Anyone who suffers from eczema will know that it’s a bit of a beast to treat. There is no single cause of eczema and no known treatment that works effectively for everybody. Managing your own eczema is a matter of trial and error; working out what triggers and relieves your symptoms.
There are various treatments backed up by medical evidence which doctors will recommend. Then there is all the anecdotal evidence for alternative or complementary therapies, which many people swear by but which haven’t been scientifically proven to work. In this guide we have tried to gather as many of the different solutions to eczema symptoms as possible, so you have a resource to work from when you’re going on that journey every eczema sufferer takes: trying anything and everything until you finally get some peace.
As always, it’s important that you speak to your GP before experimenting with different treatments, whether it’s over the counter medicine, alternative therapy or dietary changes. This article is intended to be a collection of all the different theories about treating eczema (well, as many we’re aware of), but we can’t claim that these ideas will all work or that they will work for you. Make sure you seek advice from your GP throughout all your experimentations and don’t do anything that your doctor hasn’t Okayed.
So without further ado, here is the ultimate guide to fighting eczema. Good luck!
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The most basic way to treat eczema is to hydrate your skin really well. Taking a bath or shower puts much needed moisture back into your skin. The purpose of emollients and moisturisers is to lock that moisture in. So it’s essential that you apply moisturiser as soon as possible after you wash; ideally within five minutes or so. Bathing also washes off traces like dust that could be one of the causes of your eczema.
When you dry yourself, avoid rubbing as it can aggravate the sore skin and it can also mean you lose some of the water that your skin has taken in. Pat yourself dry with a towel and then moisturise as quickly as you can.
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It’s important not to use soaps and shampoos that might irritate your skin. Avoid products with fragrances, dyes and other unnatural ingredients. Simple, pure soaps with a neutral pH such as Dove are best. It’s also important to actually read the ingredients on everything you buy, as many products are promoted using words like “natural” when they actually contain synthetic ingredients that could be bad for your eczema.
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Moisturisers come in three main types – ointments, creams and lotions – with varying ratios of grease and water. Ointments are all grease. This means they are the best at holding in moisture, so they’re the most effective for immediate application after bathing. Creams contain water and grease, but more grease. They are therefore the best option for general use, as they’re hydrating and hold the moisture in better than lotions. Lotions contain more water than grease, which makes them less effective because much of the water actually evaporates rather than being soaked into your skin.
Try using creams for general application over the day and ointments as your moisturiser immediately after a bath or shower.
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You may also want to experiment with other moisturisers such as aloe vera or almond oil. A good tip with aloe vera is to get an actual plant rather than buying a tube from the shop. You can break off a leaf and apply the aloe straight from the plant. This is a pure and instant source of totally natural moisturiser, and you are guaranteed no sneaky extra ingredients that could make your eczema worse.
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>One of the most common prescribed treatments for eczema is steroid based creams. These sound worse than they are – steroid creams have a much lower potency than drugs such as anabolic steroids that are sometimes used illegally by athletes. Topical steroid cream for eczema is generally safe as long as you get good instructions from your doctor about how to use it.
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Some people, especially those whose eczema is affected by seasonal allergies, find that taking antihistamines can help relieve their symptoms. Make sure you know whether you are taking drowsy or non-drowsy tablets, as you can’t drive or operate heavy machinery (among other activities) when you’re taking sedatives. However, if the itchiness caused by your eczema is preventing you from sleeping well you may benefit from taking sedating antihistamines. Speak to your doctor about what’s best for you.
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Some washing powders can irritate your skin, and as clothes often retain traces of soap after they are washed your eczema could easily be exacerbated if you’re using the wrong washing powder. Experiment with different brands and types to see whether you experience any improvements in your symptoms.
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Various different allergies, including food, soap and animal allergies can cause eczema to flare up. It’s well worth getting a referral from your GP to get tested for allergies. If you identify certain things you should be avoiding, you can cut them out of your life and you may see your eczema abate to some extent. Common allergies causing eczema are dairy (especially cow’s milk) and nuts, but there’s a whole range of allergies that could be causing or intensifying your eczema.
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Drinking plenty of water is recommended anyway as part of a healthy lifestyle, and one of the many benefits of staying well hydrated is that it can help to relieve eczema and itching. It’s recommended that adult women and men drink 1.6L and 2L of water respectively per day. It’s a good idea to drink even more if the weather is hot or you’re particularly active.
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As mentioned under allergies above, diet can be one of the main causes of eczema. As well as taking an allergy test, you can experiment with an elimination diet to see if there are any foods that cause your eczema to flare up. An elimination diet involves removing certain foods from your diet for several weeks, reintroducing those foods for a few weeks and them removing them again. All the while you should record any improvements in, or resurgences of, eczema that take place. Over time this should help you create the optimum diet to help control your eczema.
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Eczema can be brought on or made worse by stress, anxiety and other mental health problems. So if you’re experiencing a flare up of eczema it’s a good idea to think about whether anything is causing you to feel stressed or experience other emotional interference. Try to address that problem as part of your efforts to reduce the eczema, and try to focus on not allowing the eczema itself to cause any additional stress.
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Using a humidifier in your home helps to keep plenty of moisture in the air, which in turn helps to keep your skin hydrated. This can be especially useful in the summer months.
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There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence suggesting that hard water can make eczema worse, and that many people have seen their eczema improve after installing a water softener in their home. Not only is soft water thought to be gentler on your skin (because it contains fewer minerals), but it rinses your clothes better and prevents the build-up of soap scum so you’ll experience less irritation from your clothes and from soapy residue left over after bathing.
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Bleach baths aren’t quite as dramatic as they sound – add up to half a cup of bleach to a full bath and you may see some improvements to your eczema, especially if you have any open or weeping skin. However, if the water stings or causes irritation it’s best to try diluting your bath further or avoiding bleach baths altogether.
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If you wear make-up and you suffer from eczema around your face, you should check whether any of the ingredients in the cosmetics you use could be causing or exacerbating the problem. This can be a particular issue around the eyes. Skin in this area is very thin and especially sensitive. Look for cosmetics with natural ingredients, always remove make-up at night and be gentle when you apply and remove it.
Keep cool in summer and warm in winter
Sweating in the heat can make eczema a lot worse and more painful, so wear loose, cotton clothes in the summer and try to keep your home and bedroom nice and cool. Conversely, the cold winter air makes your skin more prone to dryness and cracking, so it’s important to wrap up warm, wear gloves and moisturise lots in the winter. One good tip for the winter is to wear a thin pair of cotton gloves with a thicker pair over the top. This way you’re kept nice and warm without having potentially irritating material against your skin while you’re out and about.
Keep your nails short
To help reduce the damage and pain caused by scratching eczema patches it’s a good idea to keep your fingers nail trimmed short. This is also means you’re less likely to scratch bacteria into your vulnerable skin and cause an infection.
There are various bandage treatments that can help with severe eczema. Wet, or ‘paste’, bandages involve wrapping arms or legs with bandages that have been soaked in emollient. Dry bandages are used to cover a recently moisturised area to help increase the absorption of the cream or ointment. It’s definitely recommended to speak to your doctor before trying any bandages, both to ascertain if this is the right route for you and to get instructions on how to prepare and apply the wrapping.
Remember the things that work and don’t work for you can change over the years, so if you’re finding certain methods less effective than they once were it may be worth trying some new things or even trying again with solutions that didn’t work in the past.
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Disclosure: This post was brought to you in collaboration with Kinetico.