Tame Angry Skin
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Technically a general term for any type of dermatitis or inflammation of the skin, eczema affects about 3 percent of Americans, usually starting in childhood and tapering off by one's 30s. The most common form, atopic dermatitis, can be identified by red, scaly, itchy patches that may blister and can become infected. Patches occur on the face, hands, and feet as well as the elbows and backs of the knees.
The cause: Eczema is believed to be caused by an abnormal immune response to some irritating substance. Genetics may also play a role, and allergies, asthma, hay fever, or an upper respiratory infection can trigger the condition. For some sufferers, contact with irritating surfaces or environmental irritants can cause a flare-up; others find that certain soaps, fruits, and even pet dander can bring on a bout of itching. Stress is another common culprit.
The relief: "One of the biggest triggers for eczema is dry skin," says Day. "So one of the best ways to get relief is to hydrate and lock the moisture in."
1. Keep your showers short (10 to 15 minutes) and the water lukewarm, says Day. Hot water strips skin of natural oils and encourages dry patches.
2. Prevent the itch by applying an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream with 0.5 percent to 10 percent concentration. Or try over-the-counter antihistamines like Claritin (loratadine) or Benadryl (diphenhydramine).
3. Moisturize. "As soon as you step out, pat dry and moisturize with something emollient, like a product containing shea butter. A cream or an ointment, rather than a lotion, also tends to be extra moisturizing," advises Day.
4. Rule out dairy allergies, suggests Jaeggli. (A dietitian-monitored three-week elimination diet can help.) Be sure to take a calcium supplement with vitamin D to replace these missing nutrients.
5. Consider taking supplements. Jaeggli recommends two grams of fish oil a day, which some studies indicate may help minimize dry skin. Quercetin—a natural antihistamine widely marketed as a treatment for allergic conditions like asthma, hay fever, hives, and eczema—may also provide relief. "Start with about 200 milligrams three times a day, before meals," suggests Jaeggli.
6. Check your zinc intake. Eczema is one symptom of zinc deficiency, so make sure you're getting the RDA of 15 mg a day, including what's in your multivitamin.
7. Visit an herbologist. For eczema, the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) formula Xiao Feng San is usually prescribed, says Weiyi Ding, L.Ac., associate professor of acupuncture and Oriental medicine at Bastyr University. Six to 10 grams a day, taken in two or three doses, is the usual prescription, says Ding, who also advises seeking out a practitioner certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).