Eczema 101: How-to Protect the Skin’s Moisture Barrier This Winter, Harness the Power of Oats, Avoid Triggering Flare-Ups, and More
Have you ever felt alone in your struggle with eczema?
To give you an idea of how common the splotchy, itchy, red spots really are, we’ll let you in on a (not so little) secret: Province Apothecary’s Healing Eczema Balm is one of ShopEco’s best selling skincare products.
In other words, you’re nowhere close to being alone in your battle with a condition that can seem so hard to control.
Created in the kitchen of founder Julie Clark, Healing Eczema Balm was formulated to reduce the inflammation on her skin and end her lifelong grapple with allergies and eczema.
Photo credit: Province Apothecary
“I have had eczema since being born. I always wanted to help people with their skin, so they wouldn't have to suffer through what I did with my skin,” Julie explained via email. “The Healing Eczema Balm truly is the product on which Province Apothecary was founded. It represents my journey to rethinking the way we heal our skin and ourselves.”
Similar to how passionate Julie is about helping people on their journey to becoming comfortable in their own skin, ShopEco’s aesthetician, Melissa Menard, feels the same about reinstalling the clientele’s confidence in their complexion.
“As someone that lives with hereditary eczema, I can tell you firsthand that an eczema flare-up is not fun. When it comes to eczema on the face, I think the first thing most of our clients say is how embarrassed they are, which is heartbreaking,” Melissa said. “Inflammatory skin conditions on the face definitely affect mental health, so it is important not to minimize the feelings of those living with such conditions.”
During the wintertime, the skin’s moisture barrier is lacking in oil content, experiences water loss, and is prone to inflammation from irritants or triggers, according to Melissa.
At its core, eczema is a dysfunction of the skin's moisture barrier, so dry indoor heating, a lack of humidity outdoors, and harsh winds can chap sensitive patches even more.
Since fall and winter mark prime times for particularly bad breakouts, it’s important to understand that on top of exposing your eczema to cooler temperatures, what you’re putting on your skin and in your body will also have an affect on your condition.
So, what can you do to keep things under control this season? Read on to find out.
First off, how do I know what my triggers are?
Confusingly, eczema can present as wet and dry. Some patches look more like blisters and others resemble scales that can produce a tickly or burning sensation wherever they show up; on the face, around the eyes, on ears, and on the scalp.
More interestingly, eczema can be triggered by hormonal and/or seasonal changes, as well as chemical reactions to ingredients in household cleaners or even beauty products, which some would never suspect of their go-to face cream or foundation.
“Eczema is quite common amongst our clientele at ShopEco. Some have hereditary eczema, many come in following a diagnosis of allergic or irritant contact dermatitis,” said Melissa. “Because of the way contact dermatitis works, we often see eczema in women aged 30 and older from their years of exposure to certain chemicals - their beloved products that worked for them for the past 10, 15 or 20 years have suddenly become the source of their skin related troubles, when really their immune system has simply had enough in terms of battling the trigger.”
What ingredients or types of products should I stay away from?
Comparable to other skin conditions and allergies, there are things that individuals with eczema should steer clear of to avoid triggering an flare-up.
“In general, avoid any ingredient or product that will be very harsh or drying, like synthetic scents and chemical-based sunscreens - we only carry physical sunscreens at ShopEco,” Melissa said. “Choose your masks wisely as well.”
Corresponding with Melissa’s advice, Julie of Province Apothecary recommends a good ol’ patch test to determine potential irritants.
“If you have allergies to a specific ingredient, I would 100 per cent avoid it in products. If you haven't tried natural products before, start slowly,” said Julie. “Just start with one product and patch test before applying it to your entire face or the whole area where you have eczema. Take two to five days to make sure you aren't sensitive to it."
To take things a step further, Melissa always suggests that ShopEco clients with eczema get an allergy test from a doctor - not only the typical food, dust and pollen test, but the chemical panel as well.
“Many times I've suggested our clients request the chemical allergy panel from their general practitioner and once they have it done they usually end up coming back with some key chemicals to avoid, which can totally change their lives for the better,” Melissa said. “If it turns out you have some chemical allergens, as hard as it will be to break up with your favourite laundry detergent or facial moisturizer, at least you know and your face and body will improve.”
What ingredients or types of products should I look for?
For all the soothing and moisturizing benefits eczema-covered skin needs, there’s something especially effective in hydrating and anti-inflammatory oatmeal.
Found in everything from Bathorium’s Ancient Oat Crush soak to Faerhaven’s Honey Oatmeal soap to Skin Essence’s E-Cream and Province Apothecary's newly reformulated Healing Eczema Balm, oatmeal’s ability to relieve itchiness and swelling caused by extremely dry skin has brought it new fame as a next level healer.
“We reformulated to include Colloidal oatmeal because we found that it forms a protective layer that holds moisture and promotes hydration in the skin,” said Julie. “It made our product better when it came to providing powerful relief from flare-ups of eczema, psoriasis and rashes.”
“I apply our Hydrating Rescue Balm all day, everyday between eczema flare-ups. You can also wrap the affected area with cotton clothing to optimize healing,” Julie advised. “I apply both products to my hands at night and put on cotton gloves to lock in the moisture. If you don't have cotton gloves, cotton socks work just as well.”
If nothing’s working, what do I do?
Unfortunately, eczema is a skin condition that can go into remission and flare back up when the immune system is stressed or irritated. For many clients, this can be frustrating and overwhelming, specifically if they’ve tried every natural cure in the book.
That’s why one of Melissa’s golden rules is to cross reference the feedback you get from ShopEco with that of a medical professional.
“I am an aesthetician and am not allowed to diagnose skin conditions, but I see it happen all the time and it's frustrating. Sometimes what looks like acne is actually rosacea. Certain types of eczema can look like ringworm. Perioral dermatitis can look like herpes,” said Melissa. “My eczema presents as blisters and it took a look at a skin biopsy under a microscope to be certain of the diagnosis. It is important to get a proper diagnosis and treat the condition properly, otherwise, you risk further damage to the skin.”
If you’re unsure of how to treat eczema or another skin condition you suspect to have, Melissa recommends taking the following steps before resorting to anything else:
Remember: it takes time to calm an inflammatory condition and learn your triggers, so never stop treating yourself with love and care.
Anastasia Barbuzzi is a freelance journalist, the Digital Editor of Style Canada, and a writer for Yahoo Canada. She's a bookworm and a lifelong shutterbug, and you'll find her reporting on beauty, fashion, life, and style on the web and in print. A brand with a clean, green attitude and an almond milk cappuccino are a couple of her favourite things.