Many people make the assumption that eczema is linked to or caused by a weak immune system, but is this really the case?
It may seem like the most plausible answer – why else would your skin be so sensitive and react so quickly? – but what you might not know is that eczema is a chronic condition that’s actually more accurately described as the result of an overreactive immune system.
Debunking the myth
Having a fragile and/or faulty outer layer of skin makes it easier for microbes, bacteria and allergens to enter the body and cause an immune system response, which results in inflammation. Think of it like this: if your body is more susceptible due to a compromised skin barrier, the more likely it is that these unwanted foreign substances come and crash the party under your skin.
When your body is under attack, the immune system sends its best soldiers to the source of the crime – the affected area of skin – and releases substances to fight off the intruders. Ultimately, this is what causes the inflammation - the heat, swelling and itchiness - that’s so common in eczema-prone skin. Similar to how your temperature rises when you’re fighting off a flu; these are all responses from the immune system to alert the body and demonstrate that something is being done to tackle the nasty infection or whatever it may be.
The trouble with the immune systems of those with atopic conditions (eczema, hayfever, asthma) is that for some reason they react super-speedily and super-intensely to any perceived threat!
So, rather than your immune system being too weak to handle the foreign substances that are entering your body, the issue lies with the barrier of the skin not being resilient enough to repel invaders, coupled with having a hair-trigger immune system response.
Boosting the immune system
Of course, there’s no harm in doing absolutely everything and anything you can to give your immune system a helping hand to react in an appropriate way, just so it doesn’t have to do all the work itself. It can really help to regulate your body’s inflammatory response by looking after your immune system; in that way, you’re working from the inside out.
Strengthening your body’s defences could help toward making your skin more resilient, and if you’re strong from the inside out, your body will be able to roll with the punches more easily, making it harder for foreign substances to get into your system. Learning how you can contribute to regulating your immune system so you can better control how it responds will give you more insight into how your body manages the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Eating for skin health
If you’re looking to boost your immune system, the best place to start is your diet; it’s the most efficient way of making changes to your body, and gives you the freedom to ‘prescribe’ yourself the foods you, your body, and your skin need to show your eczema that you’re in charge!
One way of doing this is to include as much colourful fruit and veg as possible in your daily diet. Consider cutting out (or at least cutting down on) processed and additive-heavy/nutrient-light foods; that will give your system some relief. Even adding some fresh fish into your meal plan 2-3 times per week will deliver the essential fatty acids your body can’t produce itself, delivering exactly the right nutrients the skin needs to repair its fragile defences.
At the end of the day, just make sure that whatever changes you’re making to your diet aren’t too abrupt or all at once! Though it’s to make changes, do so comfortably and listen to your body. It’s worth saying, as well, that organic and fresh food is second to none, so buy fresh, local and organic wherever you can!
Looking after your body
One good way of boosting the immune system is to get a good fifteen minutes of fresh air or exercise to start the day; a brisk stroll or some stretches can give you a little buzz and get your happy hormones working!
And finally, as hard as it is to achieve, keep your cool and don’t let the stress – no matter what kind of stress – get to you, if you possibly can,
The hormones that are released when someone is stressed or anxious can trigger an inflammatory response, which in turns leads to itchy flare-ups. It can be hard to avoid stress at work or home, but even so, it’s useful to set aside some time each day for yourself and only yourself. Maybe think about all the good things in your life, think about what you enjoy, what keeps you going, and just float in those calm and positive thoughts for a while to centre yourself. It can be hard to relax, but it is important to take time during each day to just be mellow and have a breather.
Recommended products for eczema-prone skin:
Skin Salvation balm with beeswax, hemp & chamomile (from £7.99 for 30ml)
Balmonds Daily Moisturising Cream with shea butter, hemp & calendula (from £13.99 for 100ml)
Balmonds Bath & Body Oil with lavender, hemp & chamomile (£12.99 for 200ml)
If you require medical advice we recommend you always contact your healthcare professional.
If you or someone you are caring for seems very unwell, is getting worse or you think there's something seriously wrong, call for emergency services straight away. For general medical advice, please contact your healthcare professional, this article does not contain or replace medical advice.
Do not delay getting help if you're worried. Trust your instincts.