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Struggling with eczema symptoms? Here are 6 harmful habits to avoid

When it comes to skin conditions, eczema is one of the most common, irritating and persistent. But are you inadvertently making bad eczema worse? We chat to Dermoi’s Chief Scientific Officer, Eve Casha, to find out…

Written by High Life North
Published 21.04.2022

WHAT IS ECZEMA?

Eczema is a complex skin condition that is characterised by red, itchy, dry and inflamed skin.

Symptoms can range from mild to severe, they can affect large parts of the body or be specifically atopic, and can be chronic or flare up.

While there are multiple elements that contribute to the development of eczema (immunological, environmental, and genetic), it’s estimated that 1 in 5 children and 1 in 10 adults in the UK will experience some form of eczema.

 

 

SYMPTOMS OF ECZEMA

Atopic eczema causes areas of the skin to become itchy, dry, cracked and sore.

Atopic eczema can occur all over the body, but is most commonly found on the hands (especially fingers), the insides of the elbows or the backs of the knees, and the face and scalp in children.

The severity of atopic eczema can vary a lot from person to person. People with mild eczema may only have small areas of dry skin that are occasionally itchy. In more severe cases, atopic eczema can cause widespread inflamed skin all over the body and constant itching.

Inflamed skin can become red on lighter skin, and darker brown, purple or grey on darker skin. This can also be more difficult to see on darker skin.

Scratching can disrupt your sleep, make your skin bleed and cause secondary infections. It can also make itching worse, and a cycle of itching and regular scratching may develop. This can lead to sleepless nights and difficulty concentrating at school or work.

Areas of skin affected by eczema may also turn temporarily darker or lighter after the condition has improved. This is more noticeable in people with darker skin. It’s not a result of scarring or a side effect of steroid creams, but more of a ‘footprint’ of old inflammation. Eventually, the skin tone returns to its normal colour.

WHAT CAUSES ECZEMA?

Atopic eczema is likely to be caused by a combination of different factors.

The first is biological. People with atopic eczema often have very dry skin because their skin is naturally unable to retain much moisture. This dryness may make the skin more likely to react to certain triggers, causing it to become itchy and sore. In some cases, an overgrowth of candida in the gut can also cause eczema. So, in other words, you may be born with an increased likelihood of developing atopic eczema because of the genes you inherit from your parents. Hormones can also play their part. Women may find their symptoms get worse in the days before their period or during pregnancy.

Another factor is your environmental influences, or lifestyle habits. Unhealthy eating habits, irregular sleep patterns, not drinking enough water and drinking too much alcohol can all increase the severity of eczema symptoms. Periods of extreme physical or emotional stress can cause eczema flare ups.

And the third of the three most common causes of eczema is immunological. Eczema is reaction caused by irritation. As such, irritants such as soaps and detergents, shampoos, washing up liquid and bubble bath can all worsen the condition, as can materials worn next to the skin, such as wool and synthetic fabrics. Cold, damp and dry weather can all eczema symptoms to worsen, as can pet fur, pollen and moulds. You may even discover you have certain food allergies to products like cows’ milk, eggs, peanuts, soya or wheat.

Atopic eczema is not infectious, so it cannot be passed on through close contact.

WHAT NOT TO DO…

 Within the skincare community, it can be difficult to know which habits are helpful and which may worsen your eczema symptoms. But, regardless of the various types of eczema, here are 6 habits to avoid – as advised by Dermoi’s Chief Scientific Officer, Eve Casha, MSc…

1. Taking Hot Showers 

During showers, exposure to hot water temperatures can increase the damage to our skin’s barrier. This is because the outer layer of the skin, or barrier, is composed of dead skin cells surrounded by a lipid matrix. Hot water interferes with these lipids and compromises how our skin barrier functions. This leads to inflammation and dryness.

During eczema flare ups, the skin is already in a compromised state with an impaired skin barrier, dryness, and inflammation. Try to reduce the water temperature when in the shower, washing hands, or washing your face to protect your skin as much as possible.

 

2. Using water-based moisturisers (including hyaluronic acid) 

The skin is naturally structured to bind and store water molecules. However, depending on skin health, this water can easily be lost through the epidermis.

With eczema, transepidermal water loss is high. So, to prevent additional dehydration, use gentle oil-based hydrators (those containing occlusive agents).

 

3. Frequent Cleansing  

Skin cleansers are essential in any skincare regime. They function to remove unwanted materials, such as dirt, sweat, sebum and other oils from the skin. But cleansers are composed of surfactants and, in many cases, harsh surfactants can damage the skin barrier and its lipid components, as well as the pH of the skin.

During eczema flare ups, over-cleansing or using aggressive cleansers has been linked with worsening of the condition. Avoid all cleansers that give immediate tightness or dryness, or those that have high foam. Reducing how often you cleanse, too – we’d recommend only cleansing in the evening – and reach for an emollient, oil-based cleanser when you do. Follow this with a rich hydrator and it will work wonders.

4. Reaching for natural skincare 

While there is a myth that natural remedies are always the ‘better’ solution, this is not the case when it comes to skincare. Many natural extracts contain active compounds that can strip our skin barrier or exacerbate inflammation.

For example, many natural products are high in allergens like essential oils or fruit enzymes and acids that will exfoliate the skin and worsen an eczema lesion.

All skincare products – natural or synthetic – are comprised of chemical substances, and many synthetic products are specifically formulated to reduce irritation on the skin. Reach for simple and gentle formulation, irrespective of their origin.

 

6. Overdoing it with active ingredients  

Introducing new active ingredients into any skincare regime takes time. Whether it’s the anti-aging hero ingredient vitamin A (retinoids) that is known to cause initial irritation, or other actives such as vitamin C, growth factors, peptides, or exfoliating acids, your skin may need time to adjust. Using too many active ingredients at the same time is not recommended for any skin type, as it can lead to irritation.

If your skin is particularly sensitive or prone to eczema flare ups, the focus should remain on calming inflammation and protecting and healing the skin. A simple skin regime comprised of adequate cleansing, moisturisation, and broad spectrum UV protection is sufficient.

HOW TO TREAT ECZEMA

Skincare regimes for eczema-prone skin should be stripped back and consist of consist of mild cleanser and a gentle, oil-based moisturiser that will repair the skin barrier and keep it strong. And during the day, SPF is essential!

The main eczema treatments are emollients (or moisturisers) used every day to stop the skin becoming dry, and topical corticosteroids in either cream or ointment form, which are often used to reduce swelling and redness during flare ups.

Taking antihistamines regularly may alleviate severe itching and applying bandages to particularly painful or irritated areas can provide an opportunity for the skin to heal underneath without further damage. Topical pimecrolimus or tacrolimus can also be prescribed by a GP for eczema in more sensitive areas which isn’t responding to simpler treatment.

Probiotic supplements have been found to reduce skin inflammation in some cases, so adding these into a healthy, balanced diet may prove beneficial. Eve recommends ZENii Probiotics. And in cases where an overgrowth of candida in the gut has caused eczema, Eve suggests a gentle supplement to remove excess mucous can be beneficial.

Eve’s recommendations for those of us suffering with the symptoms of eczema are to use products from Codex Beauty’s Bia range.

The purpose of this range of products is to protect and repair the physical and biological skin barrier and the collection has been clinically proven to dramatically increase hydration, repair the skin barrier and reduce trans-epidermal water loss.

The Bia range is allergy tested, microbiome certified and recognised by the National Psoriasis Foundation.

DID YOU KNOW…?

 The skincare industry is one in which the price of a product does not reflect its quality. 

As scientific knowledge and innovation progresses, genuine scientific expertise is essential to give full understanding and analysis of skincare products to ensure its performance matches its claims. 

Dermoi’s primary commitment is to provide a skincare platform in which every offering is selected and endorsed by in-house scientists for long-term skin health and wellness.

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