As someone who has battled eczema most of her life, I’ve heard many recommendations on how to keep it at bay. Well-meaning friends and even strangers have offered advice like “use this cream”, or “don’t eat seafood”, to prevent my scaly skin from acting up.
Some of their tips have worked while others have not. So to get to the bottom of eczema issues once and for all, I spoke to Dr. Paul Chia, an advocate for eczema management from The Dermatology Practice. Here are 7 lesser-known skincare tips to avoid triggering eczema.
Long-time eczema sufferers might have heard this old wives’ tale of swimming in the ocean as a way to soothe sensitive skin. But it turns out that there’s some truth to this, said Dr. Paul Chia.
“Seawater contains salt, which is an antiseptic that can kill bacteria,” he explained. For some, a bacterial infection caused by staphylococcus aureus could be a frequent trigger for eczema flare ups. Taking a dip in the sea can help stave off inflammation caused by this.
There should be no cause of concern over the “dirtiness” of seawater either. Dr. Paul Chia commented that “eczema is not a hygiene or allergy issue,” and that seemingly dirty water is not going to worsen sensitivity.
For those with eczema that gets infected frequently, soaking in seawater or even using diluted bleach will be helpful in preventing recurring skin infections.
When it comes to keeping sensitive skin from flaring up, Dr. Paul Chia suggests going soap-free in the shower. “Look for a soap-free wash that has an acidic pH of less than 5.5,” he said.
Regular soaps can be quite harsh on sensitive skin. They strip away the skin’s layer of natural oil, leading to dryness and affecting its natural protective properties.
On the other hand, a body wash with an acidic pH improves the moisturising effect on the skin. Dr. Paul Chia explained, “The acidic pH also prevents the activation of proteases that break down skin cell structures, which causes inflammation.”
He reiterated that eczema is not a cleanliness issue, but rather, a problem with the skin being in a hypersensitive state. As a result, body washes with a heavy alkaline base and even fragrances found in conventional soaps can irritate the skin and make it itch.
A soap-free wash that is suitable for eczema-prone skin is QV Gentle Wash. It doesn’t contain fragrances, colouring and common irritants. It’s also hypoallergenic and has a balanced pH that aids in hydrating the skin.
The pandemic has brought about the necessity of using hand sanitisers to keep our hands clean throughout the day. However, the alcohol found in most sanitisers can be very drying on the skin, stripping away moisture and aggravating eczema flare ups as a result.
Instead, look for benzalkonium chloride and polymeric biguanide hydrochloride as active ingredients in alcohol-free sanitisers. They are just as effective in killing microbes as alcohol but aren’t as dehydrating.
The same goes for using antibacterial hand soaps as well. While we might be enticed to use these to ensure our hands are virus-free, Dr. Paul Chia says that antibacterial soaps are unnecessary. “It’s alright to continue using a soap-free wash – they are adequate in washing away bacteria,” he remarked.
Tip: Carry around a travel-size bottle of soap-free QV Gentle Wash as an alternative to keeping hands squeaky clean. It ensures that you won’t be agitating dry skin with over-washing.
Image credit: Pexels
While you may be tempted to get creams with fragrance so that you’ll smell good after a shower, it’s an absolute no-no for eczema. While they make products smell more appealing, they do not have much added benefits. Rather, they can cause hypersensitive reactions that make your skin itchy.
When buying any product to be applied to the skin, look out for fragrances – often listed as ‘parfum’ in the ingredients list. You can check out fragrance-free products from the QV skincare range which don’t contain fragrance and colouring, so your skin won’t be irritated.
When it comes to keeping eczema in check, eczema patients would have heard the advice of continually moisturising the skin as a way to keep the condition under control.
QV Cream contains five moisturising ingredients. It’s also less greasy than typical moisturisers and can be absorbed well into the skin.
Using a paraffin-based moisturiser immediately after cleansing helps to hydrate the skin and seal in its natural moisture. Look for ones with ingredients like squalene, a natural component found in the skin’s oil that acts as a protective barrier.
When looking through ingredient lists on products to be used on the skin, the main culprits for triggering eczema include alcohol, fragrances and colouring, as we have learned. But Dr. Paul Chia also cautioned against products that claim to use “natural / organic” ingredients, including plant-based essential oils.
Image credit: Pexels
“Essential oils can potentially irritate the skin. While they’re not harmful per se, there are no added benefits to having them in a cream either,” he advised.
While eczema sufferers might feel that going for a natural route would be more beneficial to the skin, there is no harm in using lab-developed products. These can also contain fewer chemicals that are common causes of skin irritation.
It’s best to select products that have been formulated to be gentle on the skin and prevent further irritation to help tame the condition.
Those with severe and recurring eczema who have sought medical treatment are likely to have been prescribed a steroid cream at one point of their healing journey. However, “a lot of people mistakenly think steroid creams are a mainstay treatment,” shared Dr. Paul Chia.
Steroid creams are effective in treating eczema but it’s not a be all and end all solution
Treating eczema is a multi-pronged approach in the long run, and steroid creams are just a small part of it. They are not a long-term solution either.
Dr. Paul Chia broke it down into three principles:
Firstly, chronic sufferers should try and correct their defective skin barrier by using the right types of products – a soap-free body wash and gentle moisturisers.
Secondly, avoid potential triggers for eczema. “Perspiration and stress can cause flare ups, so choose to run in the evening instead, or manage your stress with better work habits,” informed Dr. Paul Chia.
Only after working on these two steps should patients turn to using anti-inflammatory creams such as those containing steroids, and in conjunction with other irritant-free products.
In addition, Dr. Paul Chia also shared that there are alternatives to using steroid creams. Calling them “proactive strategies”, he recommended patients to ask their doctor for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory creams when possible, or seek light treatment for problem areas.
Apart from the tips mentioned, I also tried out QV’s range of products that are recommended by dermatologists. They are even used in Singapore hospitals as treatments for sensitive skin.
I used the QV Gentle Wash 1KG ($33.50) which is a soap-free body wash, then proceeded to slather on the QV Cream 500G ($38.30) once I hopped out. As extra precaution against triggering my inflamed skin, I pat myself dry instead of rubbing the bath towel across my skin.
I noticed that my skin did not feel taut after showering, something that I’d often experience with regular soaps. Instead, my skin felt soft and moisturised from the 15% glycerin content of the wash. The ingredient helps hydrate skin while cleansing, without stripping away the skin’s natural oils.
The moisturiser did not feel uncomfortable despite its thick consistency. Applying just a very thin layer did the trick.
To maintain skin hydration, I applied QV Cream to the insides of my elbows, a sensitive area that would flare up every now and then. There are five active ingredients in the cream that makes it non-greasy and easier to be absorbed by the skin.
I found that its hydrating effects lasted quite a number of hours, even in an air-conditioned room where the air can be drying. It also helped to relieve itch from my dry and flaky skin.
Dr. Paul Chia
Image credit: QV
Dr. Paul Chia stated that eczema-prone skin is a lifelong condition that has to be managed, and for those without the proper knowledge, it can be a stressful situation that hampers living a normal life. But taking control of flare ups is possible, and you can start by trying these tips for yourself.
This post is brought to you by the Dermatology Practice and QV.
Photography by Clement Sim and Tasha Sun.
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