One in three Australians suffers from eczema at some stage in their lives. Affecting all ages, it can be particularly prolific in babies – from two-six months of age.
According to the Eczema Association of Australia, more than half of sufferers show signs within their first year of life, and 20 percent develop eczema before the school age.
Eczema looks as nasty as it feels. Inflammation of the skin appears in red, dry, itchy and scaly patches, with severe cases weeping, bleeding and crusting over, all of which cause the sufferer discomfort and a dint in their confidence.
Parents including Nutritionist and author of The Eczema Diet, Karen Fischer, who treated her daughters severe eczema over a decade ago through diet changes and continues to do so with thousands of patients, and GAIA Skin Naturals Creator and MD, Michelle Vogrinec, who developed her skincare brand in response to her then 8-week-old sons eczema – share their expert tips on how to treat the signs and soreness of eczema.
- Eczema is mainly genetic, but can also be heavily influenced by the outside world due to an immune disturbance.
- “The top eczema aggravating food is egg”, warns Karen. Tomato and grapes are also culprits as they are rich in MSG and salicylates, which are natural chemicals that can trigger flare-ups in eczema prone people, she explains.
- Diet and topical creams wok together to ease the pain, redness and recurrence of eczema. Just avoid using cortisone creams and topical steroids long term. If you find you are relying on these too heavily you need to reassess your diet and lifestyle to get to the root of the problem with the guidance of an expert.
- “While its important to avoid aggravating foods, its also essential to add gentle, healthy foods into your diet to ease the itch,” advises Karen, adding that these include alkalizing drinks like celery, pear and carrot juices.
- Baby skin is already thinner than an adult’s, and has not yet fully developed its acid mantle and normal barrier functions, making it more sensitive, so only use eczema products appropriate to babies, not your own supply.
- When bathing babies or children with eczema, keep the bath water to body temperature or below, which is about 34-36 degrees. Only use a cleansing product that is pH balanced and does not contain any trigger ingredients such as soap, sulphates, artificial perfumes or harsh chemicals and preferably contains moisturizing ingredients. “Do not rub the skin vigorously and, if using a washer, ensure it is soft and thoroughly wet,” advises Michelle. Gently pat the skin dry with a soft towel after bathing. Don’t rub!
- Add in foods that are low in natural chemicals and that support nutrients to heal the skin barrier.
- Go sans Spice, at least in the short term, advises Karen as many people with eczema react to them- especially in curry. “I recommend adding spices back into an eczema patients diet gradually, after their skin health has improved.”
- “Topical ingredients that help the skin retain moisturizer, soothe or provide some level of protection against environmental challenges and general dryness associated with Eczema, include natural pant-based oils such as avocado, soya bean, grape seed, rosehip, evening primrose, wheat germ, and butters like shea and cocoa are often included to help skin retain moisture,” says Michelle.
- Top up your fruit bowl with papaya – rich in vitamin C and antihistamines – and banana, which is alkalizing and a wonderful way to kick start a ‘happy skin’ day.
- Noticing some redness and itchiness? You’re not alone. Coming out of a cold winter and into a warmer spring is a ripe time for pollens and external influences to play havoc with the skin and cause eczema. Now is the time to consult an expert on eczema.
- It is recommended to avoid contact with soap, artificial fragrance, high foaming agents and some preservatives in skin care products, says Michelle.
- “Wheat is another ‘difficult to digest’ food to avoid,” says Karen. “If you’re not gluten-intolerant, other glutinous foods are often okay to eat such as oats and spelt.”
- Fruit juices and soft drinks should be avoided, so swap with filtered water and alkalizing options.
- Get in early, advises Karen. The sooner you shake up your diet and introduce pH balancing foods, the sooner you can get your skin in check and introduce foods back into your day-to-day life that may have caused inflammation in the past.
- In foods, “avoid flavour enhancers and unnecessary additives and preservatives, and environmentally, things like dust mites, pollens, flowers and tobacco smoke may also trigger flare ups”, notes Michelle.
- If your triggers are environmental. Castor oil, beeswax and zinc are great for protecting skin against the elements.
- Dairy can prevent skin fro improving as its acid-producing and can be hard to digest. Ditch for a minimum of 12 weeks suggests Karen, even if a specific dairy allergy is not present.
- Because eczema skin is dry skin, it has lost some of its barrier function. “It is therefore unable to retain moisture and block irritants and allergens such as dust, grass and wool fibres on its own resulting in the ‘eczema patches’ which can be red, crusty, scaly, flaky, weepy and itchy,’ explains Michelle. “Moisturisers can help to maintain the skin barrier and, if used regularly – particularly at the first sign of dry skin – may help the appearance and comfort of skin affected by eczema.”
- Apply a moisturiser within three minutes of bathing bub (while the skin is still slightly damp) to ‘lock in’ the moisture. “For extra moisture at bath time use plant-based baby oil in the bath water,” suggests Michelle.