How can I ease my eczema?
A dermatologist says: Marked by itchy, swollen, abnormally dry skin, eczema is an overactive inflammatory response to irritants thought to result from an immune system malfunction. Stress, exposure to irritating substances and bacterial infections (such as strep throat and staph skin infections) can stimulate an immune reaction that may cause eczema to flare up. Eczema most often appears on the inside of the knees and elbows and on the neck, hands and feet but may affect other areas.
Treatment: If a flare-up is making you itch and causing your skin to bleed, ask your doctor for a topical medicine. The stress hormone cortisol is known to stimulate flare-ups of eczema, so try relaxation practices such as yoga and meditation. Since infections can also trigger eczema, prevent sickness by washing hands frequently, eating a healthy diet and getting enough sleep. — Lily Talakoub, M.D., integrative dermatologist at McLean Dermatology and Skincare Center in McLean, Va.
A dietitian says: Changing your diet can help suppress the chronic skin inflammation thought to play a key role in the swelling and irritation associated with eczema.
Treatment: Intolerance to dairy, coffee, soy, eggs, nuts, wheat and/or corn can contribute to eczema. To figure out if a food is causing your condition, try eliminating all of these potential culprits from your diet for two weeks. Next, add the foods back in one at a time, allowing at least three days before you reintroduce each food and see how your skin reacts. If any food sensitivities become apparent, alter your eating habits accordingly. You can also up your intake of flaxseed and oily fish, such as salmon and sardines, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids and can help tame eczema by curbing inflammation. Boosting your beta-carotene intake may help too, so load up on foods like yams, carrots, kale and mangoes. — Sharon Richter, R.D., New York City-based dietitian
A skin-care specialist says: The skin of people with eczema has a weakened ability to recover from the loss of oil content that often results from overwashing or harsh environmental conditions. Protect against epidermal irritation by keeping your skin hydrated with moisturizing remedies that include products made with pure ingredients.
Treatment: Soak for 15 minutes in a warm bath enriched with two cups of sea salt, which helps remove dead cells from your skin’s surface so moisture can reach new cells more easily. As soon as you step out of the tub, apply an oil or cream to lock in moisture. A great choice is unrefined olive oil, because it’s rich in vitamin E (a nutrient that nourishes the skin). Or try a product that’s 99 percent pure aloe vera (a powerful anti-inflammatory), or a cream made with calendula (an herb that speeds up healing and strengthens the skin’s connective tissue). — Laura Hittleman, corporate director for beauty services at Canyon Ranch Resort & Spa in Tucson, Ariz.