Hey, beauteous woman gazing into the distance, you’ve come a long way. © Eucerin
I’m coming out today as an eczema survivor.
Goodness gracious, I can imagine my doubtless legions of loyal readers putting manicured hands to mouth, surely not with that NC15 foundation swatch and snowy 16-year-old skin. (See? My predilection for bluster and braggadocio is unparalleled.)
Part of my reluctance in discussing this issue rests in my aversion to what some have pejoratively referred to as “service journalism” – the pedantic “Acne-fighting foods” listicles and their ilk – SEO friendliness of said topics notwithstanding.
But back to eczema. I’ll make a conscious effort to keep this skin-crawling topic a sexy read, but first we’ll have to get the fundamentals right. What on earth is eczema?
Eczema is a catch-all term, really, for an entire suite of non-contagious skin abnormalities. I repeat: Eczema cannot be passed on by rubbing up against a sufferer. (Hugs for yours truly, anyone?)
Take it from the good doctor himself: “Generally speaking, eczema refers to skin inflammation – otherwise known as dermatitis – and can be ‘atopic’, or hereditary, or caused by contact with environmental irritants, for instance,” notes Dr SK Tan of IDS Clinic.
Let me be the first to affirm that the all-consuming itchiness of a bad breakout is not to be belittled. The scars can run really deep: “What people don’t see is the effect that it has on the psyche. Many people with dermatitis feel restricted, unattractive and rejected,” adds Dr Gitta Neufang, Head of Research for Eucerin Actives.
Sobering stuff – but the glass-is-half-full goodness of it all is that, like me, you can live with the condition; hell, you can even thrive.
The first order of business? Be selective about the salves you slather on yourself. When scanning the cosmetic aisles, experts recommend actively avoiding the following beauty baddies:
1. FRAGRANCES. Having taken stock of the menace of metals in mascaras, the poison in polish and the lead in our lippies, I’ve come to the realisation that most additives are redundant. Dr SK Tan agrees as much, saying: “The less you pile on, the more assured you can be that you aren’t exposing yourself to potentially irritating substances.”
If you have sensitive skin, scents are probably superfluous. Take balsam of Peru, for instance. A redolent resin that’s rendered into soaps, shampoos and perfumes, its main component (cinnamein) is a well-documented potential allergen, and has been fingered as a frequent felon responsible for most fragrance-related allergies.
Bummed out? Here’s a tip that’s been quite the beauty-saver: If you must use a scent, opt for a sprightlier spray that you can spritz onto your clothes, instead of directly on bare skin.
Keep a mascaraed eye out for additives labelled “FD&C” followed by a numerical identifier. The mysterious hieroglyphs simply mean that the dye in question has been cleared by the US Food & Drug Administration – but that stamp of approval doesn’t mean they’re entirely inert. Indeed, some studies have shown that certain synthetic dyes, like Red 40 and Yellow 5, are just as likely to induce hives and other skin nasties.
3. SULFATES. Dr SK Tan cautions against being too clean: “My top tip is to avoid prolonged and repeated showers. The stronger your bath gels, the more you’ll strip away your so-called protective bodily oils, and dry skin is a key cause of flare-ups.”
The primary antagonist in your suds? Self-foaming sulfates, which can usually be found in the innocuous guise of sodium lauryl sulfate or SLS on the back of your beauty bottle. While lovely for their lathering properties, sulfates’ overly exuberant grease-cutting powers are precisely why they’re bad for you: They can actually lift off layers of fragile skin.
The solution is imperfect but probably necessary: Wear gloves when handling detergents, or actively seek out bath unguents explicitly labelled “sulfate-free”. Here’s more from Joshua Wong, Guardian Senior Patient Care Pharmacist, Guardian Health & Beauty: “Look out for cleansers that bear the label ‘soap-less’ or ‘soap-free’.”
“These products are gentler to the skin and less likely to cause any irritation or dryness. In any case, limit facial cleansing to a maximum of twice a day. Over-washing your face can cause more damage than you can imagine!” Hear, hear.
4. SKIN-PEELING AGENTS. Dr SK Tan on the perils of peeling agents: “There are many cases of mild eczema in which the causes cannot be definitively identified. In cases like those, the best rule of thumb is to go simple and skip harsh products with exfoliating acids.”
Unfortunately, these astringents would include the mainstays of most off-the-counter acne and anti-aging medications: Salicylic acid, glycolic acid and retinol, for instance.
Adequate hydration, especially in Singapore’s seasonal equivalent of summer, is of the essence. Joshua Wong, Guardian Senior Patient Care Pharmacist at Guardian Health & Beauty, says: “The haze can also trigger eczema flare-ups in some individuals. If you suffer from eczema, make sure you moisturise your skin thoroughly as it will act as a barrier to block haze particles from irritating the skin.”
Make a beeline for moisture magnets like soothing shea butter, thirst-quenching hyaluronic acid (which sounds scarier than it really is) and omega-6 fatty acids, all of which help to plump skin without the potential inflammation from stronger exfoliants.
Finally, knowledge is power. Be a beauty brainiac by doing your research and arming yourself with a comprehensive overview of the “good” and “bad” brands on the market. There are a ton of advocacy groups and sites out there, so it’s really just a click and bookmark away to your virtual beauty manual. We like browsing the National Eczema Association’s searchable cosmetics database whenever we need an overview of products that have earned the organisation’s Seal of Acceptance.
As the tagline of that mawkish motivational campaign goes, it does get better. Good luck, fellow eczema survivors, and continue to fight the good fight!
Dr. SK Tan can be contacted at IDS Clinic. IDS Skincare is available exclusively at IDS Clinic, #05-07 to 10, Novena Specialist Center. For more information, visit www.idsclinic.com and follow IDS Clinic on Facebook.
Eucerin AtopiControl Body Lotion, $32.90 for 250 ml, is available at Guardian, Watson’s and all major pharmacies. For more information, visit www.guardian.com.sg and follow Guardian Singapore on Facebook.