If you have eczema, your skin’s natural barrier isn’t working properly, so you’ll lose moisture quickly and be more vulnerable to irritants you come into contact with each day. This usually leads to dry, itchy, cracked and scaly skin which is open to even more bacteria and allergens. Eczema’s a very common, non-contagious condition, and while it can be really uncomfortable, there’s lots you can do to soothe your troubled skin.
What causes it?
There are two main types of eczema: atopic eczema and contact dermatitis. Atopic eczema is the body’s overreaction to outside substances, and unfortunately tends to affect people who are prone to asthma, hay fever and other allergies. It’s often inherited and is more common in children than adults, leaving the insides of elbows, knees, wrists and ankles inflamed and itchy.
Recognising the symptoms
• Mild dry eczema – involves chronic dry, itchy skin, although usually doesn’t lead to inflammation. It’s still uncomfortable though, and needs emollient therapy (see below). • Acute eczema – can involve dryness, inflammation, itching, blistering, redness, scaling and weeping
• Chronic eczema – is the term used to describe acute eczema that goes on for a long period of time, as the skin function continues to deteriorate. Your skin may seem thick, scaly and cracked in affected places
The itch-scratch cycle
Whatever type of eczema you have, it’s likely that your skin will feel very itchy at times. It’s hard not to scratch, but scratching does make things worse. It damages the skin, allowing bacteria to get in. In turn this causes your immune system to react and inflame the skin, leading to more itching and infection.
How can I treat eczema?
There isn’t a cure for eczema, but there are lots of ways you can manage it, by avoiding things that trigger irritation and treating the affected skin.
The first type of treatment to try is complete emollient therapy. Emollients like the ones in the E45 range are very effective moisturisers that help to keep your skin soft and supple so it doesn’t itch as much. They work by restoring natural moisture, lipids and oils which skin with eczema is lacking. This creates a barrier on the skin’s surface which helps prevent more moisture loss and helps to stop bacteria getting in.
Complete emollient therapy means getting into the following daily routine:
• In the morning, wash with a soap substitute. They don’t contain detergents like ordinary soaps so they’re less drying. Gently pat your skin dry and smooth on an emollient cream or lotion with clean hands, in the direction of hair growth. Creams are soothing if your skin is thick or brittle, whereas lotions are lighter, soak in faster and are great for using all over
• During the day, use a soap substitute to wash your hands and apply an emollient cream or lotion when your skin feels dry or itchy. Don’t let your skin dry out, or rub it too hard
• In the evening, dip into a warm bath for 10 minutes. A little emollient bath oil will clean your skin so there’s no need for soap. Again it’s free from detergents, so protects your natural moisture barrier. Gently pat your skin dry and apply an emollient lotion or cream while it’s still damp
Emollients work well on mild to moderate eczema, but if you’re still suffering, steroids are another effective option. Many people worry about using them, but low-dose creams like E45’s Hc45 Hydrocortisone Cream are well tolerated and can be used for a maximum of seven days. Hc45 Hydrocortisone Cream is available over the counter. You’ll only be given stronger steroids under the guidance of your GP or pharmacist.
You could also ask them about wet wrapping, topical immunomodulators, evening primrose oil, sedative antihistamines, homeopathy and light and drug therapy.
What should I avoid?
There are lots of things which can trigger your eczema, and getting to know what they are is the first step in avoiding them! We’ve put together the list below to show you some common triggers. Try looking out for them and their effect on you. We’re all different, so you may find your skin feels fine in some of these conditions and uncomfortable in others…
• Irritants like dust mites, animal hair, certain plants, dry air (caused by air conditioning, central heating or frosty weather)
• Woollen clothes – cotton will be far cooler and more comfy
• Duvets and pillows containing feathers
• Taking too many (or too hot) baths
• Heavy sweating while you’re playing sports
• Certain foods, especially those containing these additives: Parabens E214 to E218, Sodium Benzoate E211, Sorbic acid E200, Butyl hydroxyanisole E320 and E321, Tartrazine E102, Erythrosine E123 and Amaranth E127
• Industrial or chemical irritants like detergents, washing powders (use non-bio) and chlorine in swimming pools
• Stress, anxiety, depression and psychological problems