Tips for Eczema

What is eczema?

What exactly is eczema and why are you confused? You are fully in the right to be confused because eczema is an umbrella term used to describe several skin conditions where you have dry patches, redness, and itch. It can look angry, irritated, and if you rub too much, it can look thickened (lichenified). But most commonly the term eczema refers to a skin called atopic dermatitis. This is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that is both genetic and due to environmental triggers, that can bring out the disease and aggravate it.

Eczema is a condition that affects millions of people around the world (you are not alone). Up to 10% of the population in the United States of America is affected by it, which is around 30 million people! Chances are that you know somebody with this skin condition. Just a little FYI (for your information), “when dermatologists diagnose eczema in the office, they are really talking about a skin condition that is related to people with asthma, hay fever, and food allergies” (Dr. Shereen Idriss, Board-Certified Dermatologist, NYC).

What triggers eczema?

With eczema, people who have it have an overreactive inflammatory responses to triggers, whether it is:
1. Heat,
2. Dry Skin
3. Dry Climate
4. Fragrance
This is why so many dermatologists always recommend that their patients go fragrance-free!
5. Irritants
Irritants such as soaps, detergents, and environmental factors such as dust mites, pet fur, pollen, and mould.

Best tips in managing eczema

Here are some lifestyle tips from Dr Andrea Dray (Board-Certified Dermatologist, Houston, TX) that can help you manage your eczema flares. It is important that you keep in mind that everyone’s skin is different, and if you have a hard time managing your eczema on your own, you should always consult a board-certified dermatologist.

1. Do not scratch!

Asking someone to not scratch when they are itching is like asking someone to calm down when they are mad. Irritating, we know. However, when you scratch the skin, you actually bring about more inflammation which worsens your eczema. This is known as the itch-scratch cycle. A tip to deal with this when you feel an itching sensation coming about is to apply a moisturiser at the itching site. This is especially helpful because moisturisers can help to soothe the skin, while restoring the skin barrier. This helps to calm the itchiness and provide some relief.

2. Lightweight

clothing is your best friend
Build your wardrobe around clothing that are lightweight, breathable, loose fitting, and cool on the skin. People with eczema tend to have skin that is sensitive to fabrics. This is why clothing that are tight, made of rough fabrics, and does not breathe well can cause an eczema flare.

3. Wash new clothing

A lot of clothing in the market tend to be treated with formaldehyde chemicals. They are also often dyed with dyes that can be irritating for the sensitive skin of people with eczema. Washing new clothing before wearing them can dilute some of the compounds and make them less irritating to the skin.

4. Avoid extremes of temperature and humidity

Eczema distains extreme temperature and humidity. Really dry and cold climates pull out water and moisture in the skin, causing the skin to become more dry and flaring eczema. Really hot and humid climates can also aggravate eczema by increasing vasal dilation at the surface of the skin as a way to cool the body. This can lead you to perspire more, causing irritation as sweat is an irritant, and will dissolve some of the lipid barrier.

5. Minimise exposure to environmental allergens

Some of the most common environmental triggers are dust mites, mould, pollen, and pet dander. To reduce the burden of dust mites, make sure you vacuum your bedroom furniture like the headboard of your bed. Make sure you are also regularly laundering your bedding. If you have pets, make sure you groom them regularly to reduce their dander. Also, with pets, try to not let them sleep in the same bed as you as you because their dander can aggravate the eczema.

6. Take short, lukewarm showers using a gentle cleanser

Bathing is an important part of controlling eczema, but it often can, and often does aggravate eczema. Bathing is important for people with eczema because irritants form our environment can get onto the skin. Even sweat is an irritant! If these irritants are being left on the skin, it can aggravate eczema.

Unfortunately, with bathing, you can start to strip away some of the lipids that help to keep your skin barrier intact. Skin barrier function is crucial in preventing flares of eczema. This is why it is advisable to keep your showers short and to also shower in lukewarm water (eczema detests extremes of temperature). You may not even need to use soap while showering, but if you do, try to use one that is gentle and is non-soap because harsh soaps can eat away at your lipid barrier, causing an eczema flare.

7. Rinse off sweat as soon as possible!

If you get really sweaty, of if you went swimming in a pool, you want to at least rinse your body afterwards. Sweat and chlorine can trigger an eczema flare if being left on the body.

8. Apply moisturiser to damp skin

After bathing, and while your skin is still damp, apply a moisturiser. This is also known as the soak-and-smear technique. Moisturisers have humectants, which holds onto water and keep it in the skin. This helps with moisture retention. By using a moisturiser on damp skin, you can prevent transepidermal water loss. Transepidermal water loss can further aggravate the skin and trigger flares of eczema.

9. Manage your stress

Stress in our lives feeds directly into our skin. When we are stress, the brain releases stress hormones that signals to our immune system which drives inflammation to the skin as a stress response. Nothing kicks off a flare faster than being stressed! If you are a parent or a caregiver of a child with eczema, it is also good to note that children can pick up on your stress.

10. Prioritise good, quality sleep

Aim for 8 hours of sleep. That is when your skin is able to heal. If you are sleep deprived, that can also trigger stress responders in your body which can exacerbate itch.

11. Simplify your skincare routine

The fewer products that come in contact with your skin, the lesser the chance of a bad reaction. The more products that you use, the more exposure to potential irritants. People with eczema would need a gentle non-soap cleanser, a moisturiser, and a sunscreen. Sunscreens that are mineral based are often easier to tolerate for people with eczema as they are less likely to sting or burn. Keeping your skincare restricted to these three essential items can really help. A lot of products have ingredients that accumulatively can be irritating on the skin.

If you are a wearer of makeup, it is also very important to remove it properly at the end of the day. The longer your skin comes in contact with the ingredients in makeup, the more likely you are to aggravate your eczema. Eye makeup in particular, if left around the eyes, can trigger a flare in the eczema around the eyelids.

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