What is eczema?
Atopic eczema is the most common form of eczema, where atopic means “sensitive to allergens”. The common symptoms include dry, itchy, cracked, sore and red skin, and in more severe cases there can been bleeding and weeping. Eczema is found more often in children, but can also affect adults. According to National Eczema Society, 1 in 5 children and 1 in 12 adults suffer from eczema. It is unknown what the exact cause is. What is known is that it is a genetic condition affected by the interaction of many genes and environmental factors.
I must be one of those unlucky adults, who never had eczema as a child, but developed it suddenly in my early twenties. And man, did it arrive with vengeance! I first observed little itchy spots on the skin of my hands when I was doing my undergraduate degree. That time of my life involved a lot of harsh detergent and latex gloves as I was working in highly sterile lab conditions. This is, I think, the main reason behind the development of my eczema. It didn’t make life easy for me, oh no! Imagine trying to put latex gloves on your very itchy and cracked hands, and now imagine that several times per day, every day. Naturally, I went to see a GP, then a specialist. Naively, I thought that I was just going to slap on some steroid cream and that will be the end of my eczema worries, but as you can guess that didn’t happen. The skin on my hands was in such a bad condition that it got to a point that I couldn’t stretch out my fingers any more, I basically “de-evolved” and developed claws.
My general thoughts on living with eczema
Eczema is highly individual and there is no cure. Everyone needs to find a treatment that works best for them. I probably tried hundreds of steroid creams and medical emollients. And they were fine as a temporary, short-term solution. But if you, like me, live with eczema, you know it always comes back. It can be in a milder or a more severe form, but it is there, waiting…
My breakthrough came when the dermatologist treating me at the time prescribed a handmade ointment based on a rapeseed oil. Up to that point every single emollient I used, including ointments, creams and lotions, was based on paraffin (liquid and soft). And if you look at the range of available eczema products you will see that the vast majority of them are in fact based on paraffin. So I stopped using paraffin-based emollients and started using natural butters and oils. And that has completely changed my life, I got my fingers back! I usually apply a natural KOZMETICS ointment (whatever is to hand, it being a Cocoa Butter Moisturising Bar, Body butter, or Calendula & Lavender Body Balm) on my hands every night before bed. It is rich and oily, and some people will hate that, hence I think using it before you go to sleep is a good compromise. I also use it after doing washing up, showering etc., basically anything that might dry out my skin. I have noticed that I am more prone to eczema in the winter months and when in contact with objects that others might have touched (whilst shopping for example), so I try to apply an extra layer in those situations, too. It does leave my hands nice and greasy, I won’t lie. My partner jokes that you can clearly see what objects I’ve touched, there is no denying if I have had a glass of wine! But because of this routine I am happy to say, I am virtually eczema-free.
So why are most of the recommended emollients paraffin-based, I wonder? The answer to that would have to come from the manufacturers, but my guess is it’s because it is a cheap occlusive agent that is meant to prevent water loss from the skin. And that’s exactly what needs doing, a protective barrier of our skin needs to be restored to help prevent water loss and breakage of the skin cells, and paraffin is excellent at that. So why didn’t paraffin work for me? The simple answer is, I don’t know. It might be that the natural oils and butters have a more complex composition consisting of various different fatty acids, which are the building blocks of every cell, many hormones and signalling molecules, but also are rich in polyphenols, phytosterols, vitamins, and minerals. This might offer an advantage over manufactured occlusive agents (hydrocarbon oils and waxes) like paraffin, which are homogeneous in their chemical structure and role. This limits the risk of an additional reaction to the ingredients, which may also be the reason why it is so commonly used for medical purposes. But what is important, is to try and find what works for you. Just as an example, I love coconut oil, I swear by it and use it on everything. But I tried using a raw coconut oil on my eczema and, to my surprise, it didn’t improve my condition much. However, when I used raw cocoa butter or shea butter I could see a great improvement. The same applies to ready-made products. Purely coconut oil-based products didn’t do much for my eczema, but if there was even a small addition of shea or cocoa butter, it instantly improved. I firmly believe that the key is to try.
Importantly, I am not trying to convince you to stop your prescribed treatment! What I am trying to say is that, for me, in the world without a cure, prevention works best.
If you would like to share your thoughts or your story please feel free to comment below. Also, if you would like any advice, I am also happy to help to the best of my abilities. I’m excited to hear what you think! Alternatively, if you would like to read about our products, which might help with your dry skin follow the links below.