26.9.14

Understanding Eczema: What It Is, Why It Happens & How You Can Deal With It

Before meeting my boyfriend, I had little to no understanding of eczema. The dry skin condition is highly individual, with symptoms varying from person to person, and effects one in twelve adults in the UK. Although it's more common in children and many people 'grow out' of the condition when they reach adulthood, it can be incredibly debilitating and have a huge impact on confidence. It's still little understood by the masses, with even suffers struggling to get to grips with the reasons behind their itchy and sore skin. After dealing with a chronic case of eczema and managing to get it under control over the course of a year, we wanted to share our knowledge and experience in the hope that it will help someone else. So here's the lowdown on eczema, its causes, how you can manage it and some of our tips that have helped completely turn it around.


What Exactly Is Eczema?
Essentially it's a dry skin condition that can cause the surface to become scaly, red and itchy - in more severe cases it may also cause weeping, crusting or bleeding of the skin. Constant scratching can cause the condition to become even worse, with skin splitting and being left open to infection. The word 'eczema' comes from the Greek word 'ekzein', which means "to boil" - it's not uncommon for skin to look like it's been placed under boiling water, hence the name. Eczema isn't contagious and can't be transferred from one person to the next, although there is evidence to support genetic predisposition to the condition; you're more likely to suffer with eczema if there is a family history.

So What Causes Eczema?

Our skin is made up of a thin outer layer, a fairly elastic middle one and a fatty layer at the deepest level. Each layer contains skin cells, water and fats, all of which help maintain the condition of the skin while protecting it from infection. If you're a sufferer of eczema your skin is likely to not product as much fat and oil as others and will be less able to retain water. The protective barrier is therefore not as good as it should be, gaps open up between skin cells because they're not sufficiently 'plump' and moisture is then lost from the deeper layers - allowing bacteria or irritants to pass through more easily. It's this irritation and lack of moisture that causes skin to become inflamed, irritated, itchy and broken.

Are There Specific Irritants?

Some everyday substances can significantly contribute to breaking down of the skin and removing natural oils, including anything that 'foams' (soap, bubble bath and washing-up liquid.) Because eczema sufferers' skin is prone to drying out and easily damaged, it's more likely to become red and inflamed on contact with substances that are known to irritate - including fragrances, colourants and preservatives. Exposure to water can also cause the skin to become even more irritated, as when it evaporates it takes essential oils involuntary along with it; reducing the time you're in the shower, minimising baths and moisturising as soon as you step out will definitely help. However, each individual will have different triggers and react differently to products, depending upon the severity of their condition and their skin's ability to protect itself.

What About Sports And Physical Activity? 
As a rugby player, Josh has been able to identify that sweat has a significant impact on his eczema. Our sweat, by its very nature, is acidic and can irritate the skin if it's extremely sensitive or has split in certain areas. Eczema can be particularly prolific around the arms, inner elbows and neck where sweat resides - so it's good to be aware of how your skin reacts and how you can minimise the irritation. Although thick deodorants are likely to block the skin and cause irritation of its own, adjusting your diet and avoiding sugary and acidic drinks may significantly help.  

Should You Use Steroid Creams?
Topical steriods (applied directly to the skin,) can help control itching and swelling - they're often prescribed by the doctor in various strengths to get the symptoms of eczema under control. However, they also weaken the skin's surface and (when used in the long-term) can become a crutch on which to rely on; they're not intended as a long-term treatment, so should only ever be used when necessary. From my experience, doctors rely on steroid creams far too much and are not willing to offer any alternative; this can cause skin to be so reliant upon steroid creams that it ceases to function normally. The result of which is the need for stronger and more potent creams, causing a never-ending circle of reliance upon super strong lotions and potions that will provide no benefit in the long-term. My boyfriend used steroid creams multiple times a day for years, suffering from huge red areas and weeping sores, until I confiscated the creams and forced him to seek out alternatives. They were seriously doing him more harm than good.

So What Alternatives Are Available?
For us, the key was to build up the skin's ability to repair and nourish itself so steroid creams could be phased out. Introducing high potency fish oil tablets into Josh's routine daily made the world of difference, helping his skin to lubricate itself and protect against further infection. Taking nine Lambert's 1100mg caplets a day has revolutionised the way in which his skin is able to take care of itself, removing the need for any form of steriods or topical treatment whatsoever - a huge result from someone who applied the strongest steroid cream multiple times a day. It took about six weeks to start noticing a difference, but nine months later you wouldn't even know that he suffers from eczema. The results are that good! It's a long-term plan that requires an investment in both time, money and effort, but we've seen the results pay dividends and his confidence soar.

What Products Can I Use To Help? 
Although removing reliance on steroids and introducing fish oil tablets has made a huge impact, there's still a need for products to help further moisturise and take care of the skin - without irritating it and causing further problems. The key is to look for products with a minimal amount of fragrance, preservatives, foaming ingredients (anything with 'sulphate' on the end) or colourants in their formula; this will cut out most of the irritants that can make the condition worse. In addition, products that contain urea (which promotes hydration in the skin) will also offer support on a daily basis. I'm going to be delving deeping into some of Josh's favourite products in a later post, so stay tuned for specific recommendations.

Although I'm in no way medically trained or have any experience with dermotology, by trial and error (and through expert consultations) we've been able to digest what's worked and what hasn't over the last year or so. These are our experiences (all of which are corroborated by other eczema sufferers online) and hopefully they can go some way in helping someone else in a similar situation. The key thing to remember is that eczema can be controlled; you just need to understand what you're dealing with.

Have you any experience of eczema? Are you a sufferer with your own story to share? Have you found your own way of keeping the condition under control?
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11 comments

  1. this has been a really interesting post to read, i've always had eczema so it's good to understand where it comes from!

    love katy @ THE RAWRDROBE ♡

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  2. Anonymous26.9.14

    Interesting, My partner suffers really terribly with this condition. I don't think he does himself any good either and just gets in a bad mood if I try to help.

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  3. I agree with Katy, I have always suffered with eczema and it's such a pain in the butt! When I was a baby I was more often naked than dressed due to the sores and bleeding caused from my skin! I'm happy to say that as the years have progressed my condition has gotten amazingly better! I still have inflammation and irritation but no where near the scale of what the pictures show it was! Simple changes like not using a whole bath bomb and not using overly scented moisturisers help me. Trying to keep my body temp from drastically changing too because I don't know if it's just me but when I suddenly drop or rise in body temp, holy mother of god does the itching begin! When I danced I would have to splash cold water on the backs of my legs to cool it down. It's an irritating condition and I think I will never truly understand it myself but I did get to learn a few new things from this post, so thanks for that! :)
    Levi x
    LeviJade'sBlog

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  4. I've had severe ezcema all my life so this was a really interesting post to read, I'm going to show this to my Mum later and see if we can come up with different ways using this post to try and treat my eczema. Thank you so much for writing this Hayley! xxx

    Blog This With Hannah

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  5. The eczema on my hands is awful, not only in how it feels but how it looks :( The doctors always give me steroid creams and they don't work in the long run, they've just ruined my skin making it thin and raw-looking. I'm looking forward to seeing the post with Josh's favourite products so I can try them out for myself!

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  6. Completely agree with you that the steroid creams should be used extremely sparingly. I have used them very minimally in the past and always mix them with a good amount of thick lotion. Eucerin is the best in my opinion. I also like their calming cream formula but it can sting if you have open cracks in your skin. A trick I discovered to deal with the stinging, especially on cracked knuckles, is to put the pain relief Neosporin gel (not sure if that's a thing in the UK) and then follow up with the moisturizer. It lets you rub it in really good without crying from pain. :) haha
    I actually just started taking fish oil so I'm interested to see if that makes any difference as the cold dry weather sets in this year.
    :) Alice
    www.alicemanfrida.com

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  7. What an informative post, thank you! I have to admit that I had no idea what eczema was and how it was caused/treated (I know, how awful am I!). Thank you for writing this post!

    Danniella x
    www.famousinjapan.co.uk

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  8. Brilliant post! I suffered from Eczema as a baby, and now I've had my son get eczema on my lips and my eyelids every time I am due on. The doctor recently put me on the pill to try and stop it - so far it hasn't worked and actually made it a lot worse. For me it's more hormonal than anything else.

    Atopsyturvyblog.blogspot.com

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  9. Great post! :D
    I've suffered with severe eczema all my life and recently I have been back and forth to the doctors practically every week with it due to it becoming infected. I have been given antibiotics but they just don't seem to work! I've had a million different creams (including strong steroids) and they do help but I have never just "grown out" of it unfortunately as I am now 19. My biggest tip would be to purchase some anti histamine tablets because it might seem really simple but they have really helped with the itching especially at night. You can also get the drowsy ones if your eczema gives you trouble sleeping too!
    When I was about 15 I went through a horrible period where it got so bad that I was becoming so self conscious that I didn't even want to leave the house so I can completely understand how horrible it can be! But I think as you get older you have more of an understanding of what triggers your eczema and what you can do to keep it under control :)

    Joanna
    http://joannawalker-x.blogspot.co.uk

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  10. Great post! I had isolated patches of it as a child-typically on the inside of my elbows and the backs of my knees. I know that just that used to be quite itchy so I really feel for people who suffer badly with it. I mostly grew out of it but I do find that I get the odd little patch reappearing if I get really stressed. I find almond oil to work really well in clearing it up, with the lack of preservatives and artificial ingredient, Em x
    http://themusingsofem.blogspot.co.uk/

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  11. I've suffered from eczema for a while I think I might try fish oil tablets see if they made a difference
    I've done a post on products that have really helped me through eczema over on my blog

    Leanne x

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