Eczema might be a skin condition associated with childhood but of the 15 million sufferers in the UK, 1 in 12 are now adults. Also known as atopic dermatitis, eczema is defined by the NHS as “a condition that causes the skin to become itchy, red, dry and cracked.”
As eczema sufferers know all too well, aesthetically it can be confidence-kicking. Beyond that, dry and scaly skin can feel extremely comfortable while the urge to scratch is both infuriating and sleep-disrupting.
The cause of eczema is unknown but it has been linked to genetics (it often runs in families) and environmental factors (people with eczema also often have allergies). Triggers vary from person to person but can include weather, stress, hormones, diet and irritating products. Sadly there is no magic ‘cure’ but merely methods for managing flare ups.
In recognition of National Eczema Week, we enlisted some expert help to give us some practical advice on the best ways to manage ezcema…
Forget foam and fragrance
Stripping back your skin, body and hair care routine is a must, and products that foam or are heavily fragranced are the first to go. “Avoid common foaming skin irritants such as anionic detergents and surfactants, particularly SLS,” GP Dr Roger Henderson recommends. “Instead wash your body with emollient-rich shower gels or bath oils and use a gentle fragrance-free cleanser for your face,” Consultant Dermatologist and author of The Skincare Bible Dr Anjali Mahto adds.
Make best friends with your moisturiser
Dr Henderson highlights how moisturising is an essential element of managing eczema: “Apply a rich cream generously and regularly even when skin doesn’t feel particularly dry.” After washing, moisturising becomes even more important. “Using emollients immediately after a bath or shower will help to trap moisture in the skin. Remember to pat your skin dry (not rub) before applying,” he adds.
Avoid extreme temperatures
Annoyingly, both ends of the spectrum can cause issues. “Heat is a problem for eczema and sweat contains traces of certain chemicals that can further irritate the skin,” Dr Henderson explains. “Keep showers short and cool and if you do get sweaty, rinse off and change as soon as possible. Use light cotton sheets and keep the room as cool as possible,” he suggests. During the colder months moisturising becomes even more important. Dr Mahto adds: “Winter can be tricky too with the combination of dry air and central heating”.
Swap your laundry detergent
Many mainstream laundry detergents contain irritating ingredients that could aggravate eczema. It’s not worth the risk so switch to a sensitive skin friendly formula such as Surcare.
“Stress hormones affect the body’s immune system which impacts on skin inflammatory changes,” Dr Henderson highlights. Yoga and pilates can prove a godsend in this department. “Low-impact workouts can help with stress, energy levels and the immune system without too much skin-irritating sweat,” he adds.
Go for a mani
Acrylic nails can be a legitimate game-changer. They don’t stop the scratching per se, but the smoother nail means the damage caused is significantly reduced.