How to Tackle Eczema

Beyond Beauty talks to dermatology nurse prescriber Emma Coleman about dealing with eczema as an adult

We can think of more exciting things to spend a week thinking about, a upcoming holiday, a new beau, however this week in the UK the focus is rightly on the much overlooked skin condition eczema, as part of National Eczema Awareness Week (11-18 September), as organised by the National Eczema Society (NES).   

Atopic eczema is the most reoccurring form which affects one in 10 adults in the UK, according to the NES, so why is this common and easily treatable skin condition so misunderstood?  

Beyond Beauty spoke to dermatology nurse prescriber Emma Coleman about her holistic approach to eczema management.

eczema
Emma Coleman
Emma Coleman

What causes eczema?

Eczema is not just skin deep, says nurse Coleman, “The British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) have acknowledged that 17% of dermatology patients need psychological support and 14% have a psychological condition exacerbating their skin disease.

The exact causes of eczema are not known however, for atopic eczema, it’s thought to be a combination of genes and triggers, explains nurse Coleman. “Studies have shown that people with eczema tend to have an over-reactive immune system, that when triggered by a substance outside the body, responds by producing an inflammation of the outer skin. This inflammation causes the classic red, itchy and painful symptoms associated with this type of eczema,” she says.  

What triggers eczema?

When you have eczema, certain things can trigger a flare up, salt water, certain chemicals like cocamidopropyl which is used to thicken shampoos and lotions, fabrics like wool and polyester, metals (especially nickle), and environmental factors like cold weather or dampness. According to the NHS, hormonal changes can also cause eczema flare ups, and women may find their symptoms can get worse in the days before their period, or during pregnancy.

One of the most common triggers for eczema is processing agents added to the fabric of clothes like bleach, dyes, glues, and chemical additives especially with darker materials. Next time you’re shopping, look out for products that are Phenylenediamine (PDD) free! Oversized woolly jumpers are a staple for many of us as we move into the winter months, but some wool items contain natural lanolin, derived from the oil glands of sheep, which can be a severe trigger for eczema. Lanolin is also a regular ingredient in moisturisers, lip balms, and make up removers, so be careful when shopping for beauty products!

What can help eczema?

Sea buckthorn

“There is evidence to suggest that a sea buckthorn supplement can help with healing painful eczema scabs and potentially help with skin dryness,” says nurse Coleman. Sea buckthorn is a coastal shrub found throughout Europe and has been used over centuries as a food, traditional medicine and skin treatments. You can find it as a tablet supplement and as an ingredient in facial oils.  

Psychological therapies

“The use of psychological interventions in alleviating eczema and its symptoms remains controversial at the moment,” says nurse Coleman, “However, in one study, 20% of eczema patients reported anxiety and 14% depression, which tended to increase in correlation with symptom severity.”  

It’s possible that if you have problems stopping yourself from scratching, that cognitive behavioural therapy could help, suggests nurse Coleman. “Speak to your GP if you can’t resist the urge to itch,” she continues, “Itching irritated skin can only make it worse and make your skin crack and bleed.”

Diet

Some foods may trigger the release of T cells that cause inflammation, as well as immunoglobin-E, an antibody that the body produces in response to a threat, for example nuts, milk and wheat. “My first step in creating an eczema patient plan is usually a referral for blood and/or allergy testing,” says nurse Coleman. “Dairy can cause eczema flare ups in some people, and not in others, so it’s really useful to find out if you have any mild intolerances that could be impacting your skin,” she adds.

Don’t lose hope!

“I see eczema treatment as a three part process, symptom control, education and prevention, and each patient is an individual and should be managed as such,” says nurse Coleman. Small daily changes like trying out silk bed sheets and changing your washing detergent can make a huge daily difference to your eczema, and seeking professional help for more severe cases, using prescription medication, and potentially trying therapy if the itching is getting you down are all worth talking your GP or a medical professional about.

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