Eczema is an increasingly common condition, which affects one in five children and one in twelve adults in the UK. Over the past 30 years, the number of people suffering from eczema has increased 2-3 fold.
So what causes eczema?
Our skin needs its own natural oils to keep it supple and moist, and help prevent infection. Although the exact causes are unknown, when someone has eczema these natural oils are lacking within the skin. This results in the skin becoming dry, cracked, sore and very itchy. The problem is exacerbated by the use of soap, shampoo and exposure to detergents. Sufferers can also be susceptible to allergies, such as pet hair, dust, pollen and certain foods. Temperature extremes may also make the condition worse, as can certain clothing, such as woolly jumpers and non-cotton garments. Eczema can occur anywhere on the body, although it commonly affects the creases of the body, such as the back of knees and insides of elbows.
Doing the damage
Young children in particular can find it difficult to resist the urge to scratch. The natural reaction is to scratch the skin to relieve the itch, but this can become a vicious cycle, worsening the condition and, in some cases, leading to infection. Scratching eczema leads to skin damage, increases inflammation and can cause bleeding, secondary skin infection and thickening of the skin. The more a person scratches, the more the skin itches. Managing eczema is about trying to avoid things that are triggers and cause problems, and establishing routines, such as complete emollient therapy and wet or dry wrapping, that will help control it.
Summer doesn’t always bring out the best in people. Warmer weather, sunburn and a rise in outdoor allergens can cause havoc for some people’s eczema.
And even though in some cases the sun can help eczema, at this time of the year it is more important than ever to keep up a good skincare routine and do all you can to avoid the things you know will make your eczema worse.
Below are top tips from the National Eczema Society to help keep your eczema under control so you can enjoy the season.
Many people find that their eczema improves with exposure to sunlight (this is particularly true of the contact and discoid types) while others experience a worsening of their condition. Whatever your own experience, the skin will still need protection from the sun’s harmful rays, both during the British summer-time and when you are away on holiday in a warm climate.
THE DAMAGING EFFECTS OF THE SUN
The fairer your skin, the greater the chance of burning. In the short-term, severe sunburn can result in blisters, sickness, shivering and fever but it is also important to consider the long-term effects of over-exposure to the sun. These include premature ageing of the skin and even skin cancers. The B rays are responsible for burning, while the A rays can damage fibres in the lower levels of the skin, causing wrinkles and ageing.
Even on an overcast or cloudy day, the sun's rays will still reach you. Wearing loose long-sleeved cotton tops and trousers will protect arms and legs from the sun and a wide-brimmed hat will shield the head and face. Creams and lotions should be applied to protect exposed skin.
In addition to sunscreens, it is vital to be sensible about the amount of sun exposure, particularly when on holiday. Wherever you are, the sun is always strongest between 11.00am and 2.00pm. Babies under 6 months should not be exposed to direct sunlight, so keep them in the shade at all times.
PROTECTING YOUR SKIN
All sunscreens give protection against B rays; some also protect against A rays. The sun protection factor (SPF) tells you the extent to which the sunscreen filters out the B rays. The higher the SPF, the greater the degree of protection. SPF’s range from 2 up to 50, but someone with very fair skin or who has eczema that worsens in sunlight should use a cream with a factor of 15 or above. The star rating on products indicates their protective effects against UVA rays. The more stars the higher the protection. Sunscreen should be applied about every two hours. Water-resistant creams may be better when swimming, but should still be re-applied afterwards.
Sunscreens can be very expensive, especially if you need to use them every day. In some cases, it may be possible to get certain brands on prescription. Alternatively, sunscreens can be bought over the counter. Ask your doctor or local pharmacist for their advice. Own brand products sold by chain stores are increasingly available and can be just as effective as the more expensive ones made by cosmetic companies.
Sunscreens can irritate eczema in some people. When choosing a sunscreen to use you will need to consider the same factors as you would when choosing an emollient. Ingredient labelled products will help you to avoid substances to which you have a known sensitivity, but you should always be careful and make sure that you test any new sunscreen before applying it to the whole body. Try not to rub too hard when applying cream as this will set off itching.
Another factor that you may wish to consider is whether to use a sunscreen based on chemicals, which can irritate eczema, one containing a non-chemical mineral as its base (usually titanium dioxide), or a product that is a combination of both chemicals and minerals. Chemical sunscreens are absorbed into the skin whilst those containing titanium dioxide sit on the skin and act as a barrier. Therefore some people with eczema prefer to use mineral based or combination products rather than chemical sunscreens. Titanium dioxide can leave a white sheen on the skin and this can be off putting, particularly for those with darker skins. However, as with all products used on the skin, what works for one person with eczema will not necessarily suit another, so a process of trial and error will probably be needed. Click here to see our natural organic suncare and aftersun products
Remember that sunscreens are not designed to allow you to spend unlimited time in the sun but to provide protection when you are exposed to sunlight.
MOISTURISING AND AVOIDING IRRITATION
Sun exposure is drying to the skin. Be even more generous than usual with your regular emollients (moisturisers) and perhaps use a heavier emollient than usual at night. If you can, apply your emollient about half an hour before applying a sunscreen. This will stop the sunscreen from becoming diluted by the emollient and will make sure that the sunscreen keeps its protective properties.
Salt water and sand may be irritating for some people with eczema, particularly if the skin is broken or cracked. Particles of sand or salt can lodge in the skin cracks and sting. Chlorine can also be irritating for some people. It may help to apply a thick layer of emollient before swimming. A tepid shower or a soak in a bath, with oils suitable for eczema, will remove all particles of salt and sand and help to soothe the skin after a trip to the beach or the pool.
Some types of eczema are directly caused or made worse by exposure to the sun, although this is rare. The term for this kind of eczema is photosensitive.
Certain drugs and chemicals such as antihistamines and antibiotics can also cause the skin to become sensitive to sunlight. Therefore if you are taking these for your eczema and are planning to spend time in the sunshine, check with your doctor.
Many people find that heat is a key factor in triggering their eczema. Covering up in light trousers and tops will not only protect against sun exposure (see above) but will help to keep you cool. Natural fibres for clothing, such as cotton or linen, are preferable to synthetic fabrics, which can make you feel hot and sweaty.
Eczema can be generally diagnosed based on the appearance of inflamed, itchy skin in eczema sensitive areas such as face, chest and other skin crease areas.
Eczema can be exacerbated by dryness of the skin. Moisturizing is one of the most important self-care treatments for sufferers of eczema. Keeping the affected area moistened can promote skin healing and relief of symptoms.
We strongly believe that our range of natural eczema and psoriasis treatments and remedies can rehydrate, protect and support your skins natural defenses.