Acne

What is Acne?

Treating acne requires a combination of internal and external measures. The internal refers to the diet, more fruit and vegetables, plenty of water and cutting back on the processed food is a good start although chocolate hasn’t been definitively linked with acne yet.

The external side of things involves what you use on your skin. There are a myriad of acne treatments on the market and it is difficult to know where to start and what is effective. Basically, any effective acne skincare regime will include the following things:

Deep cleansing which might include a cream based cleanser interchanged with a microdermabrasion scrub to refine the pores. Next, apply an AHA based topical acne serum or moisturizer to provide targeted treatment. You may also need an oil-free moisturizer if your skin is combination or on the dry side. Although sun light can cause permanent damage to your skin a little bit of sun exposure can temporarily help an acne breakout by killing the bacteria on your skin.

Overall, it is best to avoid sun exposure however as it may promote scarring when your acne clears. For this reason try to find a cream with added SPF, this is especially important if using medicated treatments on your skin.
In addition to general good health these skin care tips should help to minimize acne and keep it under control.

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Rosacea

What is Rosacea?

Rosacea can be best described as persistent inflammation and redness of the facial skin. It is not contagious but can be quite distressing to the sufferer. It can be mild such as broken blood vessels to quite severe. In its more severe forms it can be accompanied by flaking, dry skin or even acne.

Although it is more common in Caucasian people and may have a genetic component the severity of rosacea appears to be linked with diet and environmental factors. Alcohol and spicy foods are a no-no, and can make rosacea worse. Skin with rosacea also needs to be cared for in a particular way.

Never use any peels, scrubs or dermabrasion products and only ever clean the skin with gentle wash cloths or with your finger tips. Choose very gentle products that have soothing or cooling properties. Products containing aloe vera may be a good choice for calming the skin. La Roche-posay make a line of cleansers and creams called ‘Rosaliac’ , I’ve found their gel cleanser to be the best kind for calming my skin if it’s red but I’m sure there are lots of other good products to use. Gentle, natural cleansers are also recommended.

Causes: Although the causes of rosacea are not completely certain it appears to be influenced by both internal and external processes. Sunburn or extreme cold and persistent flushing of the skin can result in rosacea. It has also been linked to intestinal bacteria and certain foods that make your skin flushed like chili, caffeine and alcohol. In some cases rosacea can be caused by cosmetic procedures such as chemical peels. Because of this it is best to avoid these abrasive types of treatments all together. Instead, try to improve circulation to the skin with exercise and good diet.

Also, avoid the sun as sun exposure and damage will make any redness worse. A little bit of sun light at dawn is okay to reset your circadian clock for the day, but never more than a couple of minutes.

Skin care for rosacea should not contain anything that will irritate the skin. Gentle, natural and organic products without any irritating essential oils in them should be used. There are some exceptions to this, that might be good for rosacea. Never wash your face with hot water, only ever luke warm and never rub the skin. Pat dry with a clean towel rather than rub. Also if you use a wash cloth to remove cleanser do not rub but rather dab the product off in gentle swipes. Never ever have chemical peals or use any acid based products.

Make-up Some people may want to cover roasea with make up. If you do this at least make sure to choose a moisturizing type of foundation or a mineral make up with sun protection. Chemical sunscreens are not recommended for rosacea so opt for a mineral based one instead. The best kind of make up for rosacea by far is mineral make up so try it if you haven’t already. Not only will it mask red skin it may actually also help improve it. Always be sure to completely remove all makeup before going to bed.

I recommend a gentle wipe off cleanser like Bioderma H20 Crealine but there are others that should be suitable too. Also, last but not least drink plenty of water to keep your skin hydrated.

Eczema

What is eczema?

Eczema (often misspelled exzema)  is a form of dermatitis, also known as atopic dermatitis. It is one of the three atopic conditions; asthma and hay fever are the other two and there is a large hereditary component. If one or more of your primary relatives has an atopic condition you are more likely to have eczema. It is more common in children but can persist into adulthood.

Eczema is an inflamed, itchy rash that usually occurs on the inside of elbows and knees but can also appear on the face, neck, or any part of the body really. It is not a contagious rash. If the skin is broken secondary infections can be a real concern, so proper care of eczema flare ups is very important and can be lifesaving for small children.

Most rashes are caused by an overreaction of the immune system that causes inflammation in the skin. Eczema is no different, so looking after the health of your immune system is an important part of dealing with eczema. In fact eczema is assumed by some to be an auto-immune disorder where the bodies immune system erroneously attacks it’s own tissue, however there is still disagreement about this. There is no doubt that caring for you immune system through lifestyle factors is a good idea.

If you suspect you have eczema it is important to get a diagnosis from your doctor to rule out other skin conditions. Unfortunately eczema doesn’t have a medical cure, modern medicine only provides relief of symptoms. The good news is however that there are a number of things that you can do to prevent eczema and to reduce the severity of flare-ups.

What makes eczema worse?

Alcohol is one of the leading triggers of eczema flare-ups. Most people with eczema report that alcohol worsens or precedes eczema. If you suffer eczema keep an eye on your alcohol intake and carefully monitor any relationship between your alcohol intake and your eczema symptoms. Try preservative-free alcohol too, you may be more sensitive to certain ingredients in alcohol such as preservatives like sulfur. Personally I cannot drink red wine for this reason. I tolerate preservative free beer (such as Belgian beer) better than any other type however you may find that any alcohol worsens your symptoms. If you are unsure don’t drink anything for a while to see how your eczema responds.

Stress is another big factor in eczema. Because eczema is an immune system disorder stress can make it worse. That is because stress puts a strain on the immune system. Try to minimize stress in your life and  include stress-reducing activities such as meditation and exercise into your routine.

Diet is another important factor. Too much sugar in your diet can encourage the inflammatory response. Sugar is a big no no when it comes to maintaining healthy skin. Other things like caffeine and food preservatives can also worsen eczema, but every one is different. Cutting out suspect food and drink for a while to see the effect it has on your eczema can help you to identify your eczema triggers.

A lack of essential fatty acids in your diet could also be a problem. Ezcema sufferes need to make sure that they get enough of the ‘good’ fats in their diet from natural sources such as olive oil, nuts and seeds and things like avocados. Saturated fats found in coconut oil might also be beneficial. If you are concerned that your diet could be a factor in your eczema make an appointment with a dietitian.

Irritants from the things in your home should also be considered. Use fragrance free laundry powder designed for sensitive skin. Don’t use soaps or any harsh chemicals on your skin and be careful with things like deodorants and hair dyes. The biggie for me is laundry powder; i need a hypoallergenic one and I avoid fabric softeners with scents.

Sweat from excessive exercise or heat can worsen eczema symptoms. During flare-ups do gentle exercises that don’t make you sweat too much. Caffeine and chili can also make you sweaty so watch your intake if this is the case. In hot weather a water spray can help keep the skin cool, hence reduce the amount of sweat you produce. Avene sells a thermal springs water spray that is very comforting in hot weather but any water spray will do. I buy a small spray bottle and fill it up with spring water with a few drops of aloe vera juice in it. this works just as well and is easier on the hip pocket.

What makes eczema better?

Avoid the things listed above, but there are also specific things that you can do to improve your eczema.


Borage Seed Oil (Borago Officinalis) : The blue, star-shaped flowers of the borage plant have been used in because of its healing properties. This natural oil is a rich source of gamma linolenic acid and has been known to be used in the treatment of eczema and rheumatoid arthritis and in herbal medicine. Borage oil, or “starflower”, as the botanical is known, contains up to 24% Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA). GLA is an Essential Fatty Acid which the body converts into prostaglandin, a hormone-like substance. Prostaglandin is reported to offer anti-inflammatory properties. In many studies it has been found that a deficiency in GLA attributes to poor skin condition, especially psoriasis and eczema.

Emu Oil: has been shown to help eczema and all kinds of skin conditions.  Emu oil contains Super omega 3 and 6. It is hypo-allergenic, giving it a low potential for irritating the skin. Emu oil doesn’t clog pores. Scent free and dye free, safe for all skin types.

Evening primrose oil has been shown to help eczema sufferers in clinical trials. Take one or two capsules a day. If you’re female it can also help with PMS symptoms.

Flaxseed oil is another good supplement to take especially if you are not getting enough good fats in your diet.

Aloe vera juice soothes the digestive system when drunk but can also be used topically added to a home made water spray to sooth skin and reduce inflammation.

Emollients (AKA moisturizers) are essential during an eczema flare up to protect the skin and help it retain moisture. Without them the skin is more susceptible to dangerous secondary skin infections. These should be applied liberally and often (every few hours or so) during an eczema flare-up because the skin has a compromised lipid barrier and cannot retain moisture itself during flare-ups.

Evening Primrose Oil (Oenothera Biennis) : Evening Primrose Oil is good as a natural source of the Essential Fatty Acid, Gamma Linolenic Acid, which is needed by the body. Essential Fatty Acids are critical in the production of prostaglandins. In the body prostaglandins help regulate fat metabolism, inflammatory response, hormones, as well as the cardiovascular, immune and central nervous systems. Modern diets and lifestyles may block the conversion of the Essential Fatty Acid LA into GLA. Evening Primrose Oil is especially helpful in treating premenstrual syndrome (PMS), menstrual cycle irregularities, menopause, and endometriosis. It is used to promote Smooth Skin and to treat Eczema.

Prescription creams containing hydrocortisone can be helpful during eczema flare ups that are not responding to other measures. These are very effective at reducing inflammation but caution should be taken when using these as they can thin the skin and can have other side effects with long term use. Never use steroid creams near your eyes as this can enhance your risk of developing glaucoma. Never use a steroid cream for more than two weeks straight. Use sparingly and as directed. A fingertip length of cream (about 1-2 cm) is sufficient to cover a patch of skin the size of the palm of your hand. If your eczema persists after two weeks of using a steroid cream you should really see your doctor.

Elidel and other immunomodulating creams are alternatives to steroid creams for use on the face. They are preferred  because the thin skin on the face is more likely to be damaged by steroid creams. These creams work by suppressing the immune response responsible for eczema. Great care should be taken when using these creams however as there is the possibility that they can cause immune system suppression or other problems. Never, ever expose your skin to the sun with these creams on, or even for two weeks after stopping them. If you must be in the sun wear a good sunscreen and hat. Like steroid creams, never use for more than two weeks straight and see your doctor if your eczema doesn’t improve after two weeks of use.

Salt baths are good for both eczema and other types of dermatitis. The salt naturally acts as an anti-microbial agent causing the bacteria and other cells on your skin to implode (look up osmosis for more info). Try a dead sea salt bath, clinical trials have shown that they improve psoriasis. The salt not only works as mentioned but it also contains plenty of minerals which help condition the skin. If you can’t get your hands on dead sea salt any salt will do just make sure that is is pure salt (preferably natural sea salt) and doesn’t have anything else added to it. Don’t use this when you have broken skin though – obviously it will sting! Swimming in the sea is another good option, in fact this may be preferable. Just be sure to swim in pollution free beaches (not an easy ask for a city dweller). I’ve heard many tales (including my own experience) of people going on beach holidays and having their eczema clear up from swimming in clean ocean water, it really works.

Skin care routines for eczema

There are a number of products out there designed for eczema sufferers and I review a lot of them here. The key with skin care is to keep the skin clean and hydrated without stripping the skin of it’s natural oils. This is best achieved by using a water-free cleansing product and a good moisturizer. A wipe off cleanser is ideal for this. Never wash your face more than twice a day, and only once if possible. I usually use a water-wash-off cleanser in the morning and a wipe-off water-free one at night. Using heavy duty moisturizers (emollient creams) is also essential. During an eczema flare-up you may need to carry a cream around with you and reapply to affected areas every few hours during the day.

Avoid scrubbing the skin. Don’t use exfoliants during an eczema flare-up but be sure to use a very gentle one when your skin is normal to keep it healthy and prevent future eczema. Sloughing away dead skin cells helps to prevent itchiness too.

Lush’s ‘Angles on Bare Skin’ is the best exfoliant I’ve ever tried and is ideal for eczema prone skin as it contains ground up almonds which condition the skin and provide a hit of the ‘good’ oils leaving your skin feeling soft and nourished.  For more information on specific products search ‘eczema’ in the search bar at the top of this page to read reviews of the eczema products I’ve tried over the years.

Sodium Laurel Sulfate in Skin care

I’ve been doing a bit of research on the use of sodium laurel sulfate in skin care recently as it is an ingredient that can potentially irritate the skin, especially with large quantities and prolonged use. For this reason I would not use a SLS containing product on my face for a prolonged period of time, such as a mask or a deep cleanser which I massage into the skin for a few minutes. I would happily use it for quick cleansing however. It is quite a common ingredient in skin care, but at low levels is relatively harmless. However trials of prolonged use with large amounts do produce skin irritation, so if you are currently experiencing eczema, psoriasis or any other type of dermatitis it may be an idea to cut back on SLS containing products to see how your skin responds. I have been looking into SLS free cleansers and skin care, but also SLF free shampoo’s as it is quite a common ingredient in hair care products as well. One of the ’staples’ I recommend for sensitive eczema prone skin actualy does have SLS in it and that’s Cetaphil. I would still use Cetaphil on my body however I’ve stopped using it on the sensitive skin on my face for this reason, although I still think it is an acceptable inexpensive cleanser for most people. Also, I like to leave my cleanser on my skin for extended periods of time, to let them do their thing, and that is exactly the type of use where sodium lauryl sulfate can actually cause irritation. Why is it used you might ask? Well, it is an effective cleanser and since things like shampoos and face cleansers are usually only used for short periods of time, a few minutes a day at most. The studies found that much longer periods of exposure are needed before SLS starts to irritate the skin. People with overly sensitive skin, or skin that is already irritated should probably avoid it though, just in case. I don’t believe there have been any studies on if it increases irritation when it’s already present, but I can’t imagine anyone wanting to do that study so that’s probably reason enough to avoid it when your skin is troubled. By the way, I’m still on a search for a great sodium lauryl sulfate free cleanser and shampoo, if you’ve found a great one please let me know by leaving a comment.