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Let's Talk About Eczema: A Conversation with Codex Labs

Let's Talk About Eczema: A Conversation with Codex Labs

This season, as we transition into colder weather, many people might be dealing with eczema flare-ups. Eczema is a skin disorder that is characterised by inflammation leading to itchiness, often with a genetic component related to the immune system that can be triggered by a number of different factors.

We discover more about this condition from Dr Barbara Paldus, founder of Codex Labs, who shares how triggers can be identified and ways in which it can be managed.

What is eczema or atopic dermatitis?

Eczema, also referred to as atopic dermatitis, is a skin condition that plagues millions of people worldwide. It’s a chronic skin disorder characterized by inflammation, irritation, and itchiness. This skin condition typically runs in families which suggests a genetic predisposition to this skin condition. Certain genes associated with skin barrier function and immune system response increase one’s chances of developing eczema.

At its core, eczema is directly related to an impaired skin barrier and immune system dysfunction. Effectively managing this skin condition is important from a mental, physical, and emotional perspective.

Is there a difference between dry skin and eczema?

While these two skin conditions share similar symptoms, the underlying causes of each are different. For example, dry skin is generally characterized by a lack of moisture in the skin which can be triggered by various factors including environmental (heat, cold or humidity), excessive washing with harsh cleansers, aging, and certain medical conditions. Dry skin’s primary symptoms include flakiness, roughness, and overall feeling of discomfort, but does not involve inflammation and the development of rashes/lesions.

Eczema or atopic dermatitis, on the other hand, is a chronic disorder characterized by inflammation, redness, itching, and rashes or lesions. It oftentimes has a genetic component related to the immune system and an impaired, compromised skin barrier. Unlike dry skin, because eczema involves inflammation and a compromised skin barrier, the effects of eczema are usually much worse because they can cause infection caused by excessive scratching, blisters, and plaques.

Can adults get eczema later in life?

Eczema is not an age-dependent skin condition. While oftentimes first presenting in childhood, it can also develop in adults who have never experienced it before. Adult-onset eczema may be triggered by various factors like hormonal changes, stress, or exposure to new allergens/irritants. The strategies for managing adult-onset eczema are the same as those for childhood eczema.

READ ALSO: Stress Awareness Month: How to Look after Yourself

What are the common triggers for eczema and how can they be identified?

Common triggers for eczema flare-ups include both physical and mental triggers. Physical triggers like exposure to certain allergens (pollen, pet dander), foods or spices, detergents, fragrances, and extreme weather conditions like heat, cold, and humidity can lead to flare-ups. Mental triggers like stress and anxiety can activate the body’s immune system and stimulate an eczema-triggering response.

As for their identification, its all about awareness. If a person senses their skin becoming inflamed/irritated/itchy followed by the appearance of blisters, plaques or rashes on the surface of their skin shortly after exposure to one of the above-mentioned physical and mental triggers, then that is their body’s way of telling them that exposure to such triggers is problematic and to avoid such triggers in the future for fear of sparking an eczema flare-up.

READ ALSO: Skin Conditions: Triggers and Irritants

What skincare routine is recommended for eczema?

There are several skincare routines (external strategies) that can be practiced to effectively treat, manage, and avoid eczema flare-ups. They include:

  • Moisturize daily (morning and night), particularly after washing/bathing, to seal moisture in your skin and keep your skin barrier healthy and functioning properly.
  • Use gentle non-soap, fragrance-free cleansers when washing your face and body and avoid the use of hot water when washing as it can be quite drying and trigger a flare-up. Also, be gentle when drying your skin by “pat drying” your skin as opposed to doing so aggressively with excessive rubbing.
  • Soak your skin with emollients and other skin nourishing ingredients when bathing to soothe and moisturize your skin. Exemplary ingredients include colloidal oatmeal, Epsom salt, tapioca, and serrated wrack.
  • Consistently apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 throughout the day to protect your skin from inflammation-inducing UV rays.
  • For especially troubling eczema episodes which conventional treatments cannot address, consult a dermatologist for medications like topical steroids, calcineurin inhibitors, and PDE4 inhibitors.
  • Consider incorporating dietary supplements like Vitamin D3, L-histidine, and omega fatty acids into your diet as these have all been shown to have a positive impact on eczema-prone skin.

Some further tips for managing eczema?

  • Drink an appropriate amount of water every day to keep your skin well hydrated.
  • Practice stress reduction/management techniques like mindfulness, meditation, and deep breathing exercises to avoid flare-ups.
  • Consider seeing an allergist to help you identify flare-up causing allergens/irritants so they can be avoided going forward.
  • Apply cool compresses to relieve itching/inflammation.
  • Avoid scratching.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Stay up to date on newly developed/developing eczema management strategies and treatments.