Anyone living with skin prone to eczema will know how difficult it can be to identify the main triggers – especially as eczema presents so differently in everyone.
Your skin is likely to react differently depending on the type of eczema you have, as well as your age and general health. Eczema is also affected by the environment, and what you come into contact with on a daily basis; even the stresses of your working day can trigger outbreaks.
So, it’s important to listen to your body and assess the kind of attention it needs – even if it requires slathering yourself in our Skin Salvation every few hours! Bearing in mind that eczema is different for everyone, there are still some basic things you can look out for to keep on top of those triggers…
You’re probably sick of hearing that hydration is key! But drinking enough water and finding a suitable moisturiser to keep thoroughly hydrated on both the in- and outside are two of the best favours you can do your skin.
Irritants in your diet
On top of this, being extra mindful of the different foods you include in your diet can help identify what triggers flare-ups, especially if you have food allergies. It can be worth keeping a food diary for two weeks, tracking what you’ve eaten and how your skin reacts. Common foods that can cause inflammatory reactions include eggs, dairy, citrus, tomatoes, sugar, alcohol.
A lack of nutrients
If you’re not getting enough of the right kind of nutrients, your skin can find it hard to recover from any damage; it needs a variety of key nutrients to repair and renew cells.
One key set of nutrients that all cells - and skin cells in particular - rely on are EFAs – essential fatty acids. They play a vital role in creating and maintaining a robust skin barrier. Seeing as the body has little to no capacity in producing EFAs itself, we are responsible for delivering them to our cells somehow; you probably know at least someone that takes cod liver oil tablets or some kind of omega-3 supplement.
For eczema-prone skin that already has a weak barrier and tends to be nutrient-depleted, it’s even more important to be getting not just your five a day, but your EFAs as well.
If your diet allows, try to include these nutrients naturally in your meals by having fish, nuts, seeds and other foods that are rich in EFAs. You can also get them straight to where they’re needed by putting EFA-rich plant and seed oils on dry or eczema-prone skin! The oils we use in Skin Salvation have been chosen for their nutritious properties, so think of applying the balm as a kind of vitamin supplement for your skin!
Believe it or not, the kind of clothing you wear can also have an effect on how your skin behaves. While it may be hard to resist buying that perfect new pair of jeans, take extra care when buying clothes from big retailers, as often the fabrics will have been treated with chemicals that can irritate the skin and cause flare-ups. The same goes for bleached and dyed fabrics; even fabrics that haven’t been treated harshly such as wool can aggravate the skin and make you even more itchy.
Check the labels and see exactly what your clothes are made of; cotton, bamboo and hemp are all in the green zone, but be weary of wool and some synthetic fibres, as well as clothes that are overly tight (especially in the wrong places!).
Uncomfortable, itchy, man-made fabric is less breathable than natural material, and can make you sweat more, which in turn leads to skin irritation, redness, and itchiness. Buying organic natural clothing may be more expensive and harder to come by, but not only is it more ethical, your skin will thank you in the long run!
A big trigger for flares - and one that any eczema-sufferer is likely to have already lived through one time too many - is using the products with irritating ingredients. As with diet and clothing, it’s usually the case that the best thing for your skin is to use simple, natural products that are least likely to cause a problem for sensitive skin.
Be extra cautious with creams, serums, washes and shower products that list lots of chemicals and synthetic ingredients, as these tend to be the main culprits for stripping it of the natural oils it needs to stay in good, strong, healthy condition.
Perfumes and harsh preservatives can also be a big trigger, even if you are buying products especially designed to target eczema. Read the label before you buy, as there’s nothing worse than finally thinking you’ve found the miracle product, only to come home breaking out in flare-ups, sweat, and tears! Balmonds offers many natural alternatives that are fragrance and preservative – from face and body creams and oils all the way to shampoo and body wash.
Don't forget to patch test!
Do be aware that even natural ingredients can cause problems for sensitive skin: some people do not get on well with essential oils, and not every natural ingredient will suit everyone. This is why we always advise a patch test before widespread use!
Keeping it simple
It’s important to listen to your skin and keep note of what kind of ingredients are aggravating and cause inflammation – it could well be that you are using too many products at once! While the skin does require different kinds of attention and you may have more than one product to accommodate its various needs, it can be just as harmful if you use too many products on your body or your face, where the skin is especially sensitive.
If the products you use contain all different kinds of additives to make them smell nice or feel nice, or give them a really long shelf life, your skin could get overwhelmed and could end up having a reaction as a result. Be wise in your choice and don’t be afraid to splurge a little for your skin: it deserves the best!
Where, how, and with whom you live can also play into triggers that cause flare-ups. If you have furry friends at home as cute as they may be, almost any animal with fur has the potential to provoke flare-ups, especially if you have allergies. Flakes of dead skin, hair, fur, and anything they bring in from outside your household can easily trigger your eczema if you aren’t thorough enough in keeping them and your house clean!
Other irritants like dust, dust mites and pollen can build up in your household, making life harder for you and your skin, even if you don’t suffer from allergies on top of your eczema. Depending on the environment you live in, there are some things you won’t be able to change – like the wind and salt if you live near the seaside, or dry air if you live in higher and colder climates; even humidity can cause an outbreak due to excess sweating.
While you cannot change the weather, you can customise and control the “climate” of your household to some extent, using humidifiers, dehumidifiers, air purifiers, fans, or whatever you need in order to at least be able to feel comfortable and flare-up-free in your own home!
As if the physical triggers weren’t already enough, unfortunately your mental health and many other psychological factors can also contribute to flare-ups.
Stress is usually the main culprit here; while it doesn't cause eczema, it can provoke symptoms if your body is releasing too much cortisol. This is a stress hormone which can increase inflammation throughout the body and have a profound effect on your skin.
While you might have a stressful job or a difficult family situation that you simply cannot change, it’s worth investigating strategies for managing any stress you’re under on a daily basis. Find support by either talking to someone about it or doing things that reduce your stress level like hobbies, exercise, meditation, physical activity, or anything else you enjoy that takes the edge off.
Lack of sleep
It is just as important to give your body enough time recuperate. While getting enough sleep is crucial, sleeping well is perhaps even more vital. If you sleep for ten hours but wake up frequently, your sleep will be interrupted, and your body will be too distracted to recuperate and rest properly. Remember that what you sleep on can highly affect the quality and quantity of sleep you’re getting!
Nowadays, there are all kinds of accommodating options that can curb your insomnia or sleep deprivation – from hypo-allergenic or memory-foam pillows and mattresses, to the kind of sheets and fabrics you sleep in. Take extra care and time to ensure you are as comfortable as you can be in order to catch some qualitative Zs. Check out allergy-expert Ruth Holroyd’s article Sleep Tips For The Eczema-Prone and see if there’s anything you can do to help yourself to some better rest!
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)
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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.