Dry skin and eczema, or dermatitis, are very common and affects about one in every five people at some time in their lives and are often interlinked with each other. Over the cooler months central heating and extreme weather conditions can dry the skin out, while age, dehydration, excessive contact with water and irritation from harsh soaps and detergents can also be factors.
Eczema may result from dry skin that becomes itchy and red, often presenting itself as a paving like pattern on the lower legs, trunk and limbs, often accompanied by swelling and itchiness. Particularly susceptible areas are elbow creases, wrists, neck, ankles and behind the knees. It can occur in children as young as four months old and thankfully most outgrow this skin complaint by the age of ten. It can be triggered by contact with allergens, food allergies, stress, weather changes and irritants such as woollen clothing, perfumes, soaps and chemicals.
There are a number of ways to minimise or eliminate dry skin and eczema. The key is to find your individual triggers and avoid them, then treat your skin in the best way for you.
Dietary factors aggravate atopic eczema in about 10% of children but much less frequently in adults and although some people report having worse eczema symptoms after eating certain foods, no studies have been able to establish a link. Food allergy should be considered as a cause in those who have reacted previously to a food. Choose a healthy diet. Scientific research has established without doubt that a healthy diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and whole grains is good for your overall health. Some studies suggest that probiotics may help relieve the symptoms of eczema in children. Probiotics are a type of live bacteria. They can be found in foods like yogurt and in some supplements. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and fish oil, which help fight inflammation, are also being studied for eczema.
2. Avoid irritants
Wool is best avoided but wearing 100% cotton, loose fitting clothing against your skin and using a true soap for all washing can help. Avoid scratching if possible and keep your nails short and clean. Oatmeal in the bath can relieve itchiness, see the Aveeno range for this.
Keeping your skin well moisturised is the key to keeping eczema at bay. Apply a good moisturiser liberally and often, particularly after bathing, and when itchy. Emollient moisturisers are thick and penetrate well into the skin. Take fewer baths or showers, use lukewarm water rather than hot and use a soap substitute.
4. Treatment options
If for some reason your eczema flares up, there are treatments available to manage it. A low strength hydrocortisone cream can be used for mild patches or check with your Doctor if a different steroid cream would be suitable for more severe outbreaks. Day and night antihistamines may be helpful for itchiness to make an eczema sufferer more comfortable.
Another treatment option is the Avène skincare range, based on a thermal spring water from the mountains of southern France. From underground reservoirs, the water is enriched with trace elements and silicates to soothe the skin and restore the epidermal barrier without drying. Sceptical? I was too at first but the water has been used for 260 years to treat eczema and dermatitis and is backed by over 300 clinical studies. A 2011 study published in PubMed found that the low mineral content of the water gave it anti-inflammatory properties and its effect on immune mediators. In 2013, researchers at Avène identified a microflora present in the water they’ve named Aqua Dolomiae. Aqua from water and Dolomiae from the dolomite rock through which the thermal water flows underground in Avène. It seems that the microflora gives the spring water its anti-itch, anti-inflammatory properties, helping stimulate the skin’s natural protection. The range includes face and body products with excellent emollients for moisturising and soothing damaged skin. If you would like to know more about Avène, pop in and see our consultants, we are always happy to answer your questions.