3 essential ingredients (and 2 to avoid) when treating your eczema
Note: This blog is the second in our three-part series on Living Well with Eczema. Researching, buying and testing eczema remedies* can be a full time job. At one point, I remember having so many different creams, lotions, serums and wraps lined up on my bathroom counter that I felt like I was running a pharmacy. Understandably, many of the 30 million Americans suffering from eczema try their best to read the ingredients on the back of the bottle before trying a new topical eczema treatment, but for those of us without a degree in biochemistry it’s not always so straightforward. Poly-hydropropyl-glycer-what?? I stop reading after 7 syllables. When my eczema flares up, I want a quick solution, not a chemistry lesson. But here’s the good news - a wealth of medical research points to three categories of natural ingredients that together tend to work well in controlling eczema symptoms across the board, even for our little ones and those of us with the most sensitive skin. Vitamin E & Hyaluronic acid - The antioxidants Think of these ingredients as your first line of eczema defense - antioxidants like Vitamin E help to absorb and neutralize energy from UV light and are considered essential for keeping your skin healthy, even more so during the summer months. When researching eczema treatments, check the label for Vitamin E, which sometimes goes by its alias Tocopherol. Another go-to antioxidant for controlling eczema symptoms is hyaluronic acid. Okay, I know we said no chemistry lesson and though hyaluronic acid sounds like something cooked up in a lab, it’s actually a substance that occurs naturally in the skin. Hyaluronic acid works to lock in much needed moisture that can help prevent an eczema outbreak or soothe one that’s already occurred. This antioxidant duo is particularly effective for treating eczema when found together, so look for treatments that combine the two for maximum benefit to eczema-prone skin. Butters & oils - The hydrators Yes, you read that right, butter! Eczema-prone skin may not produce as much fat or oil as other skin, making it less able to retain water. This lack of moisture causes gaps to open up between skin cells that are not sufficiently “plumped up” with water, leaving the skin dry and irritated. Eczema remedies that contain naturally hydrating ingredients like safflower and grapeseed oil and cocoa and shea butter build up a moisture barrier between your skin and the environment, like a protective, fatty armor for when your skin is exposed to wind, sun or dry climates (which can make eczema symptoms worse). Actually, eating a balanced diet that includes the right kinds of fats - like omega-3’s found in seeds, nuts and fresh fish - can also help stave off eczema by keeping skin cells well-hydrated. Aloe vera & cucumber - The anti-inflammatories When you experience an eczema flare up, aloe vera and cucumber should be go-to ingredients for quick relief. Though these guys won’t cure your eczema for good, both have calming, anti-inflammatory properties that give red, irritated skin that ahhhhhh feeling. Though you can slice up some cucumber or tear open that aloe vera plant on your windowsill and apply directly to your skin, these ingredients are most effective when combined with antioxidants and hydrators. To cool down an angry red eczema flare up and reduce swelling, look for treatments that contain aloe vera gel (sometimes called aloe barbadensis leaf juice) and cucumber extract. - - - - - - - - - - - - - We know eczema symptoms can be hard to control, but knowing which ingredients to seek out, and which to steer clear of, can go a long way in preventing flare ups altogether. Here are some common eczema-inducers to avoid: Perfumes and fragrances We know you love your cinnabon-scented lotion, but the hard truth is that the perfumes and fragrances in your skincare products can often cause major irritation. Not all scents are necessarily harmful, but for already sensitive eczema-prone skin it’s best to skip fragrances whenever possible so as not to provoke the rash. Glycolic or Salicylic Acid The biggest health risk associated with eczema is not necessarily the rash itself, but rather secondary infections caused by itching and scratching. Commonly in skin care products like face washes and cleansers, glycolic and salicylic acids make for excellent exfoliators, but they also tend to dry out the skin, leading to super-itchy red patches. Moisture is a key weapon in the fight against eczema (remember the protective fatty armor?), so those of us who suffer from eczema should try to steer clear of glycolic and salicylic acids. *It’s always a good idea to consult your doctor before trying a new eczema treatment.