Q: I suffer from eczema, and it's just awful. My skin looks red and irritated, and is constantly itching. Help!
— Patricia M., San Antonio TX
A: Thank you for your query, Patricia! You're certainly not alone. Eczema is a skin condition that affects millions of people, including stars like Nicole Kidman and Brad Pitt. And though there's no known cure, there are loads of easy ways to avoid outbreaks and help speed up the healing process.
Things to be cautious of:
• Fragrance/colorants in laundry detergent, cosmetic and body care products, etc.
• Soaps and harsh detergents, as they can strip natural skin oils and lead to excessive dryness.
• Tight-fitting, rough or scratchy clothing.
• Anything that causes sweating, as it can irritate the rash.
• Washcloths, sponges or loofahs, or anything that will abrade the skin.
During an outbreak:
• Clean the area with a hypoallergenic, moisturizing soap every day; soap up only at the very end of your bath/shower.
• Apply a nonprescription steroid cream (hydrocortisone) along with anti-itching lotion (menthol/camphor, such as calamine). The cream should be applied as often as possible without skipping days until the rash is gone.
• Oatmeal is a common remedy to relieve itching, and can be applied topically as a cream or, as a colloid, in the bath.
• Chamomile is another herbal treatment that can help to relieve discomfort. Simply apply a cloth soaked in strong chamomile tea to the inflamed areas.
• Helichrysum (oil) has been found by European researchers to be an excellent cell regenerator, to reduce tissue pain, help improve skin conditions, reduce redness and heal the formation of scar tissue. It’s one of the best oils for dermatitis, particularly eczema.
• If the condition of your skin does not improve, consult your dermatologist, as you may benefit from the short-term use of a topical steroid (like Clobex), or a pimecrolimus (immunosuppressant) cream, like Elidel.
• Always use a hypoallergenic, moisturizing soap; soap up only at the very end of your bath/shower.
• Apply a fragrance-free barrier-type moisturizer, such as Cetaphil, immediately after cleansing the skin.
• Avoid physical and mental stress. Eating right, light activity and adequate sleep will help you stay healthy, which can help prevent flares.
• Dietary elements that have been reported to trigger eczema include: dairy products and coffee [both caffeinated and decaffeinated], soybean products, eggs, nuts and wheat, though food allergies may vary from person to person. (Also, a diet rich in omega-3 [and low in omega-6] may be able to reduce symptoms.)
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