Eczema, also known as Atopic Dermatitis, is a skin condition characterised by patches of dry, itchy and inflamed skin – if you’re a sufferer, you would know this very well! Eczema most commonly develops in infancy or early childhood and, according to recent statistics, the number of people being diagnosed with this uncomfortable condition appears to be on the rise1. Whilst genetics has been shown to play a prominent role in the development of eczema, research is now telling us that the severity of symptoms and frequency of flares is able to be well managed (or at least minimised) through lifestyle factors.
Read on for our top food, environmental, and skincare routine tips for a holistic approach to managing eczema.
1. Get to Know Your Trigger Foods.
There is an established link between food allergies and eczema, whereby people with food allergies are more prone to experiencing eczema, and vice versa. It is very common for these people to experience an aggravation of the skin barrier when an allergen is consumed2, 3. By avoiding consumption of your allergens, also known as ‘trigger foods’, eczema is much more likely to be better managed.
A quick Google will confront you with a plethora of sources suggesting for you to cut out what seems like every food under the sun to manage your eczema. The thing is, not everyone has the same allergies, or intolerances! It’s extremely important, particularly from a nutritional perspective, that people are not removing entire food groups from their diet unnecessarily. Working with your doctor and a dietitian to help identify your individual trigger foods is essential. Some particularly common trigger foods seen in practice include the following:
- Dairy. Whilst there is a lack of concrete evidence that dairy itself causes eczema, it has been shown that people with a dairy allergy or intolerance are more likely to experience eczema symptoms if they do consume dairy products4. Dairy is a very common dietary allergen, particularly amongst babies and children.
- Wheat and/or gluten. Wheat is another common allergen associated with eczema. For those with a wheat allergy, it can cause an inflammatory response if eaten5. A gluten auto immune response, known as coeliac disease, is different to a wheat allergy. In addition to wheat, gluten is also found in rye, barley, and oats (oats are naturally gluten-free, however Australian production methodologies mean that oats are exposed to gluten during processing, and are therefore contaminated). Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disorder, which is where the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own healthy tissues in an allergy type response when gluten is eaten. If someone with a gluten allergy eats something containing wheat, rye, barley or oats, it can then produce a reaction on the skin. Some research also suggests that eczema may in fact be an autoimmune condition itself, and we know that people who have one autoimmune condition are significantly more likely to also be diagnosed with another; hence the possible link between the two diagnoses6.
- Food chemicals. Food chemicals are naturally-occurring compounds including salicylates, amines, and glutamates. Salicylates are like natures pesticide, formed by many plant foods as a protection mechanism. They are mostly present in the skin or outer layer of foods such as fruits and vegetables, and are denser in quantity in unripe versus ripe foods. Amines are produced during the breakdown of proteins in foods; they are more abundant in ripened or aged foods including fruits and vegetables, cheeses, and meats. Glutamates are part of the protein structure in foods, and are more abundant in particular foods including parmesan cheese, tomato and mushrooms. A very common man-made version of this food chemical that you may have heard of is MSG, which is often used in Asian cooking. Skin reactions to these food chemicals can occur in sensitive people when they consume an amount that is too much for them7, 8. It’s extremely important to work with a dietitian when trying to establish whether you have a food chemical sensitivity.
- Alcohol. It is common for eczema sufferers to experience a flare following a big night out, or if regularly consuming alcohol. Alcohol dilates blood vessels and dehydrates the body, promoting the already-compromised skin barrier to become increasingly reddened and itchy9.
2. Increase Your Intake of Skin Nourishing Foods.
Here are the top 5 nutrients to boost in your diet to promote healthy skin, and therefore reduce the redness and itchiness characteristic of eczema.
- Vitamin A. Found in eggs, cod liver oil, fruits and veg, vitamin A is involved in skin health, with studies showing that a deficiency in vitamin A may increase the risk of developing or worsening atopic dermatitis10.
- B vitamins. Boost your intake of B vitamins with quality meats, seafood, chicken, eggs, dairy, and plant foods to help with balancing natural oils in the skin and healthy skin cell turnover11.
- Vitamin C. A lack of vitamin C in the diet can increase the likelihood of developing eczema. Vitamin C can help minimise water loss in the skin barrier associated with dryness, and can be found in kiwi, citrus fruits, berries, capsicum, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and potato (potato lovers rejoice!)12.
- Zinc. Another micronutrient incredibly important in promoting good skin health, zinc is anti-inflammatory and promotes healthy skin cell turnover. A deficiency of zinc may manifest in the form of dermatitis, including eczema13. Zinc is found in oysters, red meat, poultry, legumes, nuts and seeds, dairy, eggs, and wholegrains.
- Essential fatty acids. Found in oily fish such as salmon and sardines, as well as nuts and seeds, quality dairy and avocados, essential fatty acids help to form the skin’s natural oil barrier that keeps skin hydrated, and reduces inflammation.
Finally, don’t forget to drink plenty of water to hydrate the skin and combat dryness and itchiness! A good starting point is 35-45ml of water per kg of body weight per day. Replace any additional fluids lost through sweaty exercise.
3. Establish a Daily Skincare Routine.
One of the non-negotiables for eczema sufferers is establishing a regular skincare routine. Many conventional skincare products contain ingredients that cause irritation for those of us with eczema. Moisturise daily to seal hydration into the skin and encourage it to repair. Consistency is key here, so establish a routine; many people find they get the best results out of their products when they apply them straight after the shower. Avoid soap- containing products that can remove natural oils from the skin barrier and promote skin dryness, and opt for fragrance-free to limit irritation. It is also suggested to avoid creams and lotions that contain food ingredients in them, such as nut oils, citrus, milk, or oatmeal. Bioderma’s Atoderm range contains two unique products that tick all the boxes here. Intensively soothing and healing, the Atoderm Intensive Baume reduces itchiness by encouraging lipid and protein production for a nourished skin barrier, and prevents direct exposure of the skin to aggravating bacteria. For those in more warm or humid climates, or for those who simply prefer a lighter texture, the new Atoderm Intensive Gel-Crème also has all the same protective benefits, but in an innovative, lightweight gel texture that absorbs almost instantly into the skin. It’s perfect if you’re always on the go, or for young children. The rigorous consideration of the skin’s eco-biology in the curation of these products makes them our go-to in a holistic approach to managing eczema.
4. Consider Your Environment.
Environmental factors as a trigger for eczema are often overlooked or forgotten about. Have a think about and start to notice if any of the following seem to worsen your symptoms.
- Temperature. Extremes in temperature can certainly impact eczema and send you down that red and itchy path14, 15. Most people tend to be triggered by either cold, dry weather OR hot weather. This can really vary on an individual basis, so get to know which may be better or worse for you personally. Also take note of indoor environments, such as central heating.
- Pollution. Yep, really! Some people find that if they go for their walks or runs outdoors in peak hour traffic, that the pollution emitted in the surrounding area can worsen their eczema in the following days. Dusty environments or spaces with lots of pet fur can also be aggravating for certain individuals16.
- Stress. Stress has been shown to increase the severity of skin conditions such as eczema17, 18. Stressful environments or psychological distress can trigger the release of a hormone known as cortisol. When produced in large amounts, or consistently for extended periods, cortisol can increase levels of inflammation in the body which may subsequently promote skin changes associated with increased eczema symptoms.
This post was sponsored by Bioderma.
From time to time I write sponsored posts such as this, however views are entirely my own, and I only ever collaborate with companies and brands who resonate with me.