by a rash and severe unbearable itching. It is caused by a number of factors including genetics, extreme dry or sensitive skin, allergies and irritants, chemicals in detergents soaps, lotions, food sensitivities, stress, exposure to environmental toxins and chronic inflammation.
There are a number of things you can do to minimize eczema flare-ups. These include staying hydrated, moisturizing on a regular daily basis, taking showers with lukewarm or cool water especially after sweating, wearing breathable looser fabrics, using a humidifier to add moisture to the air and eating anti-inflammatory foods, probiotics, and healthy fats. It is recommended to follow Dr. Nancy’s anti-inflammatory eGuide.
The doctor also shared an all natural, homemade skin cream that uses coconut, olive oil, raw honey and other essential oils. It is a great way to soothe your skin and helps prevent those painful eczema flare-ups.