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Eczema – the skin disrupted

Eczema – the skin disrupted

Most of us know someone who has eczema, dermatitis, or a related sensitive skin condition. It’s said to affect one in five children, but it can occur at any stage of life.

The skin is an amazing organ. One square inch contains about twenty feet of blood vessels, around 100 oil-secreting glands, 650 sweat glands and more than a thousand nerve endings. The sweat and oil-secreting glands eliminate toxins and regulate our body temperature, so we are protected from both drying out and overheating by the skin, which also creates a barrier to prevent germs from getting into the body. In anthroposophical terms, we see how the skin forms the divide between us and the outer world, allowing us to resist external influences and set our own boundaries with the world.

But where there are problems with the skin, this process has broken down – leading to over-sensitivity to the effects of hot and cold, moisture and dryness, or chemical irritation from soap and cosmetics, for example. This can show up as inflammation and itching, the skin feeling dry, tight and generally uncomfortable.

Most of us know someone who has eczema, dermatitis, or a related sensitive skin condition. It’s said to affect one in five children, but it can occur at any stage of life. Those who suffer from other allergic conditions, such as hay fever and asthma, or who belong to a family where these are present, are most likely to experience eczema at some time in their life. Eczema shows up as a disruption of the normal forming process of the skin which, instead of quietly shedding old outer cells and generating healthy new ones, begins crusting, scaling, itching and looking red and inflamed. While this is happening, there’s a breakdown in the barrier function, allowing things which can cause irritation to penetrate further into the skin and building the problem. The connection between the nervous system and the skin can also manifest in a specific condition called neurodermitis. Here, a rash begins because of an itch, rather than the other way around.

When we want to treat eczema, our first action is to help restore the protective function of the skin, at the same time calming the irritation and inflammation. Moisturisers help prevent the skin from flaring up by making sure the protective barrier doesn’t break down. In this situation, the best moisturiser to use is one that you enjoy using - one that feels good on the skin, which hydrates and protects it and which helps it to look good.

If this is a new situation for you, try a few different products and consistencies to see which is best for you. An ointment which lasts on the skin is best for deep hydration and overnight treatment, as it helps to restore and repair the lipid barrier at the surface. Creams and lotions are lighter than ointments, and soak in more quickly. On some people they look better too, as they don’t leave behind any shine. However, the skin - which loves oily things - isn’t as intensively moisturised.

Weleda’s skin care ranges have been designed to respect the balance of delicate and sensitive skin. In particular, the White Mallow babycare range was formulated with very sensitive skin in mind. Coconut and sesame oils provide a rich consistency which intensively hydrates and protects, along with calming pansy and white mallow. The lotion is suitable for use over large areas and has a consistency which won’t make the skin excessively shiny or oily. It’s suitable for use at all ages.

Our Almond range for sensitive skin was inspired by study of the sweet almond tree. The fruit is intensely rich in oils, protected strongly by a very dry - but very stable - outer layer. This evokes an image of healthy skin and, in fact, the composition of almond oil is very compatible with the skin, in particular with the oily base that supports the outer layer. Almond oil seals in moisture rather than stripping it away, like some creams and all soaps can. This helps protect and preserve the skin, restoring its barrier function and naturally helping the body to resist outside influences.

One of the best-known skin remedies is calendula, the cheerful pot marigold. This plant - used for centuries in traditional medicine, herbal medicine and homeopathy - appears in many products which help to heal the skin. It’s the star of our Baby Skincare range and features in our wonderful Skin Food. In our first aid products - such as Hypercal - the plant is used as it was traditionally, to encourage healing from the surface of the skin inwards.

In anthroposophical thinking babies, new to the world, feel things keenly through their skin. Changes in temperature, texture and moisture are perceived acutely by a baby during the process of building up resistance to the world. They are, quite literally, thin-skinned at this stage of life. This helps us understand why the skin can react first when the baby is upset or ill - they become very sensitive to changes in their surrounding environment, with redness, rashes and other irritations quick to show. Any irritation or upset can give rise to a problem with the skin, which may worsen over time as their natural protection isn’t yet as strong as it will become. Calendula and White Mallow baby ranges were natural responses by Weleda, to help support baby’s skin as it develops its protective function.

Once you have found the moisturiser which feels right for you, apply it several times per day - always in the direction of hair growth and never against it, as this can make the skin feel irritated and itchy. Moisturising works best after a bath, helping to seal in extra hydration. Soaps and other irritants, like cosmetics, should be avoided on areas of eczema, to minimise the chance of a flare up. But even when skin is at its best condition, using a moisturiser should help prevent flare ups - so keep your favourite at hand at all times!

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