Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is a common condition that affects many children in the UK. Atopic eczema is a constitutional condition marked by dry skin, red raised papules, a tendency to thickening of the skin, and itching. It often affects the inner aspect of wrists, ankles and knees. The term “atopic” refers to an inherited hereditary tendency to develop allergic manifestations such as hay-fever, asthma and skin sensitivities. Unlike contact dermatitis, eczema is not caused by an allergy to an external product such as soap or washing powder but many commercial products may aggravate the condition.
It is not possible to “cure” eczema by applying a product to the skin. However there are safe, natural ways to alleviate the dryness and itching and keep the condition under control. Before looking at some examples of topical applications that you can use at home, lets consider the internal factors.
It is really important to look at the diet of the child and examine the possibility that common foods such as milk, eggs and wheat may be playing a part in the condition. It is a good idea to keep a diary and look at times when the eczema is better or worse and assess why this may be. Sometimes this may be for environmental reasons such as a change in temperature, external such as a new bubble bath or wearing a woollen jumper, emotional – such as that the child has been having a difficult time at school, or food related such as a flare up after a lot of milk products or a squash that contains a lot of artificial ingredients. For babies who have eczema when being solely breastfed the mum will need to look at her diet as the allergic antigens can be transferred in breast milk.
If you suspect a particular food may be involved it is highly recommended that you take professional advice. Speak to your GP and/or a qualified Nutritionist for their advice on the “elimination diet and challenge” method where foods are excluded for ten days or more and are carefully reintroduced and the effects monitored.
People with eczema often have altered Essential Fatty Acid metabolism and so supplementation of Omega 3 rich fatty acids can be beneficial to improve skin health and reduce the tendency to allergy and inflammation. Again taking professional advice on this is recommended. For children, Smart Start by Higher Nature is a great product and for adults Udo’s Oil can be taken whilst pregnant or breastfeeding.
Whilst you are trying to get to the bottom of eczema from the inside you can help relieve the dryness and itching from the outside. Use products that are as pure and natural as possible. Anything with a long ingredients list should be avoided! Most commercial products contain a lot of preservatives and synthetic ingredients that can dry and irritate eczema and sensitive skin. Avoid using bubble baths etc unless necessary. Buy either organic products from reputable companies such as Green People or Earth Friendly Baby or buy simple un-fragranced base products from companies such as Neal’s Yard Remedies or Naturally Thinking and make your own. It will make a big difference to your childs’ skin.
Useful soothing and moisturising natural products to improve the condition of the skin and alleviate eczema:
• Hydrolats – therapeutic waters formed during the production of distilled essential oils.
These water are very gentle. Rose and Chamomile waters are wonderfully soothing and help the skin feel less inflamed and itchy. Soak a piece of kitchen towel or muslin in a dessert spoonful of one of the waters or a combination of both and apply as a compress to the affected area. Alternatively soak a cotton pad with the water and apply to the skin. You can add a tablespoonful of your chosen hydrolat to a warm baby bath if preferred.
• Botanic Oils such as Hemp, Borage and Jojoba and macerated oils such as Calendula can be used alone or blended together and applied directly to the skin in small quantities to lubricate it. Alternatively a teaspoon of oil can be added to the bath water (exercise caution as the bath will become slippery). Put 20ml Jojoba, 10ml Borage, 10 ml Calendula and 10ml Hemp into a clean glass or plastic bottle and keep in a cool place. Use a small amount twice a day to moisturise the skin.
• Botanic butters such as Shea and Coconut which are solid at room temperature will provide deep moisturisation to the skin. After a bath or shower when the skin is warm and slightly damp rub a small piece of the butter over the skin until it sinks in.
• Colloidal oatmeal is finely ground oat powder that can be used in a lukewarm bath to soothe the skin and alleviate itching. Aveeno make an oat baby bath. Alternatively you could use a handful of porridge oats tied up in a muslin – hold under the tap whilst you run the bath and then leave the muslin in the bath whilst you soak. The water will turn milky but your bath won’t be covered in oats.
• Aloe Vera gel/ juice can be beneficial to soothe the skin if it is very itchy. Keep it in the fridge and apply as necessary to calm inflammation.
• Beeswax balms help protect the skin and provide a barrier to the elements. These are particularly effective for people whose eczema will get worse for frequent washing, wind or cold. Melt 8g of beeswax and 8g of Shea butter in a heat proof jug in a saucepan containing a little water, over a low heat. Add 10ml Jojoba, 10ml Hemp, 5ml Calendula and 5ml Borage Oil and stir until melted. Add to a clean 50ml glass or plastic jar and keep in a cool place. Use a little twice a day as required.
• Essential oils – there are some essential oils that can be beneficial for eczema but please consult a Clinical Aromatherapist for professional advice. He or she will be able to formulate a product for you or your child on a bespoke basis according to their needs. Lavender, Sandalwood, Palmarosa, Rose, German Chamomile and Yarrow can be useful but must be used extremely well diluted in suitable medium such as a balm. Essential oils should not be used alongside steroid creams, and the same essential oils should not be used on a long term basis. Essential oils and not always suitable for babies, children and during breastfeeding and can irritate sensitive skin and make eczema worse so must be used with caution.
For advice on using Aromatherapy and natural products to alleviate eczema please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Bespoke products can be ordered through Louise’s website: http://www.vitalityaromatherapy.co.uk/#/aromatic-apothecary/4556743738