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Common myths and facts about eczema, explained
If you suffer from eczema, you may have gathered that there’s a fair bit of conflicting information surrounding it.
From myriad eczema causes to suggestions for eczema treatment, the myths and facts floating about online can be confusing at best, and dangerous at worst.
With this in mind, beautyheaven turned to paediatric dermatology expert, Associate Professor Dr Gayle Fischer to set the record straight on the itchy skin condition. Below, she dispels some of the myths surrounding eczema and shares some helpful facts, to help you deal with it…
Myth: All eczema is the same
“There are many kinds of eczema,” Dr Fischer says. In fact, “even within the condition ‘atopic eczema’ (chronic, itchy, red inflammation of the skin), there are subgroups,” she says. Each type of eczema has its own set of symptoms and triggers, but can usually be classified as one of the following:
- Atopic dermatitis – the most common type of eczema, caused by many factors including a significant genetic component.
- Irritant and allergic contact dermatitis – occurs when an allergen or irritating substance comes into contact with the skin. Irritant contact dermatitis is limited to the area of contact (for example, dermatitis under bandages), while allergic contact dermatitis starts at the area of contact and spreads beyond it.
- Dyshidrotic eczema – characterised by extremely itchy, blistering dermatitis on the hands and/or feet. It’s usually triggered by heat and stress.
- Neurodermatitis – similar to atopic dermatitis, it’s characterised by thick, scaly patches on the skin.
- Hand eczema – very common (up to 10 per cent of the population has this type of eczema). It’s caused by both internal and external factors, including genetics and contact with allergens or irritating substances.
- Nummular eczema – characterised by coin-shaped itchy dermatitis patches on the limbs and torso.
- Stasis dermatitis – characterised by an itchy red weeping rash on the lower leg(s) of older people with varicose veins.
Myth: Eczema is contagious
“Eczema is not an infection and you cannot catch it,” Dr Fischer says. Rather, it’s a genetic condition. This means several members of the same family can have it, but not as a result of transmitting it to each other like an infection – it’s passed from parent to child by inheritance.
Myth: Only children get eczema
Eczema is a skin condition that’s often associated with young children, which is unsurprising, considering that a survey conducted by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute shows that 16 per cent of Australian four-year-olds suffer from it. However, eczema occurs at all ages. As Dr Fischer explains, the symptoms of “adult atopic eczema are the same as eczema in childhood” and while many adult sufferers have also experienced severe eczema in childhood, it can develop at any age.
Fact: There’s no cure for eczema
While gene therapy research has proven promising, there is currently no cure for atopic eczema. This means many are still holding out for treatments that will ultimately stop eczema before it starts, instead of simply addressing the symptoms. In the meantime, eczema symptoms “can be controlled with simple measures,” says Dr Fischer.
Fact: Lifestyle factors can make eczema worse
“Eczema is a complex interplay of inheritance and environment,” says Dr Fischer, and lifestyle factors can exacerbate eczema symptoms. Although the expert stresses that “eczema has nothing at all to do with poor personal hygiene,” factors such as extreme hot or cold temperatures and stress can contribute to flare-ups, and should be avoided where possible. However, according to Dr Fischer, “It is rare for lifestyle changes alone to result in complete suppression of eczema.”
Myth: Ditching gluten will cure your eczema
Gluten has been blamed for a great many health problems, but unless you have celiac disease or a documented gluten sensitivity, there’s not a lot of scientific evidence to show that your eczema will be exacerbated by it. However, research on patients with gluten sensitivity and eczema has shown that going-gluten free many lead to an improvement in skin health.
Fact: Skin care products can help eczema-prone skin
In addition to hydrocortisone cream, Dr Fischer says that bath oils, soap substitutes and moisturisers are all essential for the treatment of eczema. For best results, the expert recommends “simple, unperfumed products”. When it comes to moisturiser, she suggests finding a formula that is “thick enough to make your skin feel smooth and a little bit tacky, but not sticky”. This will help to reduce dryness and “restore the faulty skin barrier that eczema patients suffer from,” says Dr Fischer.
One person who knows a lot about skin care products for eczema-prone skin is Grahams Natural Alternatives founder, Geoff Graham. Having suffered eczema throughout his life, he was inspired to create a natural eczema and psoriasis treatment 16 years ago, when his son was diagnosed with the condition. Now sold worldwide, the products are formulated specifically for those who suffer from eczema, psoriasis and dermatitis and include sunscreens, lip balms, soaps, shampoos and moisturisers.
Formulated with all-natural ingredients such as anti-inflammatory manuka honey and emu oil, Grahams Natural Calendulis Plus Cream C+ also contains calendula, a plant extract that has been shown to help soothe the redness and itchiness associated with dermatitis. When used in conjunction with Grahams Natural Bath Oil, it helps to provide much-needed relief for eczema sufferers.
For those who have children with eczema, beautyheaven recommends Grahams Natural Baby Body & Bath Oil and Grahams Natural Baby Eczema Cream as soothing skin care options for bath time. Formulated to act as an emollient for irritated skin, they contain ingredients such as colloidal oatmeal and jojoba oil that have been shown to help with the management of eczema and atopic dermatitis.
Myth: Eczema sufferers can’t go swimming
Dr Fischer recommends eczema sufferers avoid heavily chlorinated indoor pools where possible, but says outdoor chlorinated pools, sea pools and the open ocean are better alternatives. To reduce the likelihood of an eczema flare-up post-swim, the expert says, “It’s a good idea to shower right away, apply moisturiser and dry clothes before you head home”.
We say: keep a travel-friendly tube of Grahams Natural Calendulis Plus Cream C+ in your bag, and you’ll never be caught out!
Do you suffer from eczema? Which eczema myth or fact did you find most interesting?