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Eczema-ditch the itch

Switching to Natural Deodorants is the most common question I get. A very close second would be about Eczema- especially in the winter months. As a life long sufferer, I feel like a bit of an expert. I have spent countless hours in the dermatologists office, read almost everything I could (once I was old enough to read), and been put on just about every single medication on the market since 1971.

Eczema is really what started me on this non-toxic journey-even before I had heard the word non-toxic. I suffered from very severe eczema as a child. My mom was the one who figured out that not only my diet but the products I used could make my eczema better or worse. Just before my 40th birthday, I learned what non-toxic really meant. I began switching out all of my personal care, cleaning products etc. to safe and non-toxic “clean” products. After 40 years of suffering, my eczema was gone and has not returned. No more scaly skin, no more itching all night, no mare scars and sores from itching so much, no more rashes or sensitive skin. My life has changed completely.

What is eczema?

Eczema is a term used to describe several different types of skin issues. It is generally used to describe an inflammation of the skin that results in itchy, patchy rash on the skin.

It’s most common for babies and children to develop eczema on their face (especially the cheeks and chin), but it can appear anywhere on the body and symptoms may be different from one child to the next. More often than not, eczema goes away as a child grows older, though some children will continue to experience eczema into adulthood. Adults can develop eczema, too, even if they never had it as a child.

Symptoms of eczema

Eczema and its symptoms are different for everyone. Your eczema may not present the same on you as it does on another adult, or on your child. It may even appear in different areas of the body at different times.

Symptoms to look for:

  • Dry, sensitive skin,

  • Red, inflamed skin,

  • Mild to severe itching

  • Dark colored patches of skin

  • Rough, leathery or scaly patches of skin

  • Oozing or crusting

  • Areas of swelling

  • Blisters

You might have all of these symptoms of eczema or only just a few. You might have regular flare ups or your symptoms could go away entirely.

There are 8 types (from National Eczema Association)

  • 1. Atopic dermatitis (also known as AD) is the most common type of eczema. AD often appears as a red, itchy rash normally on the cheeks, arms and legs.

  • 2. Dyshidrotic eczema: This common form of eczema produces small, itchy blisters on the edges of the fingers, toes, palms, and soles of the feet, and is twice as common in women as it is in men.

  • 3. Contact Dermatitis: 3 sub types; Irritant Contact Dermatitis, Allergic Contact Dermatitis, and Contact Urticaria. When your skin comes into contact with substance in the environment that you are allergic to, it may react by causing your skin to itch and become red. This is called contact dermatitis (CD).

  • 4. Nummular eczema: (also known as discoid eczema and nummular dermatitis) is a form of eczema that can occur at any age. It looks different than other types of eczema and can be difficult to treat.

  • 5. Hand eczema: also known as hand dermatitis, is a common condition that affects about 10% of the U.S. population. Both genetics and contact allergens (irritating substances) play a role in “triggering” this form of eczema. It often affects people who work in cleaning, catering, hairdressing, healthcare and mechanical jobs where they may come into contact with chemicals and other irritants.

  • 6. Neurodermatitis: also known as lichen simplex chronicus, is a condition that appears on the skin and is similar to atopic dermatitis. Neurodermatitis appears in patches. As a result of frequent rubbing and scratching, these patches tend to be thick and scaly and can be found on the neck, scalp, shoulders, feet and ankles, and wrists and hands.

  • 7. Seborrheic dermatitis: Considered a chronic form of eczema, seborrheic dermatitis appears on the body where there are a lot of oil-producing (sebaceous) glands like the upper back, nose and scalp. The exact cause of seborrheic dermatitis is unknown, although genes and hormones play a role. Microorganisms that live on the skin naturally can also contribute to seborrheic dermatitis. May appear as cradle cap in infants.

Cradle Cap

  • 8. Stasis dermatitis: sometimes called venous stasis dermatitis because it happens when there is a problem with the veins, generally in the lower legs. These problem veins cause pressure to build up as the blood tries to flow through the body and heart.

Stasis dermatitis is treated differently and is different than the other forms of eczema. We will not be discussing this type of eczema.

It is important to remember that you can have more than one form of eczema at any one time or at different times. I will be referring to eczema in the general sense not in specific types. Eczema may also have a genetic component- which means you or your child may be more susceptible to getting it if someone in your family suffered from it.

I recommend you visit a dermatologist/medical professional to learn what type of eczema you have because they can be caused by different things and may be treated differently. When eczema becomes an open wound, the wounds can get infected and it is important to treat the open wound or sores appropriately.

Possible causes:

The possible causes are really important. Most people come to me asking how to treat eczema. This is the problem with western medicine. We are all about treatment and not about prevention. If you know what causes or exacerbates your eczema you can avoid them. Wouldn’t it be better to never get eczema or rashes again?

Allergens:

Food allergies or sensitivities: Many people with eczema are allergic or sensitive to a food but may not even realize it. I learned long ago that a dairy intolerance exacerbated my eczema. By avoiding dairy, my reactions were much less severe. Any food could cause this from dairy, gluten, soy, eggs, food dyes and more. It is one of the first things I recommend when discussing possible eczema triggers. When it comes to food sensitivities and eczema, our gut may play a big role. I highly recommend that eczema sufferers take a good quality pro-biotic. Even if you don’t have eczema, I recommend taking one.

Irritants:

Irritants can be anything from extreme cold to soaps. Almost anything can exacerbate eczema but there are more common irritants that I will discuss here.

  • Personal care products: This is what changed my life. It took a while but I finally switched to all non-toxic, clean personal care products. From shampoo to makeup to sunscreen and everything in between. See my blog post on toxic chemicals to avoid and why. For eczema sufferers the “why" is because they can all be irritants. These chemicals are not only toxic but any one of them or a combination of them can be skin irritants.

Infants and children are very prone to eczema. I would recommend using only the safest products on your little ones and not just because they may cause eczema but because they are loaded with toxic chemicals that can cause long term health problems. My favorite baby/kids products are: Pure haven Essentials Baby line and Kids lines, Beautycounter baby and kids lines, Earth Mama Angel Baby, Acure Organics and a small brand found on etsy called Rainbow Bee. Please remember to avoid greenwashers like Burts bees, Aveeno, Melaleuca and more. See my greenwashers blog post for more information.

  • Laundry Products: Many parents use Dreft for their newborns and children because it is advertised as being safe. It is not. Dreft is as bad as Tide. It is loaded with chemicals that are not only toxic for people and the environment but irritants for eczema sufferers. Detergent and fabric softeners stay on your fabrics even after washing. These chemicals are then absorbed into your skin with normal body heat. My favorite laundry products are Molly’s Suds and the Honest Company. They work great and do not have the toxic chemicals that can be an irritant to eczema sufferers. I also recommend using wool dryer balls instead of dryer sheets (dryer sheets are the number one indoor air polluter). Learn more about laundry products on my blog.

  • Cleaning products: Many cleaning products stay on our surfaces and in the air. Better than germs? Maybe, maybe not. When you set your arms or hands down on a counter cleaned with toxic counter cleaner, your skin absorbs the residue. Many eczema sufferers also suffer from allergies or asthma. These products can also trigger those issues when they are sprayed and get into the air. It is important to use safe, non-toxic cleaning products around your home. It is not always easy to distinguish which products are safe because companies are not required to list ingredients on their bottles. My favorites are: Pure haven Essentials surface cleaner and glass cleaner, homemade products like vinegar with a few drops of tea tree and lemon essential oils, the Honest company cleaning products, and we also love to use Rougaroo glass and window cleaner in our home even though it was designed for cars.

  • Candles and air fresheners: Who doesn’t love a good candle? You may change your mind if you knew all of the garbage they contain. From the wax to the fragrances to the wick, candles can be incredibly toxic and irritating. Air fresheners such as sprays, wall units, stand alone units also contain some of the worst toxic chemicals and are a huge indoor air pollution problem. If you want a great alternative that actually has some heath benefits, get a diffuser and some pure, organic essential oils. Oils can kill germs, help you sleep, purify the air, keep you focused and more. They are natural miracle workers. My favorite oils are from Rocky Mountain Oils. Their website is loaded with great information and shipping is free. I also love Pure Haven Essentials oils, Doterra and Young Living and I have heard good things about Plant Therapy but I have not tried them.

  • Metals: Nickel allergy is extremely common among adults and children. Nickel is found in a range of metallic items, such as jewelry, zippers, buttons, belt buckles and coins. It is also found in some less obvious places like, cell phones, white gold, some orthopedic joint replacements and certain foods. Cobalt is found in metals, including nickel, and people allergic to nickel are often allergic to cobalt because of its widespread use. Cobalt is also used in personal products such as hair dyes and antiperspirants. Chromium salts, often found in paints, cement, and leather products may cause eczema symptoms.

  • Diapers: Infants tend to be more sensitive and prone to eczema than older children and adults. Certain diaper rashes can be a form of eczema. Diapers can contain a host of toxic chemicals that are not safe to be near a babies skin, especially their genitals. Diapers can contain dioxins, sodium polycrylate, dyes, fragrances, and phthalates. These are possible carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. Babies are growing and developing at an extremely rapid rate and these chemicals can affect them more than they would an adult absorbing the same chemicals. Furthermore, babies are in diapers 24/7. So not only can the diapers cause long term issues but also issues such as eczema or diaper rash. I recommend either cloth diapering using organic fabrics or hemp or using disposable diapers like bambo nature.

  • Wipes: According to the 2007 Environmental Working Group’s (EWG’s) analysis of hidden ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products, 95% of baby wipes might be potentially contaminated with dangerous chemicals. This means that not all ingredients in baby wipes are disclosed on the labels. Beyond the hidden ingredients that can include formaldehyde, hydroquinone or even 1,4 dioxane and many others. Most drug store brand baby wipes contain numerous toxic chemicals that can also be considered eczema irritants.

I will be doing a blog post about diapers and wipes with more information but until now, check out The Environmental Working Group and the ingredients in diapers and wipes. Using a wash cloth with warm water for most diaper changes can be the safest option available.

  • Outdoor chemicals: Glyphosphate and other weed killers are one of the biggest environmental/health catastrophes ever. These chemicals are showing up in every person, food source and more. They have contaminated everything. While it is hard to avoid them, I highly recommend that you do NOT ever use these chemicals around your own home and stay away from anyone or any place that has recently use them. These chemicals are by far some of the most toxic chemicals we come in to contact with.

  • Hard water: When we moved a few years ago we all started getting rashes and very dry skin and hair. I suspected it was the water in our new house. We found an independant EPA approved lab that sent me a kit that I filled with water and mailed back. A few weeks later, I received an in depth water report and was shocked at the chemicals and crap that were in my water. I bought a water filtration and softener system and the rashes and dryness soon went away. (Side note: Hard water is not only bad for your skin and hair but it can damage your appliances and pipes.)

  • Wool: wool can act like sandpaper on people with eczema. It can be an irritant and should be avoided. Animal hair and feathers are also irritants.

  • Stress: Stress can cause eczema reactions in some people.

As you can see many everyday items can be considered irritants. While we can’t avoid every toxic chemical or irritant, we can replace many of our everyday personal care and cleaning products with products that are not only safe and non-toxic but work just as well, if not better than their toxic counterparts.

Preventing eczema outbreaks is the best possible scenario. Unfortunately, it can take a while to determine what irritants cause you or your family members to have an outbreak and this still may not always prevent them. Therefore, we will need to talk about my favorite treatments for when you do have a flare up.

Treatments:

Different types of eczema may react to different treatments. However, because many types of eczema result in dry, chapped, inflamed and itchy skin moisturizing treatments tend to soothe and heal these types of reactions.

What to avoid: First lets talk about the most common treatments and why you should actually avoid them.

  • Steroid Creams: Many doctors will prescribe steroid creams. The problem with steroids is that they can not be used long term. They can thin the skin and have many side effects. Their effectiveness may also diminish with repeated use.

  • Antibiotic creams: are not a good long term solution either. Most of these creams contain toxic chemicals and other irritants too. Plus any anti bacterial product runs the risk of killing good bacteria as well as bad.

  • Antihistamines: Many doctors will recommend antihistamines. These control the itchiness but do nothing to treat the skin itself which will remain itchy if not treated. Plus they may cause drowsiness in some people.

  • Aquaphor/vaseline: Initailly these products seem like life savers. They soothe the itch and seem to really help. The problem with the products is two fold. First, they are petrolatum based and toxic. Second, these types of products (and products with mineral oil) disrupt the skin’s natural immune barrier, inhibiting its ability to breathe, absorb moisture and nutrients, and release toxins. This causes a host of issues-from dry skin, premature aging, acne, dermatitis (eczema) and many other skin conditions.

  • Bleach baths: Umm seriously, put your child in a bath of bleach? I know it is diluted but it is still bleach! No, please no. I can’t fathom that people recommend this.

  • Toxic Creams and washes: Many products like Cetaphil, Eucerin and Cerave are recommended by dermatologists. These products generally don’t cause skin irritation which is why they are recommended. However, the products are still loaded with toxic chemicals and should be avoided for this reason alone. Cetaphil is owned by Galderma which was formed as a joint venture with Nestle and L’Oreal. It is a pharmaceutical division. They actively market to doctors offices which another reason doctors recommend it so often. (Side note: Nestle is on my boycott list since they are one of the worst and most environmentally destructive companies in the world.) Cerave is also owned by a pharmaceutical company named Valeant.

Treatments I recommend:

Stay hydrated: Keeping skin clean and moisturized can be tough especially in dryer climates or in the winter when our heat is cranked up. A humidifier can really help. We have one in every bedroom as well as on our furnace. Avoid long hot showers or baths too. Drinking plenty of water and avoiding foods and drinks that dehydrate you even more can also help. Moisturize from the inside out.

Along the line of staying hydrated is making sure you are getting healthy fats. I recommend a fish oil supplement (I love Nordic Naturals because it doesn’t make me burp fish). I also recommend coconut oil or avocados. Increasing your healthy fats inside your body can be very beneficial for your skin (and hair too).

Run a humidifier! In the winter months when we crank up the heat, the air is incredibly dry (or if you live in a dessert area). A good quality humidifier can be a lifesaver. My favorite brand is air-o-swiss.

My skin supplements include: Probiotics, fish oil, collagen and a hair skin and and nails formula. I also give my 2 year old a probiotic and fish oil. We also drink a few ounces of fractionated aloe vera water daily (tastes like water)-it is an anti inflammatory.

The time of year – Most people with eczema are worse in the winter and improve during the summer. However, 25% will be worse during the summer because atopic skin develops prickly heat easily causing the dermatitis to flare.

Body oil: I love to use a body oil when I turn my water off in the shower. I put it on while still wet then pat myself dry or you can dry yourself off then apply it while still damp. My favorite is Pure Haven Essentials geranium and lime body oil. Not only is it incredibly moisturizing, it has anti-aging benefits as well. My mom swears the skin on her body looks at least ten years younger. It is also safe for children. Other great oils are Beautycounters baby oil and Earth Mama Angel Baby baby Oil (these can be used by the entire family) and Acure Organics Dry Oil Sprays with argan oil which is very moisturizing and full of essential fatty acids. You can also make your own body oil with a base of fractioned coconut oil or jojoba oil (or both) and add a few essential oils like geranium, helichrysum, juniper berry, thyme, lavender or rosemary that are helpful in treating eczema.

Lotions and Creams: I love a good thick cream or lotion. Anything that helps keep me moisturized yet doesn’t feel greasy on my skin. These are the treatments people are really looking for. My number one treatment is Pure haven Essentials Baby Cream or Dream Cream. The formulations are the same except the baby cream has lavender oil and the dream cream has citrus essential oils both products are USDA organic. I have seen this cream work miracles on people.

These photos were taken just 2 days apart. This mom applied the Dream Cream as needed to her child's hands. (That's the other nice thing about non-toxic treatment-there is no limit to how often you apply them).

A few of my other favorite products are: The Honest Company Healing balm, Acure Organics All Better Balm and Rainbow Bee Eczema Cream. All of these products are thick like aquaphor but without the toxic chemicals and they have ingredients that are actually beneficial to your skin. If the eczema is on your hands or feet, try applying the creams then wearing cotton gloves or socks to help it absorb.

Open wounds: When you have open wounds from eczema it is important to not only keep them clean but to watch for signs of infection which can happen easily and quickly. Please seek medical treatment if you think you have an infection. Gentle, non-toxic wound healing products can be used separately or in conjunction with your other treatments. Pure haven Essentials and Acure Organic both have boo boo sticks that are great for helping to heal wounds.

Side note: All of these creams are great for any type of dry, chapped skin not just eczema. I use them under my nose during or after a cold to treat that rawness that comes with repeated nose blowing. I use them on my cuticles, on cuts, scrapes and burns. They help with scar healing too. They all have multiple uses and are a good investment for any home.

Essential Oils: I love Essential Oils. We use them daily around my house. As mentioned above, many oils can be beneficial in the treatment of eczema. Other than the oils that I have used in the products listed though, I have not used EO’s individually for eczema treatment. I am sure you could find many great roller ball recipes online but I would seek out an aromatherapist who can offer great advice on this subject.

Scalp treatments: Many eczema sufferers suffer from dry, itchy scalp or dandruff type issues as well. I love the company Just Natural for their shampoos and scalp treatments specifically for different types of scalp issues associated with eczema.

Cradle Cap: is an eczema type issue and can be treated with the Pure Haven baby cream or dream cream or the body oils. Put the product on the cradle cap an hour or two prior to bath time. Once in the bath brush with a soft brush or baby comb to loosen the crusting and gently remove it. Avoid picking at it or scraping it off.

My hope is that this blog will empower you to control your eczema and not let your eczema control you. There are safer, non-toxic treatments and preventative products on the market. You can feel better!

*All product recommendations have links attached, please click on the underlined name and you should be directed do the link.