Itchy, irritating and painful, eczema is a 10 out of 10 jerk. Whether you’ve been suffering from it for years, or it has just decided to pay you a visit (how kind!), you’ll know just how difficult it can be to deal with. Flare-ups can be unpredictable; rashes pop up almost anywhere on your body; and the symptoms and triggers seem almost endless.
If you’re not sure where to start, we’re here to help – because there are ways to get some relief from those dry, red patches. We asked skin practitioner Sarah Hudson from Skin by Sarah Hudson for everything we need to know about eczema.
What causes eczema?
Also known as atopic dermatitis, eczema occurs when your skin is unable to repair its natural barrier. “The cracks mean foreign substances from the environment are able to enter the skin – this activates the skin’s immune response causing the skin to become red, itchy and inflamed,” explains Hudson. “When the skin’s natural barrier becomes damaged, moisture leaves the skin, causing it to become dry and cracked. Generally, there is a family history of eczema or other allergies such as hay fever and asthma.”
Unsure if you have eczema or not? Hudson says your skin will usually appear red, irritated and itchy. “Mild eczema tends to look dry and flaky. Severe eczema tends to be itchy, red; the skin may be cracked and it can ooze,” she explains.
What are some common triggers?
First off, stop scratching. We know it’s easier said than done, but scratching will make your eczema one hundred times worse. It basically breaks down the skin’s barrier even more, making it more susceptible to infection. So, try and keep those mitts away from your skin as much as possible.
Exposure to pollution is also a major trigger for skin inflammation, causing damage to the skin’s protective barrier, which results in more water evaporating from the skin. “What we are currently experiencing due to the bushfire smoke haze is a key trigger of eczema,” reveals Hudson. Want to find out more? Just check out this study from the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology on air pollution and atopic dermatitis.
Skin care and makeup
You also have to be wary of what kind of skin care and makeup products you’re using, as certain ingredients can cause flare-ups and irritation. “Just as you would read food labels, learn to read about different ingredients and the effects these can have on the skin. Look for products that are free of ingredients such as parabens, formaldehyde, sodium lauryl sulphate, propylene glycol, artificial colour and fragrances,” says Hudson.
Perfume and laundry detergents
Other triggers include perfume and laundry detergents. If you can’t part with your favourite fragrance, Hudson says to avoid spraying perfumes or body sprays directly on the skin, and instead spray them onto your clothes. She also recommends looking for sensitive skin and fragrance-free detergents, and to avoid fabric softeners as they tend to be highly fragranced.
According to Hudson, chlorine can also make things worse for eczema sufferers. “Chlorine harms the skin by stripping away natural oils and moisture from your skin, damaging the skin’s natural barrier,” explains Hudson. If steering clear of chlorine isn’t an option (it’s summer, we get it), to avoid itchy, dry skin, Hudson recommends doing this: “Prior to swimming, apply moisturiser as a protective barrier to patches of eczema; this will help protect the barrier of the skin. Swim for a short time, then rinse skin with fresh water.”
On top of this, things like over-heating can aggravate eczema, making you more likely to scratch – so make sure to cool things down a notch when you hit the shower. “Have tepid showers [and] ensure [your] work or home environment is not too hot,” says Hudson.
Above all, Hudson stresses the importance of a healthy diet. “Colds and flu, bacterial infections, allergic reactions, or stress can all place pressure on the immune system, contributing to eczema flare-ups,” says Hudson. “Ensure a healthy diet, drink plenty of water. Include vitamin C supplements into your diet which can help to strengthen the immune system and can have the added benefits of being an antihistamine.”
Can you get rid of eczema?
“There is no cure for eczema, however many treatments can help to manage and relieve the symptoms. Removing triggers from your environment may help to manage the ‘eczema flare-ups’. Try to source products that help protect the barrier function. Be diligent with applying face and body moisturiser morning and night,” suggests Hudson.
The best way to deal with eczema
Wondering where to start? Make an appointment with a specialist dermatologist (not just your GP). “Dermatologists have the knowledge and skill to understand the complexities of the skin’s barrier function and can prescribe treatments accordingly. If you don’t get results from the first dermatologist you see, get a second or third opinion. Different topical and oral medications work for different people,” says Hudson.
“If you see patches of eczema on your skin, don’t leave it. Seek advice from your doctor. Eczema does not tend to go away by itself, it tends to need help with topical prescribed creams, or oral antibiotics.”
Looking for more tips for dry skin? Find out a dermatologist’s tips on how to keep your skin barrier healthy.
Have you ever suffered from eczema? What are your go-to skin care products? Share with us in the comment section below.
Main image credit: Getty