If you’ve ever experienced dry and itchy skin in your life, you’ll know just how frustrating it can be. And in those unbearable moments, scratching your skin raw may seem like the only viable option to relieve that irresistible itch, only to find that you’re now left with an angry, red patch that you’ve clearly rubbed up the wrong way, wishing that you hadn’t.
Now imagine having to experience that relentless, stinging sensation day in day out and you’re probably only scratching the surface of understanding what an eczema sufferer has to endure on a daily basis.
Eczema is the term used to describe a chronic skin condition characterized by red, itchy, cracked, oozing, and inflamed skin caused by impairment in the skin’s barrier that prevents it from effectively retaining moisture or blocking out irritants, allergens, bacteria, and viruses. And because eczema sufferers also have an overactive immune system that causes it to mistakenly attack skin tissues, anything from household dust or wearing the wrong fabric to the slightest bit of stress and anxiety can trigger a frantic flare-up.
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As challenging as the physical symptoms of eczema can be, often, the emotional effects are equally as debilitating and arguably harder to handle because of their hidden nature. To an onlooker, it may seem that eczema is simply a skin disorder, but anyone who suffers from the condition will vouch that it encroaches into all aspects of their life, affecting their self-esteem, mood, self-confidence, and even their ability to make and maintain relationships, to the point where any and every decision they make throughout their day is likely affected by the severity of their skin condition.
Nonetheless, it is important to know and understand that the condition of your skin in no way defines who you are as a person, and certainly isn’t something to be embarrassed or ashamed about. Regardless of its current state or the lack of control you have over it, there exists so much more to you than your skin condition and the sooner you realize this fact, the better.
But, of course, we know that this is much easier said than done. So as you gradually learn to shift your attention away from worrying about the opinions and approval of others to what really matters – Y-O-U – in the meantime, discover the things you can do to counteract an outbreak, help your skin recuperate, and get your confidence back in no time.
How can I effectively treat my eczema?
Probably the most frustrating part about living with eczema is that the unwelcome guest is most likely here to stay for life. Often it can be a vicious cycle dealing with the stress and anxiety of what your condition looks like to others, which in turn, only aggravates your angry skin outbursts, which then only worsens your stress and anxiety.
But how can we get off this horrible hamster wheel once and for all? Well, it all starts with taking control of aspects of your life that you can change, rather than what you can’t:
- Prescription creams and ointments (corticosteroids): These usually come in varying strengths and can relieve the redness and itching of eczema when it is active. The length and dose of your treatment depend upon the severity of your condition; your doctor will advise you on this.
- Oral medications: If your skin isn’t responding well to conventional topical treatments, then the oral route may be better suited to you. Certain steroid medications can be taken by mouth to slow down the over-reactive effects of the immune system – all under the close supervision of a medical professional, of course.
- Moisturize with emollients: Applying emollient several times throughout the day will help your skin’s barrier to function more effectively in protecting it from external irritants – the greasier the better.
- Avoid allergens: This point cannot be stressed enough as eczema sufferers often have various allergies that trigger a flare-up, which could be anything from airborne allergies from household pets, dust, mites, or pollen; food allergies; coming into contact with certain fabrics or materials, like latex; or skincare products that contain irritating ingredients.
- Bandaging: Cotton bandages can be ideal for soothing the skin, preventing creams from rubbing off, and acting as a physical barrier to scratching.
- Ultraviolet light therapy: Otherwise known as phototherapy, this particular method uses UVB light (a part of natural sunlight) to reduce itching, calm inflammation, increase vitamin D production, and accelerate the skin’s bacteria-fighting properties.
- Other topical treatments: Topical antibiotics, antiseptics, or calcineurin inhibitors may be needed if your skin isn’t responding to topical steroids as a first-line treatment. Proceed with caution, though, and only use as advised by your doctor as they can cause a bunch of side-effects that can make your skin worse.
- Alternative Chinese remedies: According to Chinese medicine, a combination of creams, baths, teas, pills, and acupuncture can be used to calm the immune system so that it becomes less reactive; however, this method should be complementary to your primary treatment of choice.
How can I avoid or reduce scarring from my eczema?
Life as an eczema sufferer, all too often, can leave you in a real pickle. As if the furious flare-up itself isn’t enough to deal with, you also have the added bonus of red marks, dark discoloration, and unsightly scarring landing another clean blow to your self-esteem.
Seemingly simple tasks like deciding what outfit to wear, making plans with friends and family, taking a quick trip to the local store, or even coming face-to-face with another human being can swiftly become an arduous undertaking filling you with dread and anxiety.
Thankfully, there are several measures you can take to treat your scarring. Whether or not they disappear completely all depends on how severe your scarring is in the first place. But with a bit of patience and persistence, these methods are sure to make those dark marks disappear, or at the very least, lighten considerably:
- Resist the itch: As hard as it is, the best thing you can do to reduce your scarring or avoid it altogether is to stop scratching, as repeated abrasion to affected areas of the skin is what causes discoloration in the first place.
- Keep the skin clean and moisturized: Cleanse the skin with care, using mild, irritant-free soaps, as well as using emulsifying ointments to prevent the skin from drying out and darkening your scars.
- See a dermatologist: Consulting an expert is your best bet in banishing those bleak blemishes. Medical-grade silicone gel is a tried-and-tested topical treatment, clinically proven to help flatten and fade scars; additionally, microdermabrasion or laser therapy are alternative options that a dermatologist is able to offer if they feel it is suitable after having assessed the extent of your eczema scarring.
- Give home remedies a go: Vitamin E oil, Manuka honey, oatmeal, aloe vera, shea butter, hemp seed oil, and turmeric all boast a whole host of soothing, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that improve the condition, appearance, and texture of your skin when applied directly to the affected area.
Covering up eczema – the do’s and don’ts
Depending on where you experience an eczema flare-up, covering it up can become really complicated. An outbreak may decide to unexpectedly set up shop on your face, hands, or neck, which can be a nightmare to hide from the world.
Here are some ways you can safely and effectively conceal your eczema patches and put your best face forward:
- Try gentle exfoliation: ‘Gentle’ being the operative word in this case, opt for chemical exfoliants over physical ones as they are much less harsh on the skin. Ingredients like lactic acid and urea work by softening and shedding dead skin cells; they are also hydrating and naturally-occurring in the skin, so they’re not as harsh or irritating as physical scrubs.
- Use a redness neutralizer: Using skin products that contain green pigments can help to cancel out any redness you have, thereby neutralizing uneven skin tone to give a healthier appearance.
- Use a primer: Primers provide a smooth, seamless canvas, almost like a second skin, to apply your makeup on, and work extremely well for those who suffer from chronic dryness and flakiness.
- Avoid matte makeup: Matte powders and foundations are big no-nos if you have eczema as they absorb moisture and will only draw more attention to your dry patches. Go for oil or water-based makeup instead to leave your skin looking and feeling desirably dewy.
- Opt for fingers over brushes: Make-up brushes are a notorious hangout for bacteria, and will only aggravate your already sensitive skin. Instead, gently dab or pat any products onto your skin using clean fingers.
Eczema and mental health – it isn’t just skin-deep
Dealing with eczema on a daily basis is just as much a psychological battle as it is a physical one. People making unnecessary comments or cruel jokes at your expense, standing that little bit further away from you from fear of catching the cooties (FYI, it isn’t contagious), or just staring at you as if you’re some sort of zoo animal is enough to leave even the most confident of people’s self-esteem hanging by a thread.
It’s no wonder, then, that the skin condition has a strong correlation to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, and for this reason, it is super important that you take care of yourself from the inside out. Here are some ways you can do that:
- Manage your stress: Make it a daily habit to allocate some much-needed time to practice some self-care and relaxation. Deep breathing, listening to music, or taking a stroll through nature can be great ways to shed any dead emotional weight you could be carrying; or maybe it’s meditation or yoga that gets your calming juices flowing – there are no hard or fast rules, just whatever floats your boat.
- Get enough sleep: Getting some shut-eye can seem near-enough impossible when you have an uncompromising, uncomfortable itch. Taking an antihistamine before bed can be a great way to induce drowsiness. It’s also a good idea to take a relaxing shower or bath before bed to stimulate sleepiness, followed by lathering on your emollient of choice to stave off the itch.
- Move around: Exercise is one of the best ways to relieve feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression as it releases feel-good hormones that can considerably boost your mood. So whether it is walking, running, swimming or cycling – get moving.
- Eat well: Steering clear of foods that are known to trigger your eczema is one thing, but loading up on feel-good, anti-inflammatory foods goes one step further in the fight against a flare-up. Following a diet that’s full of probiotics, essential fatty acids, and vitamins and minerals can give your body the fighting chance it needs.
- Join an eczema support group: Connecting with other people who have eczema and can relate to exactly what you’re going through can be a godsend when it feels like you’re fighting a losing battle alone. Joining a support group can be a great way to discuss your experiences, exchange helpful tips and ideas, and make new friends.
- Speak to a counsellor: Sometimes, all you need is for someone to lend their ear to listen to you without any judgement, opinions, or unsolicited advice. If so, then speaking to a counsellor or mental health expert could be just the ticket for you.
While eczema is a part of you, it most definitely isn’t the whole part, so it is important not to allow it to become front and centre in your life. Focusing on engaging in positive, productive activities will make much better use of your time and could even help to alleviate your scratchy symptoms. As well as applying creams and ointments religiously, also be mindful of your potential triggers and avoid them at all costs; with a bit of time and tenacity, you should see an overall improvement in the condition of your skin.
- Eczema Exposed 2020, Understanding eczema, viewed 7th August 2020, https://www.eczemaexposed.com/understanding-eczema
- Health Talk 2019, Eczema (young people), viewed 7th August 2020, https://healthtalk.org/eczema/emotions-and-having-eczema
- National Eczema Association 2020, Eczema and emotional wellness, viewed 7th August 2020, https://nationaleczema.org/eczema-emotional-wellness/
- NHS 2019, Treatment – ectopic eczema, viewed 7th August 2020, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/atopic-eczema/treatment/