Naturopathic Medicine

Winter Itch: Managing Eczema

Eczema is a chronic inflammatory skin condition characterized by dry skin patches with redness and itching. It can occur anywhere on the body, but is often found in flexural areas such as elbow creases and the back of the knees. The most common type of eczema is Atopic Dermatitis, which often manifests in infancy and is often associated with asthma and hay fever. The biggest risk factor for developing atopic dermatitis is maternal or paternal history of atopic disease, therefore suggesting a hereditary component. Other common forms include Allergic Contact Dermatitis which is an allergic reaction to a specific substance that comes into contact with the skin, or Irritant Contact Dermatitis which results from repeated exposure to every day products or chemicals that irritate the skin.

Our skin is our immune system’s first defense against microbes and toxins in our surrounding environment, and therefore acts as a barrier to protect us from infection. When our skin is dry and cracked this barrier becomes compromised and our susceptibility to infection increases. In managing eczema, we want to replenish the moisture barrier to increase protection from microbes while also treating internal imbalances and supporting our immune system to reduce inflammatory mediators. Below are a few tips to help you soothe the itch this winter.

Hydrate Your Skin

Bathing allows moisture to enter the skin, and when followed by application of an emollient (moisturizer) to damp skin, the moisture becomes sealed which enhances the protective barrier of the skin. Additionally, moisture helps soothe the itch that is often a symptom of eczema. Ensure you choose a moisturizer that is free of harsh chemicals and additives and contains only  soothing and healing ingredients. Coconut oil is a cheap and effective way to replenish moisture and is also anti-microbial which can help prevent infection. There are also many herbs such as chamomile, burdock and calendula that are soothing and can be added to moisturizers and salves to help heal and protect the skin.

To minimize irritation, avoid irritating chemicals that are often found in products such as detergents, soaps, body washes and lotions, fabric softener, cleaning products and air fresheners. Choose skin care and cleaning products that are free from:

  • Fragrances or “parfum”
  • Sodium Laureth Sulphate
  • Parabens
  • Propylene Glycol

It is best to choose natural and unscented personal care and cleaning products to minimize these harmful chemicals.  The Environmental Working Group is a great tool that allows you to lookup the safety of ingredients in various products.

Along with limiting use of irritating products, it is important to limit exposure of environmental triggers such as extreme temperatures (don’t bathe in hot water), abrasive clothing, sweat-provoking activities, smoke, air pollutants and excessive washing without moisturizing. Keeping exposure to these factors to a minimum will limit the environmental burden on the skin’s sensitive barrier.

Heal Your Gut

A large part (around 80%!) of our immune system is in our gut, so when the integrity of our gut lining is compromised our immune system reacts, causing inflammation in various parts of our body – in eczema, the reaction occurs in the skin. Identifying food allergies and sensitivities is important in managing a potential underlying cause of eczema flare ups. To identify potential food allergies or sensitivities, an elimination diet or blood testing can be done by your Naturopathic Doctor. Additionally, high quality probiotics can help support gut health by altering the microflora and helping to modulate our immune system while L-glutamine can restore damaged intestinal cells and decrease gut permeability that may lead to systemic inflammation. Healthy fats help to nourish and soften the skin by increasing the integrity of our cell membranes, so supplementing with a high quality fish oil or consuming flax, walnut, hemp or avocado oil with food can be beneficial in reducing inflammation.

Although many people experience eczema, not everyone’s symptoms or triggers are the same. For more information on eczema and finding the right treatments, supplements and home care routines book an appointment with your Naturopathic Doctor to receive an individualized treatment plan that is specific for you.

This information is for educational purposes only.

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