Among the many things I suffer from (shoe addiction, frizzy hair, aversion to early mornings), eczema and psoriasis are probably the most annoying.
I’ve battled with eczema and psoriasis since I was born. From hardly noticing it was there, to being stopped in the street and asked if my face was OK.
Since I moved to Santiago in Chile, I’ve had a few queries about dealing with the affliction, especially in light of the city’s high and low temperatures, its unusually mineral rich water and its air pollution problem.
I’ve written back personally to the people in question, but thought to post my tips here for anyone else with eczema and psoriasis like me. As most sufferers know, they’re genetic conditions without a cure as such, but they are definitely some dos and don’ts.
Water – my son also has mild eczema and the main issue seems to be the water here in Santiago, which has a much higher mineral content than in many other countries. Following our dermatologist’s advice, we’ve both been avoiding very long, hot baths, as well as drying soaps, opting for a gentle bath oil instead when necessary. We switched to a more gentle washing detergent (a brand called Popeye here in Chile) for really dirty clothing. For a gentler wash we now use EcoWash balls which in any case are much better on the environment (and your pocket).
Skincare and body– For my shampoo, I’ve switched to a gentle tea tree formula designed especially for sensitive scalps. For my boys, I now wash their hair only when necessary instead of on a daily basis. It’s important to avoid harsh synthetic fragrances and keep the skin hydrated. As recommended by our dermatologist my family all use a rich body lotion (La Roche Posay Lipikar Balm AP+, available without prescription) on a regular basis. For my face, I’m a big fan of facial oils and just discovered a seriously good one by JK7.
Pollution – the smog is certainly an issue here in Santiago, and I’ve yet to deal with the toxin highs of June and July. Research does point to pollution aggravating eczema and I doubt it’s a coincidence that the best my skin has ever been was in the clean hills of the Himalayas. Right now, for my face, I’m following an ultra gentle cleansing regime (over zealous exfoliation actually strips away the skin’s natural defences – read more here). I’m also adding an extra layer of protection through a an anti pollution serum favourite of mine. I may invest in a few home air purifiers if things get any worse for my kids.
Stress – Annoyingly, my skin problems only really flare up when I’m stressed. The worse it gets, the more stressed I get. Trying to relax is like telling yourself to fall asleep. The worst my skin has even been was when my child was sick and after a particularly turbulent week in Angola. Combating stress is very personal and in my case, going out and socialising is just as beneficial as yoga. Sleep (if you can get it) also helps. Generally the lifestyle here in Chile is much more relaxed and especially good for kids, which certainly helps.
Diet – I gave up dairy when breastfeeding my dairy intolerant second child. While I enjoy the occasional cake if a friend has baked and I’m not so strict when eating out, I’ve never really gone back down the cow’s milk route. I’ve heard conflicting advice on whether dairy and other foods can cause eczema and psoriasis, however. In my case, my skin feels better in general since I’ve gone dairy free, but whether it’s directly responsible for easing my eczema and psoriasis, I’m not so sure. Other possible triggers include soya, nuts, eggs, gluten and fish. All I’ll say is that if you are considering giving a specialist diet a go, do speak to a qualified nutritionist first. If you’re not careful you might not be getting enough alternative nutrients and doing your skin more harm than good. Dairy is hidden in so many foods (flour, wine, bread, margarine, crisps…) and you really need to cut out all possible triggers to ascertain if there’s been any change.
Medication – when things have got really bad I’ve been prescribed steroid creams and gels such as Betnovate. The gel is horrible to apply to my scalp and washing it out is a nightmare. I find that the cream thins my skin and so I only really use it as a last resort to alleviate the inflammation and itching. In addition, the beneficial effect seems to wear off after a couple of weeks, so I reserve this medication for emergency cases, to give my skin a bit of temporary relief.
Alternative remedies – I’ve spoken to friends with similar conditions and they’ve had great results through aromatherapy, especially for their children. I’ve learnt a lot through them and next time I get a flare up, I’ll be reaching for my lavender, tea tree, geranium, cypress, roman chamomile and frankincense blends.
Sunlight – While I’m an advocate of high factor sun protection throughout the year, I know that exposure to sunlight does help alleviate my psoriasis. It can be tempting to cover up the flaky mess that eczema and psoriasis cause, but in my experience it’ll only make things worse. Dry heat on the other hand, certainly doesn’t help, so avoid drying out your scalp through rigorous hair drying. Shake your hair dry, let it dry naturally as much as possible and go for a short blast dry on a low heat setting.
Make up and beauty– it’s hard to cover up eczema and psoriasis, and I find that thick concealers dry up the skin and make it look (and feel) even worse over time. I moisturise the area regularly and apply a small amount of tinted moisturiser blended with more moisturiser to the affected area. Certain brands don’t agree with me and I stick to the gentle formulas of the names I trust – QMS, JK7 and Neals Yard Remedies, to name but a few. I also cheat with a facial fake tan which seems to detract from my lizard like complexion and at least make me look a little healthier.
A final word – the best piece of advice came from a dermatologist who told me ‘to hang in there’. Research is still ongoing, with some studies suggesting bacterial therapies may help and noone really knows what exactly causes the disease. The doctor I spoke to mentioned a patient of his who had an outbreak all over his back, legs and face, and then within two months it had disappeared completely.
Hold your head up high, relax, and with a bit of luck it’ll be gone in a while.