Eczema and Psoriasis Advice - Some Natural Tips & Advice

Eczema and Dermatitis

  • Dermatitis is a general term that also covers eczema and both range from mild to severe. You can get very useful information through the National Eczema Society who run a helpline for people affected by eczema 0870 241 3604 (Monday to Friday between 9am – 5pm) or email helpline@eczema.org. However, a diagnosis by your GP or health practitioner is the best starting point if you suspect you have eczema.


In brief

  • Atopic eczema is inherited. You will normally find someone in your family who has eczema, asthma, hayfever or allergies. It can start in childhood and clear up by adulthood but sometimes starts in adulthood. Symptoms include itchy, dry skin that becomes red and inflamed during flare ups. If it becomes infected, often through scratching, it may become wet eczema when the skin cracks and oozes.
  • Allergic contact dermatitis happens when an allergy to something the skin touches develops. It can take a while to develop. Common allergic reactions include nickel (jewellery, buckles and buttons), detergents, rubber, perfumes and other additives in skin care products. Treatment involves identifying the cause and avoiding it.
  • Irritant contact dermatitis is a type of eczema that comes from everyday contact with chemicals and detergents, most commonly on hands. The skin needs to be kept moisturised and the substance that causes it avoided.
  • Infantile seborrhoeic eczema, also called cradle cap, is very common in babies and although it doesn’t look nice it doesn’t seem to hurt or discomfort the baby. It begins on the head, sometimes the nappy area, and can spread further. It normally clears up itself, although massaging a little vegetable oil into the scalp can help it to go.
  • Adult seborrhoeic eczema looks like dandruff and affects the scalp, ears and face sometimes becoming red, inflamed and flaky. Skin care preparations with anti-fungal properties may help as yeast is a possible cause. 
  • Varicose eczema is related to poor circulation, the calves and ankles becoming speckled, itchy and inflamed. Do get treatment as ulcers can form.
  • Discoid eczema looks are small round patches of red, itchy and weepy skin, often around the stomach and thighs. Moisturisers and emollients can sometimes help.
  • Conventional treatment is often topical or oral steroids prescribed by a doctor which can have side effects if used inappropriately or over a long period of time. New drugs are often developed and your doctor may prescribe Tacrolimus ointment (Protopic™), Pimecrolimus cream (Elidel™), anti-histamines, wet wraps or UV light treatment. More information about these can be found at www.eczema.org


Self help

  • There is no specific or guaranteed cure for eczema and what works for one person will not necessarily work for another. However, there are things that often help and reduce itching. Above all keeping the skin well moisturised is essential.
  • Emollients, like bath oils and bath melts, help to seal the skin, stopping dry skin that leads to itching. Salt, especially Dead Sea mineral salts, often helps in baths, as does oatmeal for some people. 
  • Try to avoid allergens and use simple skin care products with as few ingredients as possible (if you are allergic to one of them it may be easier to identify it).
  • Avoid products that are obviously loaded with chemicals, for example, instead of commercial hair dyes try henna instead. Unfortunately though, you can be allergic to anything, even natural products, so always test any new products on a small patch of skin first.
  • Changing what you eat does not always work but some people have had good results, for example, in avoiding dairy products. Keeping a food and drink diary can help to identify skin reactions. Professional advice should be sought before putting children on any sort of a diet.
  • Wear loose, comfortable clothing in cotton and silk fabrics, particularly next to the skin, and use cotton sheets. Synthetics and wool can be irritating.
  • Use a non-biological washing liquid (powders don’t always rinse out) and avoid fabric conditioners unless they are eco-friendly, phosphate-free. Eco balls and ceramic discs will clean all but the dirtiest loads without any washing powders.
  • Keep house dust mites at bay, as they are a suspected allergen, with regular vacuuming and damp dusting. Try to air and change bedding frequently. With children keep as few toys and clutter in their bedroom as possible


  









Psoriasis
Please note that this is general advice and not a treatment recommendation. Please ask your doctor or qualified health practitioner for diagnosis and advice.

What is it?

Psoriasis is a common condition affecting the skin. It causes red, scaly patches. In addition it can affect the joints, nails and eyes.

What does it look like?

Psoriasis can cause as little as a single dimple on one of your finger or toe nails, or affect as much as the majority of your skin surface, your joints, and your eyes. 2% of people (1 in 50) have psoriasis to some degree.

The most commonly affected areas are the back of the elbows and the front of the knees. It often affects the scalp, too, and can, indeed, affect any part of the body. The standard appearance is of red areas where the skin is thickened and crusty, often with silvery flakes, which come off easily. This appears as patches, which are known as plaques.

What are the types of psoriasis?

There is more than one type of psoriasis:

Plaque psoriasis.The patches most commonly seen are called plaques. They especially affect the back of the elbows and the front of the knees and the back.

Guttate psoriasis is many small patches of psoriasis, all over the body, and often happens after a throat infection.

Flexural psoriasis causes red, shiny areas in skin folds eg under breasts, between buttocks.

Pustular psoriasis. Smaller, circular patches, filled with pus, appear on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. This can sometimes cause a fever, and may need treatment with an antibiotic.

Scalp psoriasis. Scaling and flakes of the scalp, often particularly affecting the hair margins.

Erythroderma. A serious, but rare, complication of psoriasis is erythroderma, where large areas of the skin become hot, red, and dry. This is one of the few emergencies involving skin conditions. If you suffer from this your doctor will admit you to hospital.

Sometimes parts of the body other than the skin can be affected:

Psoriatic arthropathy. The joints can be affected by a form of arthritis called psoriatic arthropathy. This can affect any joint, but often it is only one joint, that becomes inflamed, at a time.

Nail dystrophy. One or more of your finger or toe nails may develop little pits as on a thimble, or may become generally more opaque and thickened.

Uvetitis. The eyes may become inflamed.

Is it infectious?

Though the rash is sometimes quite obvious, it is not infectious and cannot be caught by contact.

What causes it?

Psoriasis runs in some families, but that is not to say that everyone in a family will get it. It can start at any stage in life, but most develop their first symptoms between 11 and 45 years old. Often it starts at puberty. The cause is unknown, but as well as a genetic link, a number of things seem to trigger a first attack:

* Often a patch will start where the skin was scratched or injured (Köbner phenomenon).

* A throat infection.

* Certain medicines or drugs.

The skin, in the patches that are affected, replaces itself at a much quicker rate than the rest of the skin normally does. Normal skin replaces itself, by pushing up new skin cells from below, over a period of 28 days, but in psoriasis this takes as little as 4 days.

As with all diseases, and problems of the skin in particular, stress can aggravate psoriasis .

What can I do?

It’s best to get a diagnosis confirmed by a doctor or qualified medical health practitioner. Usually the doctor will make the diagnosis from the appearance of the rash. If you have inflamed joints your doctor may want to arrange some blood tests. Rarely, in cases of doubt, a sample of flakes scraped from the skin, or a small sample of skin (a biopsy), will be sent to the laboratory.

What is the conventional treatment?

There is no 'cure' for psoriasis, but many people have long periods when it does not trouble them. Sometimes it gets better on its own, but most people need some treatment.

Treatments include:

Moisturising creams and ointments. Used to moisturise dry skin, and also as a substitute for soap when washing the skin.

Oils for the bath. Some of these contain tar or antiseptics, which can add other benefits in addition to the moisturising effect.

The mainstay of treatment has for years been creams, ointments, lotions and shampoos based on tar. These help cut down scaling of the skin and also have an anti-inflammatory effect. The main worry is their smell!

Preparations to be applied, based on Vitamin D (eg Calcipotriol and Tacalcitol) have been found to be very effective, and are often prescribed by doctors.

Applications based on salicylic acid (which was originally developed from willow bark, and is related to aspirin) are helpful at removing thick layers of over-grown skin and scales.

Sunshine has been known, for years, to help. A development of that, especially as dermatologists are always very suspicious of the sun, is the controlled use of ultraviolet radiation often given with a medication (a psoralen) to prime the skin. (PUVA, Psoralens with long wave ultraviolet radiation.)

Stronger medications - prescribed only by a dermatologist, and carefully monitored - are occasionally used and can be very helpful. eg Methotrexate.

Mild steroid creams and ointments, used for short periods, for psoriasis affecting the face or body folds. (Stronger preparations and steroids by mouth are sometimes used, but this should be under specialist supervision.)

Are herbal or natural remedies effective?

Like many skin conditions, psoriasis can be irritated by synthetic additives in body care products. Hedgerow Herbals products do not contain any petroleum products, parabens, preservatives, parfum or other potential irritants. Some people are even irritated by plants and herbal products so if you are particularly sensitive it is always best to do a patch test with any new product.

The best herbal treatments are teas and compunds taken internally and it is best to consult a medical herbalist. Diet can also help, such as the addition of Omega 3,6 and 9 fatty acids found in hempseed oil and fish oils.

How do I manage it?

Avoid products with synthetic additives. Try Dead Sea bath salt in your bath particularly if the skin is very itchy. Also use a bath oil or moisturising bath bar as it is crucial to keep the skin well moisturised.

 

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