I've had eczema since I was a child and have tried everything including homeopathy and herbal medicine as well as more conventional treatments. I was told that I would probably grow out of it but unfortunately I was still itching into my 20s. None of the treatments I was given worked, they either gave temporary relief or made it worse. After years of trying, I decided to take a little look at what was in the emollient given to me by my doctor and I found some surprising results. It mostly consisted of parabens (which can be an irritant in some people) but the wost ingredient was sodium laurel sulphate, an ester of sulphuric acid that dries up the natural oils on your skin and can cause skin corrosion and severe irritation. The thing they were prescribing me was creating the problem and it is in most soaps and moisturisers. Crazy right? So why do cosmetic companies use it? Well, It started off as an efficient detergent for garage floors and it's incredibly cheap. It does so much more but one of its finest qualities is mimicking estrogen (EEK!) to read more about SLS click here.
This article will discuss tackling the causes of eczema as well as how to treat it.
1. Change your shampoo and soaps: Look at the ingredients labels
Get rid of anything that has SLS in it, you are not a garage floor! This means you need to look at your shampoos, conditioners, hand soaps, shower gels, moisturisers. Anything and everything that comes into contact with your skin should come under scrutiny. My motto is, "Don't put anything on your skin that you wouldn't put in your mouth." Try to avoid parabens and other synthetic substances that could be irritants as well, the Ecologist have a great list of beauty baddies on their website.
Go for the products that pride themselves on being organic but keep looking at the ingredients labels as they are not always 100% natural. The rule to go by is if you don't recognise what's in it, don't buy it. A personal favourite of mine is a company called Raw Gaia, the world's first range of living organic skin care products and raw organic beauty products . When you use their delicious smelling creams it really feels like you are nourishing your skin.
2. Moisturise naturally as much as possible: Aloe vera, cocoa butter, almond oil benefits
This is the piece of advice I really agree with the doctors on. Every time you think of it, like right now, get the moisturiser out. Eczema is usually caused by dry skin (but you should check with your doctor in case it is an infection) so it makes sense to give it tonnes of moisture but just make sure it's the right kind. I find that using 100% pure products was the only thing that didn't irritate or block my pores.
Cocoa butter is great for your skin because Vitamins E among others is naturally found within it. If it is cold pressed, the vitamins will be more prevalent. It also makes your skin beautifully soft and smells like a dream! It's best to buy it in its most pure form as this guarantees there will be no parabens mixed in but it's also so much cheaper than shop bought brands. It keeps forever so there is never any need to put artifical preservatives in it anyway.
Sweet almond carrier oil is also vitamin rich. It contains contains the plant-derived compounds ursolic acid and oleic acid which are known to have anti-inflammatory and skin barrier repair effects. Try massaging it all over your body an hour before having a bath to prevent dryness.
Aloe vera is used for treating burns and has even shown to be effective at healing wounds. It has been amazing at treating my eczema with overnight results but when I told a friend this she said it always gave her a rash. It turned out she had been using a cream with all sorts of other ingredients in it because harvested aloe juice needs preservatives. The best way to get around this is to just buy a plant from your local garden centre and cut off a leaf and keep it in your fridge to use as and when you need it. This is a really cheap way of moisturising but it also means you can get the full benefits of the aloe plant by drinking it as a juice too.
3. Dietary supplements that might help eczema
You should be able to get all the vitamins and minerals you need from a balanced diet but it's sometimes useful to have an extra boost. It is always best to consult a nutritionist before taking supplements. In some cases, eczema can be caused by a fatty acid defficiency. Fatty acids can reduce inflammation and relieve dryness, and can also help to heal eczema, therefore, it is worth taking a fatty acid supplement that contains Omega 3, 6 and 9. Antioxidant vitamins C, E and D might also be good for treating eczema. This is because antioxidants can improve the skin's texture, collagen production, protect from free radicals and help with essential fatty acid metabolism.
4. Look at what you eat to beat eczema: Cows milk alternatives
Cows milk is the most common dietary trigger for eczema. Drinking cows milk may not be the thing causing your eczema but it is worth cutting it out for a couple of weeks just to see if it makes a difference to you. When you cut out a certain type of food it is important that you replace it with something. In terms of alternatives to cows milk, it really depends on your preference, almond and hazelnut milks are my favourites but others in my family love oat and rice milk. Goats, sheeps and buffalo milk are delicious creamy alternatives and also create amazing cheeses but if you are particularly sensitive, after the two weeks, it might be worth cutting these out too.
It is also possible that you could be sensitive to other foods like soya, gluten, citrus fruits or nuts so if you've tried all of the steps and they still aren't working it might be good to consult a dietician or allergy specialist.
5. Change your washing detergent and wear natural fibres
It sounds so simple but we often forget that clothes are the thing that come into contact with our skin the most. I often found that my eczema got a lot worse as I started wearing more clothes when the cold weather set in. If you think about it, even though most of the detergent gets washed out every time you wash your clothes, they always come out the machine with a fresh clean smell so it must be leaving some sort of residue. There have been many eczema arguments against biological washing powder because the enzymes used to eat the dirt could also eat your skin but nothing has been proved. I would just say that natural is best because even after I got rid of the biological washing powder, there were still some that chafed no end! My favourite is the Simply pure range because it doesn't use harmful substances (to you or the fishes in the sea) and it leaves your clothes smelling delightful, it is also recommended by the national eczema society.
In terms of wearing more natural fibres, rather than getting a whole new wardrobe just change what you buy in future. It's a case of exchanging scratchy fibers for softer ones like bamboo, cotton or silk (look out for top quality pieces second hand at jumble sales or charity shops). If you decide to start buying organic fibres, it benefits not just your skin but the environment and the farmers too.
Why not keep up to date on our content and sign up to our free newsletter HERE
Exclusive content and FREE digital access to over 20 years of back issues
Check out our favourite natural health and beauty books HERE.