What Causes Eczema?
Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition affecting up to 15 million people in the UK alone.
Also known as dermatitis or atopic eczema, the condition alters the skin causing redness, blistering, oozing, crusting and thickening, and can even change pigmentation. There are many factors which have been suggested as causes of eczema, the most notable being poor diet, sloppy shower habits, contact with household chemicals, and even exercise.
Other potential causes and irritants of eczema are:
- Dry skin in winter Irritants such as metals, fragrances, and cigarette smoke
- Scratchy, irritating fabrics and materials
- Sweat and hot climates
- Non-toxic chemicals (hair dye, nail polish, etc.)
Eczema affects both men and women equally. It tends to start at infancy and can be seen in at least 10% of infants, but it is also possible to develop the condition as an adult. Yet despite being such a persistent problem, most people aren’t aware of the causes of eczema or irritants that can lead to flare ups and inflammation.
In this article we discuss a few common queries and debunk a few myths around what causes eczema.
Eczema in allergy sufferers
Eczema is more common in individuals that suffer from allergies, as ‘atopic’ means a sensitivity to allergens. This can be passed down in families as well as in conjunction with other common conditions such as hay fever and asthma.
While the explicit cause of atopic eczema is still at large, it’s clear that the trigger for the condition doesn’t boil down to just one thing and instead can be a variety of stimulants different to each person.
Can diet cause eczema?
While some studies suggest that certain foods and drinks can provoke eczema, cutting out these foods from your diet will not solve the problem in its entirety.
It has been proven that children are more sensitive to and likely to get food-related flare ups; and milk, soy, wheat, fish, eggs, and peanuts are the most common culprits of irritation. Instead, increasing other healthy dietary interventions such as drinking liquids and staying hydrated to keep skin healthy and happy may alleviate some symptoms and lessen flare-ups.
Before making any changes to your diet, talking to a dermatologist or doctor is recommended.
Can soapy showers cause eczema?
In a recent study carried out by the University of Sheffield about the effects of water on eczema, it was found that hard water (as opposed to soft water) aggravates skin conditions and can trigger flare-ups. Along with this, the most common products we come in contact with on a daily basis are soaps, shampoos, and moisturisers.
However, many of these products can contain fragrances and chemicals that can also trigger flare-ups. It is important to find hypoallergenic products that don’t irritate your skin, and provide extra moisture to keep your skin hydrated.
Do household products cause eczema?
Many household chemicals and cleaners can cause and, in some cases, worsen existing eczema. In order to combat this, replacing harsh cleaning products and opting for eczema and allergy-safe cleaner is recommended, along with using eczema gloves and taking extra safety precautions.
From cleaning counters to washing clothes, many of our laundry detergents can also be harmful and have been shown to disrupt the PH balance of skin and cause irritation. One study conducted at the University of Washington found that some of the most popular laundry detergents emitted several toxic chemicals, and all detergents tested emitted at least one chemical that was categorised by the government as toxic.
What’s more is that these toxic chemicals detected weren’t listed on the product labels. As harsh chemicals are directly linked to the exacerbation of skin conditions, avoiding detergents that are chemical heavy and choosing hypoallergenic whenever possible is recommended.
Will exercise cause eczema?
Exercising with eczema can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, the benefits of regular exercise on the mind and body can improve one’s skin condition if its causation is stress-related, but on the other hand it can also worsen the condition as sweat and heat can cause irritation and flare ups.
This is because deregulated body temperature through varied exercises can increase skin flares and itching. It goes without saying, but making sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise is important for everyone, but especially people suffering from dry skin caused by eczema. Therefore, it is recommended to drink fluids throughout the day to remain hydrated for happier and healthier skin.
Will exercise cure eczema?
No. The message is clear – continue exercising even with eczema, but do adapt your activity in tune with your skin type to avoid aggravating any problems.
There are many myths around curing eczema – from fear of washing, to cutting out wheat to avoiding exercise, there are many remedies claiming to cure eczema that can potentially have the opposite effect. There is no one practice on how to cure eczema because there is currently no permanent solution, and only cures to treat the symptoms that come with it. The fact is only a small percentage of individuals, and generally children, experience symptom alleviation through changes in diet, while most people can lower the abilities of their immune system by cutting out necessary food groups and have an adverse effect.
Myth 1: Showering daily can aggravate my eczema
Truth: If you choose hypoallergenic and non-fragranced products as well as keep the water temperature warm instead of too cold or hot, this shouldn’t be the case.
Myth 2: Diet is the cause of my eczema
Truth: Although a food allergy can worsen existing eczema, it is not the causation
Myth 3: I can’t go into swimming pools with my eczema
Truth: Keeping healthy habits and activities such as swimming is important, but be mindful of the skin-drying capabilities of chlorine and moisturise accordingly.
Treating your own eczema
The major challenge faced by those suffering with eczema is that, as well as being extremely uncomfortable and having an impact on broader wellbeing considerations, it’s also very difficult to treat. That’s because it is a very individual condition, in that its causes, symptoms and treatments vary from person to person.
The examples above provide some insight into what causes eczema.