The name Eczema comes from the Greek word meaning “to boil”. This best describes the inflamed itchy red rash which many suffer from. In more severe cases, the skin is broken and becomes weepy and scabbed.
Also known as Dermatitis, eczema comes in several forms – Atopic, contact, seborrhoeic and others less common. Dermatitis usually refers to a skin condition brought on by a reaction to something like an external irritant, i.e – detergents and metals.
The most common form of eczema is atopic eczema. It is thought to be triggered by allergies, and most prevalent in families where there is a history of asthma and hay fever. Atopic eczema is due to a faulty immune system, which leads to the body being unable to distinguish invading bacteria and viruses from harmless environmental substances such as pollen, house dust and mite droppings.
Many sufferers are driven to distraction by the overwhelming urge to scratch, which inevitably leads to severe scaling, bleeding and weeping of blisters under the skin. Not only is eczema unsightly, it is also extremely uncomfortable and frustratingly difficult to cure. Although eczema is very common (atopic eczema is now the most common childhood disorder in the western world), conventional medicine has yet to find a drug that effectively treats the condition without damaging side-effects.
Drugs from the doctor’s surgery include steroids and antihistamines, which can work for some people but they do have side effects and are often disappointingly ineffective.
A recent study by Dr Mike Cork (Head of Dermatology at the University of Sheffield) has shown the importance of avoiding the synthetic detergent Sodium Lauryl Sulphate and also the milder Laureth Sulphate, especially on sensitive skin and if you are eczema prone. He has published academic papers on the subject and is aiming to increase awareness of the fact that one of the most commonly prescribed treatments for both Psoriasis and Eczema, “Aqueous cream”, actually contains high quantities of Sodium Lauryl Sulphate. This ingredient is totally inappropriate for those with eczema and may even aggravate the skin, making the condition worse.
Eat Yourself Beautiful and Face the FATS!
Children who develop atopic eczema do so between the ages of three and six months, at the time when most are weaned. One clue that the Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA) in Evening Primrose Oil could be a factor in controlling eczema, was found when breast-fed babies who switched to solids developed eczema. Human breast milk is a rich source of GLA and breast-fed babies receive the same amount of GLA found in two-three capsules of evening primrose oil every day.
Although the makers of formula feeds claim their products are as close in composition as possible to human breast milk, it is surprising that they rarely contain any GLA at all. British formula milks contain Linolenic Acid, which should be converted by the body into GLA, however studies show that some babies do not carry out this conversion properly. Even purely breast fed babies may not receive enough GLA to protect them from eczema if their mother’s blood has low levels of this important fatty acid. This suggests that it might be sensible for women who are breastfeeding to supplement their diet with evening primrose oil or a special pregnancy Omega Blend.
A key factor in controlling eczema is maintaining good moisture in the skin. For this, it is essential to have adeqate amounts of essential fats in your cell membranes. This means treating eczema from a nutritional angle and also topically with products that can strenghten the skin’s barrier and protect it.
Oily fish like Wild Sockeye Salmon contains anti-inflammatory omega 3 and will help keep skin hydrated and firm.
Evening Primrose Oil taken as a nutritional supplement has shown to improve itching by 36%, scaling by 33%, and redness by 29%. Similar trials at the Dermatology clinic at the University of Bologna in Italy, reported substantial improvements in the clinical symptoms of atopic eczema after just four weeks of Evening Primrose Oil therapy.
The two main ways in which Evening Primrose can help improve dry skin and eczema is by preventing trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL) and regulating the inflammatory processes that lead to skin scaling and itching. The key ingredient in the recipe for controlling eczema is Prostaglandin E1, a substance that has a number of important actions within the body. Prostaglandin E1 can dilate blood vessels, lower blood pressure, regulate the immune system in response to allergens and have an anti-inflammatory action. Anyone looking to improve atopic eczema should therefore look closely at ways to improve their levels of Prostaglandin E1, and Evening Primrose is an obvious choice as it is a rich source of GLA.
What about the other sources of GLA, such as Borage (Starflower Oil) and Blackcurrant Seed Oils?. Although these are a great source of GLA and will be great for your skin, they do not appear to be as good at stimulating the production of Prostaglandin E1. The reason is unclear, so although both Borage and Blackcurrant Seed Oils are useful supplements for general skin health, they are probably not the best option for specifically treating atopic eczema.
Evening Primrose Oil is the only oil to have been granted a medical licence to help treat eczema. It is available on prescription for the relief of atopic eczema in a standardised form called “Epogam”.
It is also a good idea to eat more polyunsaturated oils in nuts and seeds, and oilier varieties of fish. A general improvement in diet that is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods, always has a great benefit for your skin.
The Topical Treatment of Eczema
Many people with eczema soon discover which products aggravate their condition such as soaps or certain creams, washing detergents or types of wool. With these, it is mainly a case of detecting which are the worst offenders and avoiding them. There may also be a link with the hardness of your water you wash in.
Ingredients to look out for in skin care products are: Evening Primrose Oil, Borage, Rosehip Seed Oil, Neem Oil, anti-inflammatory herbs e.g. Calendula, Echinacea, Chamomile, Comfrey, and barrier repair products.
Dermanova cream is also very good.
The essential fatty acids help the skin in many ways, by keeping its softness and suppleness. The Hydrolipid balance and barrier fuctions of the skin are reliant on essential fatty acids.
- Avoid any form of exfoliation!
- Never rub your skin, pat dry.
- Avoid extremes of temperature
- Use less irritating mineral sunscreens, e.g, Zinc Oxide, Titanium Oxide.
- Avoid soap, it is far too alkaline.
- Stress can be a trigger! try some stress reduction techniqus like Yoga, Meditation, Massage and Reflexology.
- Try rubbing the contents of an Evening Primrose capsule into badly effected areas of your skin.
For more information and support visit – www.eczema.org