Before you read this, a small disclaimer. I am a mom and I am far from perfect. I try to make the best decisions for my family and myself. However, I know what it’s like to have a child in pain (my son had severe head to toe eczema). I was desperate and would do anything to relieve his suffering. So, we tried everything from cortisone to prescription moisturizers and various therapies. Then I discovered the world of natural products and soon realized most the skin care products were much more soothing (no burning alcohol) on my son’s skin (most I say because some caused allergic reactions, like coconut and soy oil) and the laundry alternatives didn’t aggravate his skin. So, I am now a big believer in eco friendly, natural household products.
Eczema & Triggers
Eczema is a skin condition that affects 10-20% of children. It is characterized by red, itchy, weeping, crusting, and/or scaling skin. In most patients the skin barrier is weakened and therefore is extra sensitive to anything touching the skin, but especially topically applied and absorbed. Typical irritants include, but are not limited to:
· Food allergies
· Hot or cold temperatures
· Colds & viruses
· Household irritants (dust mites, pets)
· Clothing and fabrics (wool, etc.)
· Skincare products w/ certain chemicals
· Detergents & drying soaps
Ingredients to Avoid
The last three triggers above may contain very harmful ingredients that can cause eczema to flare and create overall dry skin. Read product labels carefully and watch out for:
Sodium Laurel/Laureth Sulphate (SLS) – Most commonly used to create lather in shampoo, but it’s used in many skincare products. It is a common skin irritant and should be avoided. AKA: Sodium Diethylene Glycol Lauryl Ether Sulfate, Alkyl Ether Sulfate, Sodium Dodecyl Polyoxyethylene Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Ethoxysulfate and Sodium Polyoxyethylene Lauryl Sulfate
Fragrance/Perfume – Very irritating to the skin and contains many harmful chemicals. It’s best to stay away from anything with added synthetic fran graces. Essential oils, however, are considered a natural fragrance and also provide beneficial healing properties. For eczema these tend to be the most recommended essential oils: chamomile, geranium, rosemary, peppermint, tea tree, thyme, lavender, patchouli, rose, and bergamot oil.
Paraben – Highly allergenic preservative. Considered a carcinogenic.
Alcohol – Cream with any form of alcohol sends my son into a screaming rage. Imagine pouring alcohol on an open wound. Ouch. It is generally considered “safe” to use products containing alcohol on the skin, but what about the pain factor?
Mineral oil & Petroleum – May clog pores & does not allow skin to breathe properly. Atopic dermatitis (a type of eczema) is the body’s way of releasing toxins, so locking them in the body doesn’t seem like the best idea.
Polyethylene Glycol. Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) – Strips the natural moisture from your skin, not a desired quality in an eczema care product.
Imidazolidinyl Urea ( IU) and Diazolidinyl Urea (DU) - Known to cause eczema and allergies, as well as many other very negative conditions.
Why Avoidance is Important
Wait, you say. We’ve been told that products applied to our skin cannot be absorbed into our bodies, certainly not enough to enter the bloodstream. Well then, what about nicotine and contraceptive patches? Its possible only small amounts of these chemicals may be absorbed, but overtime this could cause toxic build up. Since eczema patients have a weaker skin barrier, many products can enter through their damaged skin layers much more effortlessly than they can in those with healthy skin. AND irritated, inflamed eczema skin should be treated gently with calming oils and creams, not further aggravated with drying agents and known allergens.
Take Precautions with Natural Ingredients
Well, gosh, this sounds contradictory. The point I want to make is that what works for one person may not work for another. So, certain natural products may really help your friend, but could harm your child. Take coconut oil for example, (virgin cold processed is best) – it may be the most effective eczema skin treatment for John, but it could cause an allergic skin reaction for Emma. ALWAYS do a small patch test on the skin before applying a new skin care product liberally. Watch for a reaction, usually immediate, but could occur up to a few ours later.
Eczema & Detergents
In addition to detergents containing harmful chemicals that can cause eczema to flare, some people may actually be allergic to detergents. Read about this mother’s struggle to determine the cause of her son’s eczema and her enlightening discovery.
Food allergies were a huge trigger for our son, but detergents also bothered his skin. We tried many detergents – fragrance free, eco-friendly, etc, but everything seemed too harsh for him. We finally happened across soap nuts and have been happily using them ever sense. Soap nuts are a great laundry alternative. They sound a bit extreme, but they really do work and are extremely gentle.
The Best Soaps/Cleansers for Eczema
The wrong soap can further dry out eczema skin by stripping it of its natural oils, something to avoid at all costs. Look for hydrating, moisturizing ingredients like olive, coconut, and jojoba oils, and essential oils as mentioned above. A good tip is to look for soap containing very few ingredients. Bar vs. liquid soap – that’s your choice. A quick note about “tear-free” products, these have chemicals added to numb the eyes. Natural products will not contain these chemicals and therefore could burn the eyes, so use caution.
Product Safety Database
Still have questions? Here is an AMAZING resource for skincare products. EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database has a thorough listing of common skin care ingredients and provides a detailed safety review of each. They give a value to each ingredient – 0 being the least toxic through 10 being the most toxic. They use the ingredient listings on products to provide an overall toxic score for over 69,000 products! It’s really an incredible resource. A word of caution – you will be tempted to review every single product in your house for it’s toxic score. The site will really suck you in. Be careful not to make yourself crazy over your findings (like I did initially), but do try to use less toxic products when possible. If not for yourself, do it for your family and the environment.
Bio: Jennifer is a work-at-home mother of two. One has eczema, food allergies, and asthma. One has mild eczema. She is the founder of The Eczema Company and blogs at It’s an Itchy Little World.