Eczema can be a pesky ongoing skin condition that might make you want to hide under a rock and channel the scratching abilities of a cat. You are still absolutely looking beautiful my friend, so let me take your hand ‘n pull you out from under that rock while we get down to the business of what’s actually happening when your skin is suffering from eczema…
What is eczema? Why is it happening, and why is it happening to you? And just what the heck can you do to avoid eczema flair-ups? #UnderstandingIsEmpowerment
What is Eczema?
Eczema is an umbrella. You read that right *winks*. Eczema is an umbrella term for any kind of skin condition that features ongoing inflammation of the skin, that’s partnered up with skin dryness, itchiness, redness, crusting, scaling etc. etc. Basically eczema type skin conditions all feature a dry skin type that becomes very irritated and makes you want to scratch like you were digging for gold.
The most common type of eczema is atopic dermatitis. Usually when J-Blogs uses the word eczema, it’s atopic dermatitis that they’re talking about.
‘Atopic’ sounds a bit fancy, but all it means is that someone has a genetic vulnerability to developing a skin condition. It’s in your programming, but it’s not out of your control. You can absolutely manage and pacify it. Dermatitis just means that your skin has become a bit inflamed. So atopic dermatitis is when your skin is naturally more vulnerable to skin inflammation.
If you are genetically more vulnerable to developing dermatitis then you’ve likely been prone to eczema outbreaks since you were a little ‘un. If you’ve developed it as an adult then that could still be the case, but it could also be because you’ve exposed yourself to an irritant, allergen or sensitizer that’s either in your skincare or in your environment.
What Happens to Skin When It Develops Eczema?
We know what eczema looks like, but what is actually a’happening to skin when eczema decides to pull up a seat? Because that’s truly the answer to the question of, ‘what is eczema?’ ‘eh, we can know what it looks like but unless we know what is causing an eczema type reaction, you’re stuck in limbo trying different ‘cures’ and advice with a blindfold on.
Well my friend, let’s take that blindfold off and empower you to make eczema skin friendly decisions.
So we know that eczema is when the skin becomes inflamed, but why is skin able to become inflamed in the first place?
The reason an eczema episode is able to become your un-invited side kick is because your ‘skin barrier function’ is not behaving. Skin’s number one aim is to keep ‘bad guys’ out and ‘the good guys’ like your skins hydration, in.
Your skin barrier function is like the ‘bouncer’ to your skins party.
Everyone’s skin barrier is made up of 2 key features (here comes the demo my friends *winks*). Your no.1 feature is a nicely lined up pattern of skin cells and your second it your skins natural oils that patch up all the spaces in-between. It’s like bricks and mortar wall of defence.
This is the ultimate defence against the outside word. Your skin barrier keeps water locked tightly inside skin and it keeps common allergens, irritants and sensitizers out.
If you are suffering from an eczema flair up, that’s because your skin barrier has been compromised.
(who distracted your skin’s guarding ‘bouncer’ with a drink ‘eh *winks*)
If you have a genetic vulnerability to eczema then this is how you manage the condition, by caring for your skin in a way that improves skin barrier function (…and avoid things that decrease it, you’d be surprised how common they are!). If you seem to have developed a touch of eczema later in life, then it’s likely you’ve been exposing yourself to an allergen, irritant or sensitizer for too long and your skin has had enough. Cleaning up your skincare routine from these common allergen, irritants and sensitizers is your first step…
The 7 Main Triggers (causes) of Eczema Flairs
Whether you have a genetic venerability to eczema or you’ve developed it as an adult, managing eczema flair-ups is all about keeping your skin barrier in ‘show-room’ condition. So how do you do that? My friend, eczema management is all about getting savvy of your key triggers, these are 7 of the most common…
1. Skincare That Contains Allergens, Irritants & sensitizers
These 3 are all common triggers of eczema. There are also more common than you’d realise in a lot of skincare products, I’d take an educated guesstimate that around 60% of skincare products contain a significant dose. There are 2 key groups to watch for, the first is ‘parfum’ or essential oils which usually contain a little mixing pot of both irritants and allergens.
To pave your way to avoiding allergens in your skincare, take a read of this post, ‘How to Avoid Allergens in Your Skincare’.
The second are a little family of ingredients called surfactants, these are the things that make face wash and shower gel foam. Surfactants love to eat your skins natural oils which means they can also eat away your skins barrier defences. Avoid all foaming skincare, and opt for skin friendly cleansing creams.
2. Environmental Allergens Like Pollen
An allergen is something the body really doesn’t like. Allergens are commonly seen by our bodies as an ‘intruder’ which is why our bodies make such a noise about trying to kick them out (allergic reaction, eczema flairs, hay fever…). If your skin barrier is not in A-star condition, then these guys can sneak through your skin barrier and cause some eczema havoc.
3. Hard Water/Living In a Hard Water Area
Studies show (summary study of hard water effects) that if you live in a hard water area your risk of eczema flair-ups or even risk of developing eczema are higher. One skincare company who make skincare products specifically for eczema prone skin types drew a map of all their sales and found that the areas they sold most in where hard water areas – hard water definitely looks like a key trigger for eczema flairs-ups. To understand the 101 on why and what you can do about it, take a read of, ‘How Your Postcode Could Affect Your Risk of Developing Eczema’.
4. Extreme Weather (super hot or super cold)
Most people can sympathise with the effects of central heating on your skin in the winter. Yeesh it is super drying ‘eh! Extreme changes in weather don’t give skin time to adapt and they also change factors like the humidity levels in the air. If the air around you becomes significantly dryer because of hot or cold weather, then your skin will naturally lose more moisture.
This is the science of osmosis my friend, that ‘membrane concept’ from the good ol’ school days. It basically just means things naturally want to share around so everything becomes even.
Your skin gives up its moisture to help the air become more humid. Your too kind *winks*
Dry skin has a compromised barrier function, it struggles to keep moisture locked in and the bad stuff locked out. That is why extreme weather changes can trigger eczema flair-ups.
Those pesky things ‘eh! These guys are the salt and pepper to our bodies chemistry – we are constantly being seasoned *winks*. Certain hormones are related to production of your skins natural oils. Testosterone is a key hormone that stimulates skin to produce its natural oils (sebum). Hormonal changes around the time of the month are also why skin tends to me oilier before ‘that’ time.
Swings in hormonal ‘seasoning’ can reduce the amount of defensive ‘mortar’ (skins oils) in-between your skin bricks.
That leaves eczema prone skin open to a flair-up.
6. Certain Foods
The usual culprits are food groups like dairy, nuts and grains. This is for the same reason that environmental allergens (no.2) can trigger eczema flair-ups. If this is your trigger, then you actually have an intolerance to that food. That means your body is reacting to it like an intruder and because you’re in ‘fighting mode’, energy for making a healthy skin barrier is diverted down a different highway.
That guy has a lot to answer for ‘eh. Stress basically saps energy from your body which means it has less energy for things like making healthy skin. Stress also naturally causes inflammation in the body, stress is the ‘bad guy’ and your body’s natural response to a bad guy is to get all inflamed so it can kick it out. If we go back to what we know about eczema, that it’s an inflammation of the skin, it no longer looks mysterious why the ‘S’ word can bring on an eczema flair-up.
[cp_modal id=”cp_id_2790a”] Join me on the #SkinTips Series for more science based help & advice on dealing with skin conditions like eczema, including next weeks, ’10 Key Skincare Tips For Dealing With Eczema Prone Skin’. Happy to help you my friend.[/cp_modal]
Are you prone to eczema flair-ups? Have you always been since you were a ‘wee’ little ‘un or did it develop as you got older?
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Cheryl Woodman is a scientist & award winning skincare formulator who’s more friend next door than bow tie wearing professor. As creator of Honesty For Your Skin her aim is to help you care for your skin in the best ways possible. She’s founder of the natural & fragrance free skincare brand Honesty while also hosting 1 to 1 skincare coaching to help you get your best skin yet. Find out more here.