If you or a loved one suffer from eczema or dry, itchy skin, then you know how miserable it is. You are always scratching, and your skin can become unsightly and riddled with painful, bloody scabs. A peaceful night’s sleep is unheard of, and your skin can dictate every moment of your life.
Through my research and training, I have learned many tricks for controlling and even preventing itchy skin and eczema. I want to share some of these techniques with you so you can change your life and enjoy healthy, soft skin again.
LDS dermatologist mother dedicates her life to discovering how to treat eczema and itching skin.
1. Controlling bacterial overgrowth in eczema-prone skin with bleach baths:
If you’ve never tried it, taking a bleach bath may sound crazy. I was one of the first dermatologists in the world to introduce this technique for controlling eczema. Back in 2004, while I was a fellow at the National Institutes of Health, I introduced this technique to the American Society of Pediatric Dermatology. At the time, I was working with a group of patients who had profoundly severe eczema as well as infection with bacteria called Staph. aureus. People who have the common, genetic form of eczema are also prone to overgrowth of this same bacteria.
We found that these patients’ eczema improved greatly when they soaked in a very dilute bleach bath for 20 minutes two to three times a week. Since then, this practice has been adopted worldwide and has been proven to help control atopic dermatitis in several clinical trials. The concentration of chlorine is so weak that it is similar to the amount in a swimming pool. If your eczema is mild, then bleach baths are not usually necessary. If your skin is crusted or scabbing, then bleach baths will probably help you quite a bit. Of note, this is not the only step to controlling eczema, but is one part of a lifestyle that requires special attention and persistence.
2. Restore the naturally acidic pH of your skin:
Normal, healthy skin has a pH of 4.6 to 5.6. This pH is necessary for the enzymes in the skin to make the skin barrier lipids and for discouraging the growth of bacteria like Staph. aureus. Many things like the use of soap, bleach baths, infection, rashes, and even tap water can increase the pH of the skin. The skin becomes overly alkaline (the opposite of acidic). When the pH rises past 5.7 in the skin, then the enzymes that make skin lipids are metabolized and the skin barrier breaks down even more. By modulating the pH of the skin with skin care products that are in the optimally acidic range, the skin barrier may be able to manufacture the enzymes that make skin lipids and contribute to skin barrier repair. These skin lipids also play a role in controlling the growth of bacteria on the skin---another benefit to maintaining the naturally acidic pH of the skin.
The use of hypoallergenic skin moisturizing products that can protect the skin barrier have been proven over and over to be effective at treating eczema in children and adults. The regular use of a hypoallergenic moisturizer has also been proven to prevent eczema in the siblings or children of those who have eczema. (Simpson et. al, 2010) Logic would also tell us that sealing off the skin barrier from all the allergens, toxins, and bacteria around us may also prevent those who are prone to it from developing asthma. Ingredients like petrolatum, paraffin wax, and certain skin lipids like isostearyl isostearate and ceramides are effective for maximizing the treatment, prevention, and maintenance of eczema.
I do not like to use skin protectant products that contain the very common silicone, dimethicone, or other silicon-containing chemicals. Not only does the body have no way to metabolize or excrete silicon, these chemicals have been shown to induce low levels of inflammation when applied to the skin. More and more cases of allergy to these chemicals are popping up in the medical literature.
3. Moisturize the entire body, not only the affected areas:
It is easy to see that eczema is active in the areas where you can see a red rash or scaly, crusty, and scabby skin. In most people who have eczema, the rest of the skin on the body is also very dry, may be losing its normal pigmentation, and has a low level of eczema. Be sure to apply a thick layer of these moisturizers twice a day to the obviously affected areas and to the not-so obviously affected areas. I have found that the affected areas seem to calm down more quickly when the not-so-affected areas are also aggressively moisturized. Flares of eczema may become fewer and farther between.
4. Avoid products that contain toxic and allergenic chemicals:
People who have atopic dermatitis are especially susceptible to developing allergies to certain chemicals. While these chemicals may seem innocuous, they lurk in so many products, and one usually does not even suspect that their products are part of the problem in their eczema.
Nickel: Nickel is a metal that is found in jewelry, metal snaps on clothing, in chocolate, vitamins, and health supplements and even in the tubes or metallic seals of many prescription and non-prescription creams. It can also be the cause of chronic and severe eczema that tends to affect the hands and feet.
Bacitracin and Neomycin: This is present in topical and triple antibiotic ointment and creams.
Cobalt: It's found in makeup, hair dye, button snaps, zippers, braces, amalgams and vitamin B12 injections. It is also commonly found in nickel-containing products.
Formaldehyde releasing preservatives: This group of preservatives is found in countless skin care products including products that are meant to treat eczema, baby wipes, baby products and more.
For more information on these chemicals CLICK HERE.
As a rule of thumb, I like to avoid all of the following chemicals:
5. Don’t be afraid to address the inflammation:
Damaged and rashy skin is accompanied by inflammation. Inflammation occurs as a result of the broken skin barrier (missing lipids, abnormal pH, and allergies) and can become so severe that topical steroids may be required to control it. Many of my patients are very worried about using topical steroids and I must agree with their concern. On the other hand however, unchecked inflammation is likely more dangerous and damaging to the body and soul than is the use of short term topical steroids.
One step that I like to take in my practice is to have the topical steroids compounded by a compounding pharmacist in the preservative-free TrueLipids® ointment or in the very hypoallergenic TrueLipids® Ceramide Cream. I personally invented these products to optimize the treatment of eczema and other dry or itchy skin conditions. This way, you will know that your topical steroids prescription is free of chemicals that commonly cause allergy and which may lead to poor improvement and major frustration. A physician should always oversee the use of prescription steroid medications, but there are lots of tricks that can be done to minimize how much of them you are exposed to over all. An added benefit of the TrueLipids® products is that they all contain naturally occurring non-steroid anti-inflammatory molecules that have been proven to help with the treatment of eczema.
6. Don’t let scabs form:
Many people think that scabs are a good part of wound healing. Unfortunately, this is not the case. When a scab forms, the skin tends to take longer to heal, is more likely to get infected, and is more likely to scar. By keeping the skin moisturized with TrueLipids® Relieve & Protect ointment, you may be able to speed the healing process and benefit the final appearance as well. The same principle applies to minor cuts, scrapes and burns—they should never be allowed to scab either.
Cheryl Lee Eberting, M.D. is an LDS, board certified dermatologist and mother of four young children. Her practice is Alpine Dermatology & Laser in Alpine, Utah. She has dedicated years of her life to optimizing the treatment of eczema and has invented the patent-pending TrueLipids® products. Her products have been awarded the prestigious National Eczema Association Seal of Acceptance and she was recently selected as one of Utah’s 30 Women to Watch by the Utah Business Magazine. Though they have only been available for less than two months, many happy people all over the world are using her products. CLICK HERE for a special LDSLIVING Reader offer for our Eczema Kit.