As the chill in the air gets even more intense, our dry skin conditions will inevitably get worse - but if you're one of the thousands of people in the UK that suffer from eczema, the cold weather brings with it even more discomfort and pain. The dry skin condition is highly individual, with symptoms varying from person to person, but it 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 themselves struggling to get to grips with the reasons behind their itchy and sore skin - but here's the lowdown on eczema, its causes, how you can manage it and some of tips that have helped my loved ones 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? 
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.

So What Alternatives Are Available?
The key, in my experience, is to build up the skin's ability to repair and nourish itself so steroid creams can be phased out. Introducing high potency fish oil tablets into your daily routine can make the world of difference, helping skin to lubricate itself and protect against further infection. Taking nine Lambert's 1100mg caplets a day has revolutionised the way in which my boyfriend's skin is able to take care of itself, removing the need for any form of steriods or topical treatment whatsoever. Integrating simple, fragrance free emulsions into a morning and evening routine will ensure skin is hydrated and as healthy as possible too. It's a long-term plan that requires an investment in both time, money and effort, but we've seen the results pay dividends over the last year or two.

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.

Although I'm in no way medically trained, by trial and error (and through expert consultations) I've been able to significantly help loved ones that have been suffering with this often debilitating skin condition. Doctors often don't understand how to deal with eczema, but talking to the right skin experts that have first hand experience can really help you on your way to a healthier approach. 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? Have you found your own way of keeping the condition under control?

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  1. My sister had severe eczema from the age of two. She was hospitalised several times and spent maby years completely covered in body, arm and leg wraps covered in different medical creams and spent many years with a dermatologist due to the severity. Luckily she has started to grow out of it and is less affected as a teenager but still avoids all make up and 'normal' moisturising products. She does find aveeno baths soothing but struggkes each winter with dry skin in her face and arms.

    It's a shame it is not more well known as people can be cruel about things they don't understand.

    Rachel // illustratedteacup.com

  2. Dry sking has always been the enemy.. And fish oil seems like the best option.

    Luxury Makeup Organiser

  3. I'm 16 and have suffered with varying severities of eczema throughout my whole life. I find, personally, my skin becomes worse when I'm stressed and feeling down (not to mention the affect the cold weather has too) and I seem to scratch it subconsciously. It's difficult to control sometimes. I also like to wear my sleeves rolled up to my elbows however my eczema is quite obvious, which can be confidence knocking at the best of times. People sometimes ask what 'it' is.
    This was a great post to help me understand more about my condition - thank you! X

  4. The fish oils idea is so interesting, I wouldn't have thought of taking nine a day! My boyfriend has chronic eczema and has been on tablet steriods for ages, I'm so keen to try that out!

    Jesska - Opal Soul

  5. I saw your post on recommending fish oil tablets and they did help me but I find moisturising as much as possible and don't take hot baths/showers helps

    Leanne | oohsimplething.blogspot.co.uk

  6. Eczema is horrible - I've been using various steroid creams/lotions on & off for years & agree that the winter weather can make it worse. I'm definitely going to look into some alternative & products to help lesson the symptoms. :) x


  7. I feel so sorry for people who suffer with it severely. I have a friend who gets it on her face, particularly around her eyes and it looks so sore. I used to get it as a child, particularly on the insides of my knees and elbows where it was probably made worse by sweat because as you say, it doesn't help. These days I occasionally get it in small patches when I'm particularly stressed out but I mostly grew out of it. When it does flare up, I find that the best thing for it is almond oil and according to my mum, it's also the only thing that worked to clear up the horrendous cradle cap I had as a baby, Em x

  8. Borage oil was recommended for us it has high levels of GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) which is a fatty Acid. Similar to Evening Primrose Oil but high concentration. Good Alternative to try instead of Fish.

    Avoid Washing Powders and Softners. Even Non Bio as found manufacturers change something and then you react. We use Ecoegg Fragrance Free, cheap and easy to use.

    If you have eczema you are more likely to have hayfever and asthma. Found out after 15years Latex allergy balloons, condoms, rubber gloves and cross reactions with lots of food.

    Eczema not just a simple case of dry skin...much much more.

  9. This is such a helpful post, thank you. I only started suffering from eczema as an adult and it seems to flare up when I'm stressed. I tend to get it mostly on my eyelids and elbows and all the doctors have done is prescribe some steroid cream and leave me to it. I'll give the fish oils a go and see if they help! x


  10. I have got this on my eyelids! It feels like the most annoying place to have it as I was told I couldn't take steroid creams for it because it risked damaging my eyes, any moisturiser I put on it would then run into my eyes, and I can't wear any make up. I eventually whinged for long enough at my GP after trying everything and got a strong steroid cream which has nearly cleared it up but not quite; I then tried randomly an old Burts Bees hand cream I was about to throw out on it and that's really helped. But I can't get rid of the last bit and I look like I have red eye shadow on everyday. If this ever clears up I shall do my happy dance.

  11. I've had a horrible battle with eczema, on my eyelids particularly, and I think until you suffer with it, it's so easy to underestimate the negative impact it has on your life. I found the doctors to be particularly useless, just wanting to prescribe endless steroid creams, but it was when I finally identified the particular irritant through a lot of trial and error and product elimination that I was able to finally get it under control.


  12. Red flaky eyelids can be due to blepharitis, I have had this. The doc advised me to wash my eyelids with baby shampoo twice a day initially to get rid of it, and then from time to time to keep it at bay. It does work and I don't have it anymore.

  13. Both myself and my brother have always suffered with eczema. We also both suffer with hayfever and he has asthma (I've been told all three conditions can be linked). My brother has continuously suffered with his but mine did disappear for a while, reappearing a few years ago. I get it in particular areas, usually on my arms and upper back/shoulders and when it particularly flares up it can start to spread up and over my shoulders. Last year at times the patches on my back got to the point where they were itching/irritating me so much if I could have clawed my skin off I probably would have done, but instead I just sat and cried. I used to use steroid cream when I was younger but I really don't like using it because I think my skin is naturally pretty thin anyway. Last year I tried the La Roche-Posay Lipikar Baume AP and it worked wonders, clearing up a bad patch on my shoulder pretty much overnight. So if I get bad this winter I will be turning to that again x

    Becky @ The Little Blog of Beauty

  14. I have suffered with eczema all my life and completely understand how hard it can be to live with and how much it can affect your confidence and self-esteem. And some people just don't understand and make comments like "oh you'll grow out of it" or "it's just a bit of eczema" when in fact it can be painful, irritating, sore, and generally make you feel so unwell!

    I am currently in my final year of university and I have chosen to do my dissertation on eczema and how it affects young adults aged between 18 and 24. If you could take the time to participate in my short study I would be so grateful. It only takes 10 minutes (if that) and you just have to answer a few questions. Thank you so much in advance

    Link to survey: https://derby.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_abD353s35ui3u3H


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