Skin Problems and Solutions

What Is Eczema And How To Treat It
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This chronic skin disorder is due to a hypersensitivity reaction (that may be an allergy), which leads to long-term inflammation. This manifests in a range of problems, very often itchy rashes, which may be red, scaly, dry and/or leathery. Sometimes the skin becomes blistery, and may become weepy, oozy and/or crusty. There are many different types of this condition, including atopic eczema (sometimes called atopic dermatitis, which runs in families and may be associated with the other atopic conditions, hayfever and asthma) and discoid eczema (disc-shaped lesions, which may weep). Eczema is very common in babies and small children, but many grow out of it.
 
The problem is not so much the condition as what it leads the sufferer to do - that is, to scratch the itch. It was my own eczema that led me to investigate the emollient qualities of plant oils, which can help stop the itch. Conventional treatment usually involves steroid creams to suppress the inflammation. These may work for a time, but the skin can become tolerant to them, so you need to use more and more, which may damage the skin barrier and make the problem worse. Today, I keep a small tube of steroid ointment in the first aid box and use it sparingly and only when absolutely essential.
 
I must emphasize that what works for one person may not work for another, but there will be something that helps, so do keep trying. The lifestyle guidelines are also really important for maintaining improvement.
 
Natural prescription
 
Try blood-purifying herbs such as clover, dandelion, burdock and sarsaparilla. These help to to eliminate toxins in the bloodstream which appear to trigger inflammation.
 
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) play a vital role in restoring the lipid levels within the outer cells, helping to prevent flaking and dry skin. They also have natural anti-inflammatory properties. Flax seed oil, hemp seed, evening primrose seed oil and borage seed oil are all good sources, and can be found combined together in some formulations.
 
Topical creams can soothe inflamed skin and help prevent itching. Look for products containing plant oils (flax seed, hemp seed, evening primrose oil and borage), with extracts of herbs such as Echinacea, red clover, chamomile and nettle. Calendula is a trusted botanical which has improved many skin problems. Relief is found in products based on manuka honey, a staple of traditional medicine in New Zealand and now respected worldwide for its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and skin repairing properties. The oat grain contains lipids and compounds called avenanthramides, which have a wide range of actions against inflamed, itchy skin; there is some research and much anecdotal evidence for the efficacy of oat-based products. Topical gels containing 2 percent anti-inflammatory liquorice have been shown to reduce redness, swelling and itching.
 
This is the one of the few times I would suggest using plain Vaseline or petroleum jelly, as it is inert and won’t upset even the most sensitive skin (which might react to one of the natural chemicals in plant oils). I don't advise using essential oils on eczema as they can increase the irritation.
 
Great care must be taken to use creams that contain effective preservatives (such as parabens or phenoxyethanol); skin conditions can be made much worse by the bugs found breeding in poorly or unpreserved (usually natural) emollients.
 
Alternative therapies
 
There is some evidence for alleviation from hypnotherapy, autogenic training, biofeedback (a technique that helps you monitor and control involuntary physical functions such as breathing, heart rate and muscle contractions) and stress management strategies that calm the mind. Chinese herbal medicine is accepted by some as helpful (although the effect may only be short term). Treatment may involve herbal bath soaks and an extremely bitter tea. Dr David Atherton of The Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, who is one of the UK's leading pediatric eczema specialists, has been interested in the Chinese herbal approach since the early 1990s, and is particularly impressed by some practitioners' results. Always see a qualified practitioner.
 
Calming things to do
 
Relaxing massage, taking exercise, walking in the woods or by the sea, prayer, yoga, meditation, general 'time-out', listening to or taking part in music.
 
Lifestyle
 
Dry skin makes the condition worse, so avoid hot baths and showers; wash or bathe quickly to lessen contact with water; use an emollient wash rather than soap; after bathing/showering, apply lubricating cream within three minutes to help trap the moisture in the skin.
 
Avoid any products containing sodium lauryl or laureth sulfate (soap, detergent, baby wipes, bubble bath, bath gels and even aqueous cream - which may come from a doctor); swap to natural household cleaners that tend not to contain the more harsh synthetic chemicals (such as bio-enzymes) or perfumes.
 
Choose cotton or silk clothing and bedding, as synthetic fabrics and wool can be irritating.
 
The droppings of the house dust mite, which thrives in warm damp places such as mattresses and bedding, as well as soft furnishing and carpets, may trigger attacks, so hot-wash bedding weekly and air thoroughly. Consider replacing carpets with wood or tiles. Wash bedding at 60°C weekly and air daily, and do the same with soft toys. (Put non-washable toys in the freezer for 24 hours. You can do this with pillows, too.)
 
Diet

Follow an anti-inflammatory diet.
 
Food allergies may be an important trigger in children with severe atopic eczema: the most common ones are cow's milk, eggs, peanuts, other nuts and kiwi fruit. However, it is very important to seek specialist advice, because it's such a complex area. Avoid high-street allergy testing, advises Professor Michael Cork of the University of Sheffield, as it is of no benefit; 'it takes years of experience to interpret allergy tests,' he says.
 
A significant number of people with eczema also have an overgrowth of candida in the gut. Cutting out sugars and starches will help restore balance to the gut, and I suggest taking a good probiotic supplement; there is some compelling evidence that probiotic yogurts improve the skin barrier function.
 
Drink lots of water to help flush toxins out of the body. Six to eight glasses daily is a good habit to aquire. 
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