Eczema can come with a range of symptoms, from mild – such as the occasional dry, itchy or rough skin – to moderate or severe, with an intense itch and frequent inflammation and rashes. Yet no matter the severity of the condition, the persistent itch-scratch cycle that comes with a flare-up typically wreaks havoc with the quality of life of people with eczema and their families, says Aleyna Zarras, regional trainer and skin expert at La Roche-Posay. She believes that awareness about the factors contributing to such flare-ups can help to gain a measure of control.
Seventeen per cent of Canadians, about seven million people and many children among them, suffer from eczema, she says. “We know that 95 per cent of all eczema cases occur before the age of five.”
There are three key factors contributing to eczema: an immature immune system, insufficient ceramide production of the skin and an unbalanced skin microbiome.
Ceramides are a family of lipid molecules that surround the cells of our epidermis and are an important part of our natural skin barrier, explains Zarras. “We need sufficient ceramides for strong and healthy skin, but they are typically lacking in people with eczema.”
The microbiome is another component of our skin’s barrier function. In healthy skin, it is made up of a multitude of diverse bacteria, Zarras says. “When the microbiome is unbalanced, irritants and allergens can penetrate and cause inflammation, which, in turn, causes the main symptom of eczema: itching.”
Measures that address the three factors can help to reduce flare-ups and alleviate symptoms. They can include boosting a person’s immune system and reducing environmental triggers, such as some soaps, deodorants, fabrics and dust, or limiting adverse influences like certain foods or stress, says Zarras. There are also proven strategies for improving skin health.
“When we make sure our skin is hydrated, we strengthen its barrier function as well as limit its exposure to irritants,” says Zarras, who recommends an ongoing daily moisturizing routine. Applying moisturizer within three minutes after a bath or shower can also enhance the impact.
Advanced understanding of the skin-care needs of people living with eczema has led to the development of products such as La Roche-Posay body washes and moisturizers, for example, which include ingredients like niacinamide for boosting the skin’s ability to produce ceramides and reducing inflammation, a patented ingredient called Aqua Posae Filiformis to rebalance the skin microbiome, and shea butter to restore the skin barrier function, says Zarras.
New clinical studies show that regular skin-care routines involving products that address the specific challenges posed by eczema-prone skin can make a big difference, she says. “One of our recent studies shows some very substantial results in improving quality of life and especially sleep.”
While there is no cure for eczema, a rigorous skin-care regimen and monitoring known triggers and lifestyle choices are among the steps families can take to better protect themselves and their loved ones against eczema flare-ups, she adds.
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