10% of adults around the world suffer with the skin condition that is known as eczema, including 1.3 million in the UK and 16.5 million in the US. Causing the skin to be inflamed, dry, and itchy, eczema doesn’t have a cure, but there are things sufferers can do to ease their symptoms – and it doesn’t have to include steroid creams, ultraviolet light treatment, or immunosuppressant tablets with their potential side effect of kidney issues. As an eczema sufferer herself, Senior Writer Rebecca Scotland shares her experience with the condition and how she goes about easing her symptoms.
By Rebecca Scotland
If one or both of your parents have eczema, chances are you will be born with it, too. In my case, it is my mum who has it. Many children grow out of eczema by the age of four, however there are those unlucky ones who have it throughout their lives. Now 27-years-old, I am one of those unlucky ones who still has eczema in adulthood.
Only recently has research identified the actual cause of eczema: a deficiency in the protein, filaggrin, which causes a faulty skin barrier, and as a result, the skin struggles to keep moisture in, as well as allowing allergens to enter. This means the skin is more likely to react to certain triggers – a long list of them, some of which I will explore shortly – which make it itchy and sore.
However, I have discovered a company called curapella that has created a daily food supplement called pellamex, which, based on world-class research, has been dermatologically formulated to moisturise and nourish dry, sensitive, eczema-prone skin from the inside out by working in sync with the skin’s natural biology. The product features natural amino acid, a building block for the crucial skin barrier protein that is filaggrin, and it stimulates production of the skin’s natural moisturising ability.
This is a product that I haven’t yet tried myself, but I am very interested in giving it a go after seeing all the five-star reviews on curapella’s website, and it just might be the key to treating eczema from the inside out. pellamex has received great press from the likes of Vogue, The Times, and The Guardian, too.
However, over the years, I been prescribed various “treatments” that either masked the problem or didn’t work. Steroid creams are only a temporary treatment and don’t get to the root of the problem. They just heal the rash after it has happened. I want to actually treat the condition, not just layer it in steroid cream after a flare up, thus a product like pellamex could be what I am looking for. Plus, steroid creams can become ineffective with long-term use – and they can make the eczema worse if you use too much.
Then, my dermatologist prescribed ultraviolet light treatment which didn’t help my skin but only caused folliculitis, infected hair follicles, which I was given an antibiotic cream for. I applied a warm compress in order to soothe the itching. Other side effects of ultraviolet light treatment can include mild sunburn, dry and itchy skin (Doesn’t this defeat the object?), and blisters.
I was also prescribed the immunosuppressant tablet Ciclosporin, which was actually developed in the 1970s to suppress the immune systems of transplant patients to prevent the organ rejection. It is said that the drug can be an effective eczema treatment, but not for me. If you are offered Ciclosporin by a dermatologist, it is important to consider the side effects as it can cause high blood pressure as well as reduced kidney function.
Eczema can appear absolutely anywhere on the human body, and I have found in my experience that it moves around. It has gone from the front of my neck to the back of it; my hands and wrists have worsened while they never really used to be a problem; and the crooks of my elbows, backs of my knees, and face don’t suffer from it at all any more (touch wood!)I have also done my research and identified my main triggers and ways to overcome them, and other eczema sufferers may not have thought of these. Reducing eczema symptoms is all about looking after yourself and your skin consistently.
First of all, diet is a major factor to consider as inflammatory foods are likely having an influence on your skin; I particularly find dairy (anything containing cow’s milk) and gluten (anything containing wheat, e.g. bread, pasta, biscuits, pastries) to be trouble causers. Other inflammatory foods can include red meat and processed meats, fizzy/sweetened drinks, and fried food. Alongside cutting these out, you should make sure you are consuming anti-inflammatory foods which can reduce eczema symptoms, including tomatoes; olive oils; green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, and collards; nuts such as almonds and walnuts; fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines; and fruit such as cherries, strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries.
Environmental factors also trigger my eczema symptoms, including the weather (the cold can dry skin out, while heat can cause the body to sweat, both causing inflamed, itchy skin), dust, mould, and pet fur. People with eczema likely find they are particularly sensitive to these elements, so it is important to be careful and prepare accordingly. In cold weather, wrap up warm and moisturise regularly; in warm weather, do all you can to keep cool and apply a cold compress to problem areas; keep your space dust and mould-free; and steer clear of animals wherever possible.
Certain products in the form of soaps and detergents can trigger eczema, too, such as shampoo, shower gel, bubble bath, and washing-up liquid. Simply use gloves when washing the dishes, and switch to using soap and fragrance-free products on your body. I recommend Cerave’s products which are developed with dermatologists and don’t contain any ingredients that could cause the skin to flare up. It is important to keep the skin moisturised, as well; Cerave’s moisturising cream is good at hydrating the skin and contains three naturally occurring ceramides and hyaluronic acid which are essential in supporting the skin barrier and retaining moisture. Dr Organic’s aloe vera skin lotion is also great for soothing itchy skin and restoring moisture.
Additionally, I’ve found my eczema can flare up when I’m anxious or stressed. In turn, this may cause difficulty sleeping and tiredness which can also upset eczema-prone skin. So, how do I go about reducing feelings of stress or anxiety, as well as make sure I get a good night’s sleep to help ease my eczema symptoms?
Primarily, self-care is crucial: bubble baths; lighting my favourite candle; tidying my space; taking a break from the news; unfollowing people on social media who aren’t serving me; drinking plenty of water; making time for hobbies or trying new ones (writing, painting, drawing, walking, listening to music, practicing yoga, watching TV); calling, texting, or visiting a loved one; or spending time in the garden.
To help improve my quality of sleep, I have applied the ‘Night Shift’ setting to my iPhone (Go to ‘Settings’ > ‘Display & Brightness’ > ‘Night Shift’) which is designed to limit the amount of blue light entering your eyes as well as lessens eye strain. Blue light fools the brain into thinking it’s daytime even when it isn’t, therefore, the body stops releasing the sleep hormone, melatonin, and isn’t prompted to wind down for sleep when it’s supposed to a couple of hours before bedtime. With the brain not releasing this hormone due to blue light exposure all day long, people aren’t feeling as tired and their quality of sleep is being impacted negatively. Thus, those who are sleep deprived may see their eczema condition worsening.
Not only can all these be triggers, but researchers say hormonal changes can increase eczema symptoms, either before or during the menstrual cycle begins, or during pregnancy or menopause, due to a drop in oestrogen. It is important to look after yourself during this time and to give your body all of the moisturising and nutrition it needs to stay healthy.
If you would like to learn more about eczema, National Eczema Society provides information and advice through its website, social media, publications, and nurse-supported helpline.