“So you’re American?” the doctor asked me. Yep. “Is your hair falling out?” EXCUSE ME?? No, why?!? “Well,” he replied, “all the Americans come over here and during their first winter, the combination of hard British water and cold weather causes them to break out with eczema patches and lose their hair.” I knew this island was trying to kill me.
Eczema is the worst
It started with a pink patch on my calf that was always dry and itchy; no matter how much lotion I applied, it never healed. A few weeks later, another pink dry patch popped up on my forearm near the crease of my elbow. Sorry Mom, I know I’m a hypochondriac but I leveraged that free health care system and got my booty right to the doctor.
Turns out, at the ripe of age of 28, with no prior history, it’s possible to become eczema-prone. I left the doctor’s office that day with a prescription for a steroid cream, and, when I used it religiously, it healed the patches. But when I stopped for two days? Lady Eczema was right back at my doorstep, asking me to convert. I didn’t want to be addicted to a prescription steroid cream!
Eczema no more
Eventually, I was able to wean myself off of the prescription meds and combat my eczema through changes in my lifestyle. In order to boost the findings from my own experience, I spoke to Dr. Nisith Sheth at Cedars Dermatology Clinic to get some expert insight into treating eczema. He explained that, although eczema is most common in young children, it is possible to experience eczema for the first time at any age, even well into adulthood. In terms of the causes, the majority of cases of eczema are allergy or trigger-based. According to Dr. Sheth,
“Air pollutants, airborne allergens, climate and, in some people, sunlight can all contribute to eczema.”
He also shared that in addition to mitigating triggers, maintaining the barrier function of the skin with the correct creams is also key.
In case you find yourself in a similarly itchy situation, I’ve listed the top 5 tips for preventing and treating eczema that worked for me (now eczema free!):
1. Go easy on the soap
Switch from a surfactant, chemical-heavy body wash or drying bar soap to an oil-based, conditioning alternative. Dr. Sheth recommends ditching traditional soap altogether and using alternatives such as Dermol 500, which gently washes the skin, while simultaneously moisturising and working to maintain the skin’s protective barrier of natural hydration.
2. Turn down the heat
As much as it pains me to admit this, taking my shower temperature from gloriously hot down to wimpy warm made a huge difference in combating my eczema. When I do feel the need for some extra heat, I make sure I’m in and out in just a few minutes.
3. Focus on food
There is a link between diet (and lifestyle) and most cases of adult eczema. You can help combat your eczema by adding healthy fats and probiotics to your diet. Some foods I added to my weekly routine were salmon, yoghurt, avocado, and nuts; healthy fats and natural digestive balancing aids. You'll also want to avoid foods that can cause inflammation, such as refined sugar and simple carbs. Finally, I made sure to increase my water intake significantly so that dehydration was never a contributing factor.
It is also possible that a food allergy is adding to your problem, in which case it’s best to see a doctor to test for allergies to dairy, gluten, wheat, etc.
Stress is a common trigger for eczema flair ups. For me, I found lack of sleep was a major contributor to my stress and feelings of being overwhelmed. By prioritising just an extra 45 min - 1 hour a night, I was able to feel more in control of my stress and allow my body to heal.
5. Lock in the moisture
As soon as you are out of the shower and your skin is still damp, apply a heavy lotion on affected areas ASAP. Don’t ever let the area dry out.
From an over-the-counter perspective, Dr. Sheth notes that the richer the moisturiser, the more effective it is at protecting the skin’s barrier (but it also feels more greasy). If you head to your local pharmacy, you’ll find options targeted specifically at eczema. The OTC option that worked best for me was Sudocream (the classic British antiseptic cream, also used for diaper rash eek!) On the natural side, coconut oil is a thick, moisturising option. Keep your cream of choice in your handbag so that you can reapply during the day as needed. Again, never let the skin dry out.
When taken together, these changes in behaviour successfully combated my eczema. Although there is no “cure,” there are clear steps you can take to heal most moderate cases and hopefully the suggestions here get you started. Thankfully, I haven’t had any flair ups in over a year, and – even more thankfully – I still have all my hair! Nice try London…
By Renee Parker
Special thanks to Dr. Nisith Sheth, Consultant Dermatologist and Dermatologic Surgeon at Cedars Dermatology Clinic, cedarsderm.co.uk