By Dr. Loretta Lanphier, ND, CN, HHP, CH

It is estimated that one out of five children and one out of twelve adults today suffer from some kind of inflammatory skin disease. In the last few decades, the number of cases has risen dramatically. Could it be something about our modern lifestyle that is contributing to this phenomenon?  Let’s see what we can find out.
What is Eczema?

Eczema, also known as dermatitis, is a general term that refers to disorders characterized by inflammation of the skin. Eczema comes in quite a few different forms that each have unique causes and symptoms, but it typically describes reddish, swollen skin with an itchy rash.

Dermatitis is a commonly found condition that is generally not a major health problem, and in most cases, except for certain kinds of contact dermatitis, it is not contagious. However, if infection sets in, it can become more serious, especially for folks with compromised immune systems.

What Are the Causes and  Symptoms of Dermatitis?

There are several major types of dermatitis, and each has distinct characteristics:

  •         Contact Dermatitis:  This common form of eczema is the result of irritants or allergens that come into contact with the skin. Typical irritants include soaps, laundry detergent, fabric softeners, and cleaning products. As a side note, you should also be aware that many of these products are laced with strong and dangerous chemicals that can cause a multitude of other health problems. American homes have become toxic waste dumps, thanks to the chemical companies and Madison Avenue. People have died after inadvertently mixing cleaning products that produced poisonous gas. Be very careful with this stuff. Allergens that commonly cause contact dermatitis include:  latex, nickel, gold, jewelry, poison ivy (poison oak and sumac too), cosmetics, and perfumes, certain types of clothing, and neomycin,an ingredient found in many topical antibiotic creams. The difference between irritants and allergens is that it usually takes repeated exposure over time for an irritant to cause a reaction, whereas an allergen can begin to cause problems after only a brief exposure, if the individual is sensitive to that particular allergic agent.Contact dermatitis is found in adults more often than in children, and it usually appears on the hands, feet, and/or groin, although it can affect any part of the body. The eczema cannot usually be passed from person to person, or be spread to other parts of the body. The exceptions are such things as poison ivy, oak, or sumac. In fact, reactions to these weeds is the most common allergy in the United States, affecting about 50% of the population. The symptoms of contact dermatitis typically appear within 48 hours after contact with the irritant or allergen. They include:  red, swollen skin that may have an itchy, weepy rash.
  •         Neurodermatitis is the result of something, such as a tight garment for example, that irritates, scratches, or rubs the skin continually in the same area. This form of eczema is often located on the ankle, wrist, back of the neck, and forearm. Sometimes neurodermatitis is worsened by repeated rubbing or scratching of the area.
  •           Stasis Dermatitis:  This form of eczema occurs when irritation is caused by the accumulation of fluids just beneath the skin. This is found most often in the lower legs. Any condition that affects the circulation of blood that seeks to return to the heart through the veins may cause this excess fluid, and the accompanying dermatitis. Varicose veins is a good example of this. In addition, the fluid may make it difficult for nutrients and oxygen to reach the area, and the pressure of the fluid can also cause problems. All of these factors can result in stasis dermatitis. Symptoms appear as greasy, scaly skin most often found on the inner calf and around the ankles. In some patients, the rash can deteriorate into sores referred to as “statis ulcers.”
  •           Seborrheic Dermatitis manifests itself with a reddish rash that has a yellowish, oily scale on top. It may appear dry or moist.  Its crusty effects can be found mostly on the scalp, face, eyelids, outer edges of the ears, armpits, breasts, and groin. Seborrheic dermatitis is known as “cradle cap” when it is found in infants. This condition can come and go with seasonal changes, is common in folks with oily skin and hair, and is easily brought on by emotional stress in many patients. It is also frequently associated with Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders.
  •           Atopic Dermatitis: This form of eczema is linked to allergies, and often runs in families that also have a history of asthma and/or hay fever. It exhibits a rash that is scaly and itchy, and sometimes will swell and blister. It is often found in young children, and is referred to as infantile eczema. It’s really tough on kids, with its reddish, oozing sores that frequently crust over.  Look for it to make its appearance on the face, at the back of the knees, and on the inside of the elbows. It is generally less of a problem the older a patient gets. Some research has indicated that immune system dysfunction is somehow related to atopic dermatitis. Individuals with dry, sensitive skin are more prone to suffer with this type of eczema.
  •           Nummular Dermatitis:  Also known as nummular eczematous dermatitis or nummular eczema, this type is almost never found in anyone under the age of 55. It most often takes the form of a circular rash that is patchy and very itchy, and is commonly found on the hands, arms, legs, and buttocks. It often comes on during cold weather, and is more likely to affect folks with dry skin.
  •           Perioral Dermatitis:  This is thought to be a type of seborrheic dermatitis or a variant of the skin disease called rosacea that specifically attacks the areas around the mouth and nose. It is thought that certain cosmetics or dental products composed of fluoride may play a role in the onset of perioral dermatitis.

What Treatments Are Available for Eczema?

As with most disorders, the mainstream medical community’s favorite treatment for eczema is—you guessed it—prescription drugs. The concern is that many of these drugs do not work very well, and the ones that do work must be continually taken or the condition will return or worsen. And then there’s the side effects to consider. All in all, the use of drugs to control eczema should be avoided. With many forms of dermatitis there are common sense natural approaches to managing the illness that are quite effective.

  •         Elimination of the agent: It may take a little detective work, but the most important thing to do is identify and eliminate the irritant or allergen that is behind the rashes. Sometimes there are natural alternatives to something that is causing a problem. For example, if you are allergic to laundry fabric softener, consider eliminating that element from your washday routine, and replacing it with white vinegar. Vinegar is non-toxic and leaves clothes soft and fresh smelling. There are also many alternatives available to commercial laundry detergents and other dangerous household chemicals.  Sometimes you may have to change the type of clothing you are wearing, or the fragrance you like to use, or even the type of water you bathe in. Hard water has been implicated as a risk factor in dermatitis. Perhaps a good water filtration system can help. Just beware of adding a water softener to your home. Many of these systems use harsh chemicals that can be harmful to your health.
  •         Bathing less often is often very helpful to dermatitis patients. In our modern world, especially in the United States, we tend to overdue it when it comes to bathing. Most people do not need a bath or shower every day, especially in the cooler weather. The soaps and shampoos, in combination with the very hot water that many people use, is drying and irritating to the skin. These excesses reduce or eliminate many of the natural oils that our skin produces to keep it supple and healthy. Use soap only on your face, underarms, genitals, hands, and feet, and just warm water everywhere else. Again we have fallen prey to the advertising machinery that constantly pushes this personal care product and the other—most which we do not need, and many that are actually harmful. Sometimes I think we were better off back in the old days when everyone took his or her weekly bath on Saturday night. Well, maybe we can reach a happy medium anyway. One study found that up to 20% of all children experience dermatitis to one degree or another, and it may be caused by our obsession with hyper cleanliness, both on our bodies and in our homes. Sometimes we are so afraid of germs that we go overboard and become clean freaks. It is also recommended that folks with eczema pat themselves dry after bathing rather than rubbing, as this is less abrasive to the skin.
  •          100% Cotton clothing is beneficial for many people too, especially with undergarments that are in direct contact with the skin. Cotton breathes very well, and is less irritating than many other fabrics, especially in hot weather. Even our clothing today is often treated with chemicals. Ever wonder how “permanent press” clothing stays permanent? It is treated with the chemical methanol, which is a form of alcohol. It is always a good idea to wash new clothing before wearing it in a mild, unscented, dye-free detergent.
  •          Think about other areas in your home that could possibly harbor irritating or allergic agents. Examples might be wool carpeting, certain kinds of bedding, or fabrics in furniture and/or window treatments. Sometimes pets can be a problem too. Some people have discovered an allergy to either their pet or perhaps bedding used for the pet (such as wood chips used for many small rodents).
  •          Keeping your skin moisturized is a great way to reduce the risk of dermatitis outbreaks. Unfortunately, many commercial moisturizers contain harsh and dangerous chemicals that you are better off staying away from, and they might even make your eczema worse. Some natural lotion ingredients that can help soothe and moisten your skin are aloe vera, chamomile, and lavender.  Some people get good resulst using Moraccan argan oil.
  •         Cleansing and detoxification of the liver.  The liver is the main filter of the body and thus filters out a tremendous amount of toxins, chemicals, hormones, etc. every single day.  As with any filter, the liver can be over-worked and thus become sluggish in its job.  I highly suggest incorporting three to four back-to-back liver flushes in order to cleanse and support the liver.  Often when the liver is sluggish toxins will find other ways to get out of the body which includes the skin.
  •         Healthy Diet.  Implementing healthy oils into your diet can help the skin to heal.  Cold-pressed oils such as flax seed, olive and hemp seed are good choices. Eating lots of organic fruits and vegetables and nutrient dense foods will help the body to repair.  Drinking one-half of your body weight in ounces of purified water is also recommended. Removing foods known to be common allergens is always a good idea. Culprits might be dairy, wheat, peanuts, shellfish, soy, casein, citrus fruits, tomatoes, etc.  Those with leaky gut and/or gluten intolerance are always more prone to skin conditions such as eczema.
  •        Supplements.  Adding quality supplementation can also help the body in its recovery from bouts of eczema. Choose an effective probiotic, organic multi-vitamin-mineral supplement, trace minerals and zinc orotate.  Cat’s Claw (Una De Gato) is also great for supporting the digestive system and helping with leaky gut.  Natural Vitamin E with tocopherols and tocotrienols is also recommended both orally and topically.
  •        Stress Elimination.  Although not many people like to hear this, high stress levels can be a huge factor in bouts of eczema.  Try eliminating as many of the causes of stress in your life as possible.  Meditation, yoga, long walks, soothing music and good books are all great ways to help eliminate stress.  Getting at least 8-9 hours of sleep each night will also allow the body time to heal and repair.

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