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Friday, March 27, 2015

Frugally and Naturally Dealing With Eczema

A bad case of eczema
This is a guest post by my friend Naomi. In the summer before 8th grade, Naomi and I were in the same bunk at sleep away camp for a month, and we fell out of touch after that. Through Facebook (miracles of technology) we reconnected recently. She is in her late 20s and now lives in Europe, originally from the US.
After my post yesterday about my personal hygiene products, and what I use and why, Naomi contacted me, telling me a little bit about homemade natural products and how they can either help or hurt eczema. We started talking a little bit, and then she offered to write a guest post for you about frugally and naturally dealing with eczema. I hope it's as useful to you as it was to me. Fortunately, though two of my kids were diagnosed with eczema, Ike's eczema went away after cutting out gluten, and Lee's recent diagnosis of eczema went away after a few weeks, and we discovered that it was actually an allergic reaction to bandaids.
So, here it is. Enjoy!

I've had eczema flare-ups since infancy and have tried multitudes of management strategies to manage this skin issue. Dealing with eczema can be pricey, but there are frugal, skin-healthy and psychologically more effective ways to combat it than you might imagine!


First off, what is eczema exactly?
I'm not a medical expert or scientist, but essentially eczema is a skin issue that comes from the Greek word meaning to "boil over." It's a fairly common medical condition (which is good to know--you are not alone!). Eczema basically manifests as an itchy, red rash on the skin, and there are eight basic types of eczema, the most well known types being contact dermatitis--i.e., the skin reacting to certain substances that it comes into contact with--and atopic dermatitis, an over-excess of inflammatory cells in one's skin. Eczema flare-up rashes can look like lots of tiny red dots, pustules under the skin with scaly flakes on top, itchy cradle cap-like bumps, and other variations. Eczema can appear pretty much anywhere on the skin, though it's commonly seen on hands, scalp, ankles and the skin between the elbows and knees.The basic conclusion, though, is that these itchy and irritating rashes can have some debilitating effects.

Why exactly is an itchy skin rash something debilitating?
There are several reasons why a person can truly "suffer" from eczema. Here are my personal reasons:
(1) When you scratch the irritated area too much, it often bleeds. This can sometimes lead to a serious infection which then has to be treated with medication, sometimes antibiotics.
(2) During a particularly bad flare-up when the urge to scratch is extremely high, it can cause insomnia and/or extreme discomfort for hours on end, particularly if the eczema is on parts of the body that are particularly sensitive.
(3) It can be psychologically debilitating. For older kids and adults with eczema, they often feel self-conscious about their skin's appearance as well as a sense of shame about constant scratching or bleeding during a flare-up. This can lead to a cycle of anxiety that often perpetuates the scratching, as sometimes anxiety and high excitement or emotions can set off a higher urge to scratch.

Costly steroid creams and other medications are often prescribed for people with eczema, which are not always the most skin-friendly or budget-friendly solutions. A cortisone or steroid cream can help the eczema in the short term, but it simultaneously dries out the skin, making it generally not the best choice for long-term eczema support. Numerous trips to the dermatologist can also be costly, especially for people with limited insurance coverage.

Here are some budget-friendly and healthy ideas for dealing with eczema.

Identifying and eliminating triggers

Probably one of the most money-saving and helpful things you can do for your eczema is to figure out your triggers. The first thing you should do (which isn't necessarily budget-friendly without the right insurance, but will help you out in the long term) is to visit an allergist and get tested for as many allergens as possible if you have never done this. If you find you are allergic or highly sensitive to certain foods or animals like dogs and cats, try slowly eliminating the sensitivity trigger for at least a week and see how your eczema responds. If it's not a severe allergy and you're not able to eliminate in entirely, see if you can somehow reduce the trigger. [Note from Penny- even if you don't test positive for anything at an allergist doesn't mean that it isn't food related, etc... Trying an elimination diet and seeing if it helps the eczema can be useful and can help identify trigger foods that an allergy test might miss.]

Another common trigger for eczema, unfortunately, is stress. Make yourself a list of things that are stressing you or how your mood was during the last flare-up. Brainstorm--ideally with a partner, friend or family member--ways you can reduce the stress and try to keep the stress/flare-up connection in the back of your mind the next time you have the urge to itch.

Moisturizing and maintaining skin moisture levels

If you have eczema, be aware you're going to really need to (a) moisturize your skin more than most folks and (b) maybe not be able to shower/bathe as much as you might like. While it's obviously important to have clean skin, and especially in the case of contact dermatitis, to keep irritants removed from skin, too much exposure to water and particularly hot water can reeeeallllllyyy aggravate your eczema. So here's the golden rule:
--wash or bathe maximum every other day, if at all possible
--moisturize immediately after bathing/showering
--moisturize immediately after handwashing
You'll also save money on your water bills this way, especially if you keep your showers/baths shorter.

You might say, "whoa, with all the moisturizing, I'm going to spend on a fortune on creams and lotions."
Not necessarily the case at all. First of all, many lotions and creams on the market are made with water (check ingredients for "aqua") which are frankly going to be too thin for a proper moisture barrier. You're actually better off with using either a much thicker cream like ones designed for baby diaper rash or a cuticle butter, or an oil.
Oils can be the most budget friendly moisturizer for those with eczema, with some precautions. First off, they are, of course, oily--so I'd advise to keep a reusable cloth around to pat off the excess oils if you use this method. Secondly, do a test patch on skin of different oils to see what works for you. Your friends might rave about the magic of coconut oil, for instance, but then you might find that you are sensitive to it and it causes you to itch. Jojoba oil, almond oil and sesame oil are often pretty okay for those with eczema, as well as cocoa butter and shea butter. However, everyone's skin is different and you really have to find the right one of you. Try going to a local farmer's market or health food store and asking for some small samples of different oils/creams, explaining what you want to use them for. There are lots of great websites and shops that sell these oils and creams in bulk.
You can then spoon small quantities of the oil or cream of choice into smaller containers to take around with you for travel, work, or basically whenever you wash your hands (I recommend keeping a moisturizer right by your sink)!
Be mindful of things like essential oils in lotion and cream. They may be great for some people and sound very "natural," but they can irritate eczema-prone skin, especially citric oils like lemon oil or lemon juice due to their very acidic nature.

Protecting your skin from irritating surfaces

Look around your everyday space and think about the things you come into contact most that have irritated your skin or could be potential irritants. Here are some simple, relatively cost-free ways to help protect your skin:
--Cover your mouse or mousepad partially with some cloth. If you are sensitive to your own sweat, the sweat trapped in your hand when you use the computer for long periods of time can be a huge trigger.
--Make your own homemade budget-friendly, eco-friendly detergent so that you know what's going into your clothes, or see if you can bulk-buy detergent that is made for sensitive skin.
--When things in your house get dusty, don't dust them with your bare hands and arms. Wear cloth gloves and honestly a surgical mask is helpful as well.
--Save money and your skin by putting cotton gloves inside of reusable rubber gloves when cleaning.
--The clothes that touch your skin directly should be natural fabrics rather than synthetics, which have the potential for irritate your skin. Buy good quality, well-made cotton and linen clothes, secondhand is great as well. A tip about wool, though: it's a natural fabric but can be pretty irritating for those with eczema.
--When chopping fruit, particularly citrus fruits, as well as some veggies like eggplant, wear protective gloves.
--Swap out plastic for other materials as much as possible. This will be better for your skin and save money as well, as items made of wood, metal and ceramics last much longer. For example, sitting on a wooden chair versus a plastic chair.

There are also many wonderful free support groups in person and on the Internet for those who are having anxiety or depression relating to their eczema.

Do you have eczema or have a loved one suffering from eczema? How have you dealt with it? Have you found any frugal and effective ways to handle the eczema? What were they?

3 comments:

  1. Eczema... my enemy. I have it almost continuously, and both of my children (toddlers) have it. I have tried quite a few things. First, we use nothing with fragrance in the house. That's soaps, detergents, shampoos, even candles. We also do oatmeal baths (just grind it up in our blender - put it in a nylon sock and tie it off - that way it doesn't get too messy in the bath). I also find that apple cider vinegar baths work great for me. The kids don't like vinegar. And I make my own lotions with cocoa butter and coconut oil.

    I live down south - and the humidity in the summer gets to me, so I will take 2-3 quick 2 minute rinse off cool showers a day, just to help keep my skin clear.

    Oh and last thing - cotton. We try to just wear 100% cotton clothes as much as possible, it seems to help with irritation!

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  2. I agree with most of the tips here, suffering from eczema myself. Coconut oil was one of the things that everybody swears by but when I tried it, it made the itching a thousand times worse.

    I will say, though, that corticosteroid creams shouldn't be considered a last-ditch attempt at itching relief. It's usually the first thing I reach for when I have a flare-up, because it only takes one or two applications to tame the itchiness and that's it, and I'll be fine for a month or so.

    One other thing: if you don't have the money to buy special laundry detergent for people with sensitive skin, and you can't get Borax, you could try reducing the amount of regular laundry detergent. I use only about 1/4 of the recommended amount when I wash our laundry. The clothes still come out very clean, but there's not enough residue left to irritate me.

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  3. Fascinating! My dad suffered horribly from eczema, and believed that there was nothing to do for it. I wish he'd had these tips.

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