What is Eczema?
To those who suffer from eczema, it can be defined as misery. And with more than 30 million Americans suffering from eczema, that could easily be you or someone you hold dear. Clinically speaking, however, eczema is a term applied to a variety of skin inflammations, especially atopic dermatitis. Other types of eczema include contact dermatitis, dyshidrotic eczema, nummular eczema, and seborrheic dermatitis.
Eczema at a Glance:
- Eczema is chronic inflammation of the skin (red, sensitive, irritated skin.)
- It not only damages your skin, but it attacks your mental and emotional wellbeing.
- For many people, Eczema is accompanied by other allergic conditions like asthma.
- It's estimated that more than 30 million Americans suffer from eczema.
- Most people who have eczema are children.
- The cause of eczema is unknown.
- There is no cure for eczema.
Let's Break It Down
- Atopic = possible genetic predisposition to developing allergies
- Derma = skin + (t)itis = inflammation (irritation/redness)
Atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema and the two terms are virtually synonymous. Regardless of what you call it, eczema wreaks havoc on your skin, turning what should be smooth, sleek, and supple into a desolated, cracked, and irritable wasteland. Not only that, but eczema can make your skin red, dry, sensitive and extremely itchy. Severe eczema is especially malicious, rearing its ugly head in the form of blisters and weeping or peeling skin, kind of like a poison ivy rash.
But this does not begin to describe the reality of eczema symptoms. If you have eczema then you know the devastation all too well.
Eczema Symptoms & How They Affect Quality of Life
- The burning and itching are relentless.
- The pain keeps you awake at night, robbing you of sleep.
- The severe itching may have you scratching until you bleed.
- It is a constant distraction and can even dominate your thoughts, impairing concentration.
- It can haunt you for years, even your entire life.
As bad as these symptoms are, watching your child suffer from eczema is even worse. You’d give your life to relieve your child’s suffering but feel so helpless against this invisible foe.
- Approximately 60% of all eczema cases are diagnosed in children under the age of 1.
- Approximately 90% of all eczema cases are diagnosed in children under the age of 5. (source)
While there are countless eczema treatment creams, lotions, regimens, and theories, very few help at all. Those treatments which are effective often work for only a short while.
“The symptoms go away briefly, and then flare up again leaving you more frustrated than ever!”
The terror of eczema doesn’t end there. Unsightly red, scaly skin is often the source of cruel teasing and verbal abuse. Being harassed, bullied, and self-conscious about your appearance is embarrassing and robs you of confidence. All these factors combined can lead to feelings of hopelessness, despair and even guilt and anger.
To a large degree, the cause(s) of atopic dermatitis (AD) remain a mystery. Several factors have been identified that suggest you may possibly develop AD, but the medical community at large has yet to identify and agree on a common cause. There are many different types of skin inflammations which fall under the "Eczema" umbrella, like contact dermatitis, which can further the confusion and frustration regarding this topic.
Hopefully, you’ve found this overview of eczema and specifically atopic dermatitis to be informative and enlightening. Feel free to dig deeper with our other eczema articles. If you really want to “nerd out” go behind the scaly curtain to learn the pathophysiology of eczema.
What Causes Eczema?
Theory #1: You Inherit It
Evidence strongly supports the idea that eczema is a genetic immunological disorder similar asthma or hay fever.
In fact, if just one parent has eczema, hay fever, or asthma then their child has a 1 in 4 chance of also having eczema. If both parents have eczema, hay fever or asthma then that child has a 1 in 2 chance of getting eczema. By contrast, the child of two parents without eczema, hay fever, or asthma has only a 1 in 10 chance of being born with eczema.
Not only does this information highlight the hereditary nature of eczema, it also shows the strong connection between eczema and those two other seemingly unrelated diseases – asthma and hay fever.
Since asthma, hay fever and eczema are so closely linked we can assume that the cause(s) for all 3 diseases, while they may be different, are definitely very similar.
If the condition is a genetic disorder than it is likely that eczema results from certain altered genes. If those genes can be identified then we may be able to identify precisely how those damaged genes affect the body’s development and function.
But when you think about the immense complexity of the human body, the scale of this project takes on new meaning. Just think: the blueprints and operating instructions for the entire development and function of the human body is contained in just 46 chromosomes. Those chromosomes contain a total of approximately 20,500 individual genes which interact with one another in ways we really don’t understand to enact and oversee (if you will) the construction and manage the operations of the human body.
Theory #2: Not Enough Exercise (for your Immune System)
Another theory that warrants mentioning is the Hygiene Hypothesis. This theory asserts that the immune system develops through exposure to germs, allergens and the like. Think of a muscle, if it is never used, never exposed to adversity, it will never strengthen and develop.
The Hygiene Hypothesis says the immune system is much the same. In order to develop a robust immune system it must face and overcome a steady stream of challenges.
Interestingly enough, eczema is more prevalent in urban populations. But think about it- on the whole, country kids play in the dirt, walk around barefoot, handle animals, and eat who knows what during their outdoor adventures whereas urban and suburban children live in a much more sterilized society where they are slathered in anti-bacterial hand sanitizers and consider dirt a novelty.
Think of the immune system as a militia, a foreign invader steps foot on domestic soil (on or in our bodies) and begins pillaging and plundering. The militia (immune system) is called in and it attacks the enemy forces with increasingly intense levels of violence until the threat is removed.
The cool part is, the militia remembers that specific enemy, his tactics, and his weaknesses until the body itself cease to exist. So the next time a known enemy tries invading your body, your immune system will have a much easier time of defeating it.
With this concept in mind, let’s look at our country friend. His immune system was born into a hostile world of constant invasion, it’s been sink or swim for his internal militia ever since he popped out of the womb. That militia quickly establishes itself as a supreme fighting force and gains confidence through each victory.
So when an irritant or allergen comes along it thinks, “Oh, it’s just a piece of pet dander, that’s no real danger to us, just brush it aside and move on to bigger and better things.” In fact, that militia is so ready for battle it keeps a constant vigil and sets up passive defenses to keep the bad stuff out – like a sound, intact moisture barrier upon the skin.
However, the urban child who has not faced wave upon wave of germs has a rather flabby and lackadaisical militia. Think of a whole troop of Barney Fife deputies. When action finally does arrive in the form of pet dander, a bee sting, or a common bacterium the Fifes rush to the rescue, heart's racing and guns blazing.
They are literally shooting before they aim. They overreact and a relatively harmless invader that should be taken care of subtly and with ease is instead treated as if it were a flesh eating virus. The site of invasion becomes inflamed, red and irritable.
To make things worse, this rather sad fighting force spends most of its time in the break room, and the body assumes it has no need for strong outer defenses. For people with eczema, one of the core problems with their skin is the lack of an effective moisture barrier. The skin is not properly doing its job, the barrier is leaking – water going out and germs coming in – increasing the chances and occurrence of foreign invaders.
Theory #3: You're Being Irritated
Eczema caused by irritation due to chemicals, physical materials, or even harsh climates and pollution is often called contact dermatitis.
With this type of eczema, the cause is pretty simple: contact with anything that makes your skin break out in a dry, red, itchy rash. That irritant may be a harsh chemical that “angers” the skin like acetone, a physical irritant such as wool clothing, or it may be something you have an allergic response to like poison ivy.
Common irritants include acids, solvents, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), shampoos, pesticides, and fabric softeners. Some common allergens include poison oak, poison ivy, nickel, balsam of Peru, latex, fragrances, and certain antibiotics.
There are many different types of eczema with many different causes. We’ve only covered 3 potential causes of eczema and have been dealing largely with what causes the most common type of eczema, Atopic Dermatitis. But the causes of eczema are complicated and difficult to understand. It could be caused by just one of the options above or by all of them or by different ones.
Mama Marilee's Eczema Program
We regularly receive inquiries from folks asking Marilee questions about how she treated her son’s eczema.
”What exactly did you do for Chance’s eczema? Was it JUST the soap that you changed, or other things, too?"
Yes, it was JUST the soap! Can you believe it? He's not "cured" from eczema, as unfortunately, there is much about eczema that we don't know. However, he has total relief and does not have any of the symptoms regularly. There are several things we do as a family already, that may keep the aggravation down, but the ONLY thing we changed at that time was our soap.
Here's What We Did:
Step 1: Ditch the toxic products
Got RID of all the toxic soaps, lotions, shampoos, body washes and bubble baths that we were using. Once I realized these were a problem, I started looking all over. I was really surprised at how many products had been touching our skin. Deodorants, toothpastes, shaving creams, cleansers, moisturizers, chapsticks, etc. We threw them out, and have never gone back. We were shocked at how many chemicals were in everything we were using.
Step 2: It’s milk bath time!
Using our first batch of Oatmeal & Honey Goat Milk Soap, we made our very first “milk bath” for Chance. I just threw in a bar or two in warm water and let him play. He soaked for at least 15-20 minutes. Adding a handful or two of our Oatmeal & Honey Milk Bath to a bath is now our preferred method versus adding whole bars of goat milk soap to the bath.
(bubbles not typical - excessive agitation creates some bubbles)
Step 3: Soak, soak, soak!
We kept letting him soak in the milk bath every day. Typically, if you have eczema you are supposed to avoid frequent baths, as the water dries out the skin. However, we noticed that the more he soaked, the better his skin was. So, every day, sometimes twice a day (if he said he was still itching), he took a milk bath. His eczema was practically GONE after that week.
Step 4: Stay hydrated!
Once the eczema had totally disappeared, we just keep him in a bath every few days to keep his skin from drying out. Now that we have our Goat Milk Lotion, I will often lather him up to help keep the moisture in.
- Don’t skimp on how much soap or milk bath you throw into the tub at first. Once you’re on top of the problem, you can back off, but it helps to have lots to start.
- I never could figure out what Chance was allergic to, if anything. We still have not changed anything in our diet.
- I was using Arm & Hammer laundry soap at the time, and that didn’t seem to affect him. Now, we’ve switched to making our own laundry soap with our goat milk soap. You can buy the pre-shredded soap as an option with our milk baths and make your own laundry detergent.
Disclaimer: While we stand by all of our products here at Bend Soap Company, we do not intend to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any skin condition or disease. Individuals who have skin conditions such as dry skin, itchy skin, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, acne, etc. have shared that they have benefited greatly from our goat milk soap and other natural skincare products, but individual results may vary. As far as we know, our soaps have only been known to help ease the symptoms and irritations caused by such skin conditions and, in many cases, make these symptoms decrease and/or disappear. Per our own experience and per the experiences of our customers, we recommend giving our products a try and seeing the results for yourself.