Thalassotherapy, the use of seawater as a treatment for all sorts of ills, might be a bit of an outdated term but there’s still truth in the idea that the sea brings benefits for our health and wellbeing. Whether it’s the calming effect of the sound of waves, the way the light refracts on water, the fresh sea air or the salty water itself, most of us do love to be beside the seaside... but how can it help people with eczema?
For those with sensitive or eczema-prone skin, sea swimming is a very different proposition to swimming in a chlorinated pool; chemicals added to pool water can seriously irritate already sensitive skin and need to be washed off immediately after a swimming session. But mineral-rich sea water seems to have a positively wonderful effect on some people’s eczema.
We talked to Maria Marziaoli, who swims as often as she can in her hometown of Brighton, about how swimming helps her manage her eczema.
“I love sea swimming. It's saved me. I swam through the winter for the first time two years ago, acclimatising myself after the summer and actively enjoying the cold water on my eczematous skin. It has been key to managing my topical steroid withdrawal and I feel like it's given me back some control over my skin. I'm lucky to live by the coast so a dip whenever my skin is hot and itchy immediately calms it down. The relief to just be comfortable in my skin for a short while is amazing.”
And, of course, alongside the immediate soothing of hot itchy skin, there’s also the longer-term calming effects of swimming; a good dip in the sea can restore balance and calm, important if you know your eczema flares up in response to stress. Swimming is both excellent exercise and a wonderful way of getting into a relaxed and meditative state.
“It's a joy to feel held by the water and comfortable in my skin for a change! I rarely swim out of my depth and my swimming is definitely more floating around but I would recommend it to anyone, sea conditions permitting of course.”
So how do you look after your skin when you’re swimming?
“After a swim, I like to leave my skin salty as long as I can and then use Purepotions Skin Salvation ointment when it needs some moisture. I've been through three years of topical steroid withdrawal symptoms and my skin is finally healing, thanks in part to regular sea swims and Skin Salvation, I'm sure!”
And if you’re swimming in chillier UK waters you can also add increased endorphins, dopamine and serotonin to the benefits of seawater swimming: the colder temperatures can improve organ function and soothe chronic pain which makes it a great regular therapy for long-term conditions.
“I love winter swimming in particular, the feeling of the cold biting your skin, senses heightened and the buzz it gives you. I feel like a superhero striding out of the sea in January in a swimsuit, regardless of my eczema!”
Here’s to thalassotherapy, discovering your inner superhero and getting in the sea!
The Outdoor Swimming Society is an excellent resource for people wanting to swim safely in the sea.