Because eczema is predominantly an allergic condition, one of the main focuses of treatment is to identify and eliminate any foods (or other allergens) that could be triggering the symptoms. Avoiding the most common food triggers of eczema, such as: dairy, wheat, eggs, soy, peanuts and shellfish can be beneficial, but it is recommended to get a personalized allergy blood test for more accuracy. Following an anti-inflammatory diet by increasing omega 3 fats such as those found in fish and flaxseed oil and decreasing bad fats in one’s diet is also helpful to alleviate symptoms.
To fully understand which irritants to avoid when you are dealing with eczema or have sensitive skin we turned to expertise of Michael Huffman, the author of the famous book Zen Skin Care: Clearing Eczema and Caring for Sensitive Skin – Naturally!
He identified 3 steps in this process: the first two steps focus on learning about irritating product ingredients, both when adding new products and by identifying problem products you already use. The last step focuses on tips for avoiding other types of environmental irritants.
Step1Be Able to Identify Irritating Ingredients on Product Labels
It’s important to get into the habit of scanning skincare product labels and being able to recognize irritants on product labels in order to avoid them.
As you pick up products and start reading the labels, you realize there are ingredients that you (and likely your grandmother’s generation) have never heard of, including many science fiction–sounding names that are difficult to pronounce.
Not only should we ask ourselves if those ingredients can irritate eczema-prone skin, but we should also ask whether they could be harmful to our overall health. Avoiding irritating ingredients is even more important for those with eczema because we often have thinner skin and are more likely to have open fissures that could allow faster absorption, leaving us exposed to a higher concentration of chemicals into our blood stream than the average consumer.
Unfortunately, these skin irritants are found in nearly every brand and category of conventional skin care products including moisturisers, creams, lotions, cleansers, shampoos and conditioners, body washes, lip balms, makeup, sunscreens, liquid hand soaps, and more. Instead of trying to support the barrier function of the skin naturally, these synthetically derived chemical ingredients actually disrupt that function. In reality, skin is more effectively supported by skin care products containing natural oils and various types of natural fatty acids.
We listed the most offensive ingredients (allergens) to avoid in skincare products at all costs here, but Michael added a few more to the list:
Synthetic Fragrances and Perfumes – Formaldehyde and Formaldehyde-Releasing Preservatives – Synthetic Fatty Alcohols and Solvents with “Ethyl” or “Propyl” – Sulphates (Sulfates) – Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate – Benzalkonium Chloride (BZK) – Methylisothiazolinone (MI) or Methylchloroisothiazolinone (MCI) – Phthalates – Parabens – Petrochemical Mineral Oil
Step2Analyze Personal Care Products Currently Used
Armed with the information in Step 1 about common irritating ingredients in personal care products, you should now analyze the products you already use to see what might be causing problems.
Step3Identify and Avoid Other Types of Environmental Irritants
Nearly everything that comes in contact with our skin has the potential to irritate it and leave it unprotected and vulnerable. This is why eczema is also known as contact dermatitis. In addition to irritation from personal care products, there are other environmental irritants that can:
- Disrupt the healthy lipidic film, pH, and bacterial floral of the skin
- Affect the skin’s natural ability to create moisturising intracellular cement, and/or
- Be a temperature shock to the vascular system in the skin that regulates its redness level.
To maintain the skin’s equilibrium, we need to consider everything that comes in contact with our skin: the fruits and vegetables we cut up in the kitchen; the soaps and detergents we wash our hands, dishes, and clothes with; the soil we touch in the garden; even scratchy fabrics and metal jewelry.
1Cleaning of Hands and Body
All kinds of irritating chemicals lurk in conventional products used to wash our hands. Beware of conventional “soaps” and use non-irritating alternatives. Cleaning hands and body in the most natural and gentle way possible is easy with super- fatted, cold-processed soaps, including those with a castile-soap base. Detergent-based skin cleansers are too strong for sensitive, eczema-prone skin. Real soap is not a chemical detergent. Instead it is made through the saponification process that converts a fat or oil into soap by adding an alkaline agent such as lye or sodium hydroxide. Soap can be fortified with extra moisturizing value for dry, sensitive skin when it is “super-fatted,” which means extra oil is used in the recipe so that the alkaline agent does not convert it.
Most individuals with sensitive skin have had issues with the delicate skin on their hands reacting to a variety of irritants, so it is a good idea to get in the habit of protecting your hands; a number of different situations are covered here.
During Food Preparation – Raw fruits and vegetables are more acidic or alkaline than the normal pH of skin, so exposure to them can upset the skin’s balance. Though eating raw fruits and vegetables containing inherently beneficial enzymes helps boost our digestive system, exposure to them in their raw state while cutting them up is disruptive to the skin. Most individuals with sensitive skin have had issues with the delicate skin on their hands, so it is a good idea to get in the habit of wearing food-safe gloves while preparing all fruits and vegetables. The following are especially irritating to skin in their raw or cooked forms: tomatoes, eggplant, melons, citrus, kiwi, pineapple, papaya, strawberries, carrots, onions, and garlic.
Other skin irritants in the kitchen that can come into contact with the skin during food preparation include proteins in raw meat and the preservatives found in processed meats like the nitrates, ascorbic acid, benzoic acid, sulfites, and artificial smoke flavors in bacon, sausages, lunch meats, and smoked salmon.
Assuming you don’t have a latex allergy, wearing cotton-lined latex gloves while preparing raw food can protect sensitive skin from enzymes. Be careful about wearing them for excessive periods of time, which can also be irritating because hands can get warm and sweaty inside of gloves.
During Dishwashing – Not only can washing dishes by hand under water that’s too warm irritate the skin, so can the acids and enzymes in leftover meat, vegetables, and dairy on dirty dishes, as well as the detergents used to wash them. Cotton-lined latex gloves can help protect hands from both excessively warm temperatures and food enzymes. Be sure to wash dishes in water that is barely warm; exceptionally warm water can be irritating even if wearing gloves.
When washing by hand, use a long-handled brush and a hand-dishwashing detergent that’s gentle on skin, the dishes, and the environment, preferably one that doesn’t contain artificial colors, dyes, or perfumes or Methylisothiazolinone and is free of MEA, formaldehyde, petroleum, NPE, DEA, TEA, Triclosan, and PEG.
Remember to take the gloves off as soon as you’re finished with the dishes and flip them inside out to dry before the next use.
The best option is to load a dishwasher, if you have one, using gloves (or have someone else in the household wash dishes by hand). Look for automatic dishwashing tablets that are fragrance and chlorine free.
During Gardening – Use gloves while gardening because soil and many plants are irritating to sensitive skin.
3Protecting Skin from Laundry Detergents
Most conventional laundry detergents contain irritating chemicals that bleach, brighten, and perfume clothes, and they can contain up to twenty-five volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) even if they’re labeled as “unscented.” Look for laundry detergents with no fragrances, dyes, or chemical brighteners.
Don’t use fabric softener dryer sheets with artificial fragrance, VOCs, chlorine, phosphates, optical brighteners, dyes, or perfumes. Instead put two tablespoons of white or apple cider vinegar into the fabric softener tray of the washing machine; this softens the water much more cheaply and environmentally safer than commercial products.
Forget traditional dry cleaners! The majority of dry cleaners use skin-irritating and environment-destroying solvents (VOCs). Instead search Google for non-toxin dry cleaning services in your area.
4Protecting Skin during House Cleaning
If your house cleaner takes a holiday (or you don’t have one!) and you end up being the one to clean up, be sure to either make your own cleaners at home or use commercial products that don’t have fragrances, dyes, toxic chemicals, or VOCs.
Be sure to use cotton-lined latex gloves when mopping floors or doing other wet cleaning in the kitchen and bathroom and remember to only use lukewarm, not hot, water. To dust furniture, use a barely moistened rag with no soap and rinse it out frequently in a bucket of lukewarm water.
5Avoiding Irritating Clothing
New clothing items are all chemically treated, so be sure to wash all new clothing before wearing.
Avoid shirts that are labeled “no-iron” because they contain skin-irritating formaldehyde. Choose cotton and polyester clothing, even though it may need to be ironed.
Some individuals may have an irritation when wearing wool clothing. If wool irritates your skin, consider using another layer of clothing close to the skin, such as a long-sleeve shirt made of either organic cotton or Capilene®.
6Protecting Skin during Extreme Cold
Warm weather typically causes skin to perspire, which is usually less irritating than extreme cold and wind. In cold and chilly windy weather conditions, put warm gloves on before walking out the door. Extreme changes between temperature and moisture levels between indoor air and the outdoors can make hands dry and red. Keep hands and face protected from strong or constantly blowing winds.
7Protecting Skin from Nickel Exposure
Avoid wearing jewelry and clothing made with nickel. Nickel is a skin irritant that is commonly found in jewelry, wristwatches, clothing zippers, the studs in jeans, and in bra straps.
- Avoid touching air fresheners that hang from automobile mirrors.
- Don’t use facial tissues that have scents and “skin softeners” built into them.
- Don’t use or touch “scented” candles. Burning regular paraffin candles indoors gives off the same pollutants as diesel fuel. They typically have poisonous lead in their wicks and contain artificial fragrances that are irritants to lungs and skin.
- Avoid using acetone-based nail polish removers and toxic nail polishes, which are major skin irritants.
- Avoid any contact with harmful substances in the garage and basement such as cement, paint, paint thinner, and bleach.
Michael Huffman is an author, yoga teacher and sensitive skin enthusiast. Michael’s skin issues started when he was a boy. The eczema on his hands and feet kept him from many activities young kids enjoy, which in turn affected his anxiety level. Career-wise, he spent twenty-five years at some of the largest organisations in corporate America as an internal auditor and process redesign expert. Michael’s goal was to then use the same root cause and process analysis toolsets he was using at work in his personal life, to clear his eczema. Intuitively, he knew that the steroidal immunosuppressive creams prescribed by dermatologists were not the long-term solution.Trying to help ophthalmologists figure out why he nearly went blind on a train traveling through Germany, Michael searched for and found his biological parents at the age of twenty-eight. They introduced him to the concept that there’s a strong correlation between diet and physical health. After initial success in clearing his skin issue by incorporating his newfound parents’ dietary suggestions, Michael spent seventeen years in the world of all things yoga and meditation to reduce the anxiety related to his skin problem and he became a yoga teacher in 2009.
Over the decades, Michael researched sensitive skin issue with all types of alternative medical professionals scattered around the globe. Learning how skin worked along the way, he discovered the secret to making his own skin happy. Having beautiful skin has become his passion – his lifestyle revolves around happy skin. His skin is happiest when teaching yoga at home in Paris and in Bali, finding the finest chocolate available in France, and learning how to make healing, all-natural skincare products from traditional healers in Bali, Indonesia.
Michael’s book “Zen Skin Care: Clearing Eczema and Caring for Sensitive Skin – Naturally!” is now available on Amazon.