According to the National Eczema Association, Atopic Dermatitis or Eczema is a chronic skin disease which affects 31 Million Americans, with children making up a third of this group. (3) Eczema causes skin to become extremely dry, leading to cracks and fissures which breaks down our natural protective skin barrier impairing its function. This results in the loss of valuable moisture, inflammation, and itching.
Those who suffer from eczema or care for someone who does, fully understand the constant struggle in treating this disease. With so many different symptoms and triggers, the treatment of eczema requires a multi-pronged approach. Restoring and then maintaining the integrity of the skin barrier function is essential in the treatment of eczema and its symptoms.
Our skin is our largest organ and our first line of defense. Our skin protects the body from external and environmental irritants, diseases, and bacteria which can lead to infections. Maintaining the integrity of the body’s natural skin barrier is not only imperative to treating eczema, but also to our overall health.
Tools to Help You Restore and Maintain a Healthy Skin Barrier
Moisturizers & Essential Oils
An effective moisturizer is essential for a healthy skin barrier. There is an array of options available on your local retail shelf. Traditional moisturizers such as lotions, creams, emollients, etc., rehydrate dry skin and seal in valuable moisture allowing compromised skin to heal itself.
Certain plant oils also offer therapeutic benefits as well which help to restore moisture and maintain a healthy, effective skin barrier. When considering which essential oil best meets your needs, it is important that you choose an oil which has been “cold pressed”. Cold pressing is a process by which oil is extracted from the seed or nut without adding heat or chemicals. These oils are commonly referred to as “virgin”. Two essential virgin oils which are particularly effective in helping eczema skin are:
For years, VSO has been used as a natural emollient to repair the skin barrier. VSO also contains beneficial fatty acids, valuable ceramides, and anti-inflammatory properties, all of which help repair and maintain skin barrier function.
VCO contains both fatty acid and antioxidant components making it highly effective at helping to repair and maintain skin barrier function. What differentiates VCO from other natural oils is the added benefit of its antibacterial properties.
Calming Colloidal Oatmeal
Colloidal oatmeal is another natural ingredient which is commonly used to help calm and reduce inflammation caused by various skin conditions and irritants. The term “colloidal” means the oat grain is finely ground into a powder-like substance during the manufacturing process. In 2003, the FDA approved colloidal oatmeal as a “skin protectant”, meaning the that it is considered effective for alleviating dryness, itching, and discomfort caused by certain skin conditions, including atopic dermatitis (eczema). (1)
Benefits of colloidal oatmeal include:
For more on the benefits of colloidal oatmeal click here (link to our colloidal oatmeal article)
There are a few bathing technics which can help to replenish skin moisture and help repair the skin barrier:
Bath Oils & Bath Therapy
Bath oils and bath therapy essentially achieve the same result but with slightly different components. Bath oils or minerals, like magnesium, can be added to bath water to improve skin barrier function and reduce the loss of moisture from the skin.
Wet wraps are a common treatment for eczema. The procedure involves applying a topical medication and/or moisturizer to damp skin, then applying a damp layer of gauze or clothing followed by a dry layer of gauze or clothing. (1)
Wet wraps help to:
Gut Barrier Repair – The Connection with Your Digestive System
It has been hypothesized that there is a correlation between skin barrier impairment and impairment of the wall barrier of the intestines. For individuals with eczema, this intestinal wall barrier impairment is due to induced inflammation in the gut.
Probiotics are one option to maintain a healthy digestive system. What are probiotics? Probiotics are microorganisms in the human body that serve many crucial functions for health and research suggests that people with more diverse microbiomes may be healthier overall. Probiotics come into play because they are supplements or foods containing “good” bacteria similar to those that naturally live in and on our bodies. (3)
There is more recent research being conducted to examine the relationship between gut microbiota and skin conditions such as eczema. Probiotics are now being evaluated and considered as an applicable treatment for eczema. (2)
Traditionally, eczema flare ups have been treated with topical steroids. While helping to reduce inflammation and itching, these were not a good option for long-term use.
More recently, there have been many advances in pharmaceutical options to help treat eczema by targeting the immune system response to eczema. One area that has made enormous and advances in treating eczema is the use of biologics treatments. Biologics offer an individualized approach by targeting different immune responses. (4)
Another treatment option is supplementation which offers the renewal of valuable skin proteins which have been omitted due to gene mutations.
As with all medical treatments, it is best to consult with your physician to develop a treatment plan best for you.
In summary, skin barrier function is essential to reducing eczema symptoms. We’ve presented several “tools” to which help to restore and maintain skin barrier function. These include various home treatments along with possible pharmaceutical and supplemental interventions. Please consult your physician before the use of any supplements and to determine whether or not there is an effective pharmaceutical option to treat your eczema.
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