I am taking off a few days from the blogosphere to spend some time with my family. This is a guest post by Lynn Fang, the founder of Upcycled Love.
Do you have trouble with persistent dry skin? Using expensive high-end creams doesn’t do the trick, and some days your skin is so dry it feels like sandpaper. Typical doctors only prescribe steroid creams, which don’t really cure the problem and instead creates a dependency on the drug. Taking a break from a steroid cream means a harsh withdrawal. Something as mundane and seemingly simple as dry skin can become a frightening and frustrating experience.
The problem is, you might have something called Eczema, an autoimmune disorder that causes problems like dry, flaky, itchy, red, rashy, swollen skin that under severe attacks can swell up with pus and break the skin open. Eczema is frequently caused by allergy to a wide range of substances in our food and environment. Those who develop this condition may also have environmental chemical sensitivities, so they are extra-sensitive to the pollutants and irritants in their everyday lives.
If you have eczema, you definitely want to stay away from the following common chemicals found in our everyday home and personal care products (adapted from Exederm). Not only do they cause skin irritation, many of them are also associated with cancers and endocrine disorders. Unfortunately, they’re found in almost all personal and home care items: shampoo, soap, deodorant, makeup, dishwashing liquid, window cleaner, tub and tile cleaner, and laundry detergent.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
SLS is an irritant found in everything from shampoo to toilet bowl cleaner. It is also associated as a carcinogen, and releases the incredibly toxic 1,4-dioxane when incinerated was waste.
Parabens can cause irritation for those with chemical sensitivity, and has been shown in a number of studies to have influence on estrogen regulation and the development of breast cancer.
Formaldehyde and Formaldehyde-releasing Preservatives
Formaldehyde is used as cheap preservative and antibacterial. Some people who are sensitive to formaldehyde experience allergic skin reactions. It’s also linked to cancer, especially leukemia. Be careful of formaldehyde-releasing preservatives that come under different names. Some of the better known formaldehyde releasers, listed by Exederm, are:
- Quaternium 15
- Diazolidinyl urea
- DMDM hydantoin
Phthalates are a widely used plasticizer, added to certain types of plastic like PVC to make it softer and more malleable. According to the EWG, they have been found to disrupt endocrine regulation. Studies have shown them to cause reduced sperm counts and testicular atrophy.
Fragrances are especially sinister because they are actually a cocktail of chemical compounds that are protected as proprietary trade secrets. Many of them are associated with hormone disruption and allergic reactions.
Colors & Dyes
All FD&C and D&C colors are made from coal tar, and have been shown to cause cancer.
For the average person, using shampoos and soaps with all of these compounds makes no difference. For the chemically sensitive, these guys are infuriating. Make sure none of these chemicals are present in your soaps, shampoos, conditioner, dishwashing liquid, laundry detergent, or household cleaners. If they’re present in any one of those places, you are vulnerable to an allergic reaction.
Eczema can also be caused by allergy to pollen, animal dander, dust mites, or certain types of food. Observe your outbreaks and try to take note of what triggers it. Some common food triggers are meat, dairy, trans fats, wheat, soy, shellfish, nuts, yeast, citrus, and processed foods. If you’re wondering what foods to begin eliminating, start with one of those. It’s also important to eat a well-balanced diet that supports healthy skin repair.
Most Western doctors prescribe powerful topical steroid creams to treat eczema. Unfortunately, steroid creams produce a strong dependency, so frequently you are asked to apply it for 3-4 days, then take a few days off before applying it again. For severe eczema sufferers, that won’t cut it. But those who use corticosteroids long-term often experience severe side effects like thin, red, lesioned skin and hormone imbalances, as well as withdrawal symptoms. In my experience, I always become dependent on steroid creams for eczema. When I stop using them, my dry skin comes back with a vengeance. So I find it best to avoid steroids altogether, in favor of soothing natural remedies and avoiding common triggers.
There are a few oils and compounds that are especially effective for healing dry broken skin. I’ll list a few products with each one.
Neem oil is incredibly moisturizing and contains many antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal compounds to boost immune function. Be careful, though, supposedly it has a strong scent.
- Maximum Strength Neem Oil Bar Soap
- TheraNeem Gentle Therape Liquid Shampoo
- Neem Cream for Problem Skin, Eczema, Rosacea
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Olive oil is high in Vitamin E, making it incredibly moisturizing for your skin. You can simply apply a generous amount to the affected area. Personally I find olive oil a little too greasy. You can also try castile soap, which is made from 100% olive oil. Many Etsy sellers make it.
- Kiss My Face Pure Olive Oil Bar Soap
- Blissful Balance: Organic Olive Oil Soap Enriched w/Shea Butter
Essential oils can help by reducing stress, calming inflammation, and healing the skin. Some that are used for eczema:
- Tea Tree
- Ylang Ylang
You can take a bath with a few drops of essential oils, or make your own blend to apply to the affected area. You can also buy preformed herbal blends designed especially for skin problems.
- WiseWays Herbals Sooth Your Skin Salve 4 oz salve
- Handcrafted Calendula Body Lotion for babies, sensitive skin, eczema, psoriasis, and everyone else
- Organic Shea Butter Eczema Cream
Emu oil is refined from the fat of emus, before their meat is processed for sale. Unfortunately emu oil is not vegan, but is has really incredible skin healing powers. I’ve used emu oil before, and it works like magic. Emu oil is antiseptic, antibacterial, hypoallergenic, and highly penetrating in skin so it does not leave a greasy feeling afterwards. It contains Vitamin E, Vitamin A, and Oleic Acid, among other helpful compounds.
- Handmade Goat’s Milks Soap Orange and Cream Bar with Emu Oil
- MEmu Oil, facial herbal oil blend with marshmallow root and emu oil
- Herbal Silk Shampoo: Nettle and Neem
Oatmeal has antihistamine properties that fight inflammation, helping to reduce irritation and redness. It’s used for a number of skin irritations, including Poison ivy, Chicken pox, diaper rash, windburn, etc. Most commonly, an oatmeal bath is prepared.
- Eczema Relief Lotion with soothing oatmeal and chamomile essential oil
- Organic Soothing Oatmeal Honey Soap
- To avoid toxic household cleaners, be sure to buy brands that use all-natural, non-toxic, hypoallergenic ingredients. Or, make your own from vinegar and baking soda.
- For laundry detergent, you can make your own from non-toxic ingredients, or buy soapnuts, berries from a tree that are full of saponins.
- For dishwashing liquid, you can also make your own from washing soda or soapnuts.
There are still other ways to treat eczema, but those are the most common. Good luck! And remember, don’t give up! There are so many factors that influence eczema, it may take some time to figure out what causes yours.
[Photo used under Creative Commons by o5com/Flickr]
Lynn Fang is a caring global citizen, sustainability advocate, writer, and biologist. She writes about her trials in sustainable living at Upcycled Love, with a vision for a more harmonious and sustainable world. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.