Eczema Creams Based On Food Ingredients.
Just in case you are wondering I have been and continue (at times) to be that girl, that itchy girl although I no longer identify with her (read my eczema story here). Eczema sucks, not least because rather than being a specific, easy-to-treat condition it is a disease in a very real sense – a dis-ease or tenseness of the skin, a sensitivity, a stressors and something that permeates not just our largest organ but our heart and soul.
Many brands start off as problem solvers looking to succeed where so many have failed and eczema is a prime candidate for that energy and enthusiasm. There is nothing wrong with that and it is true that mainstream treatments fall short, I’ve struggled through many a day and night unable to concentrate or sleep because of a skin that refuses to yield under either cortisone cream, natural moisturiser, band aids or ‘fresh air and sunlight’. The idea that somewhere out their lies a cure is alluring.
And many of you agree.
A story in the paper this week highlighted the risks and problems that marketing to eczema sufferers poses. The skin care ‘treatment’ in question was a moisturiser based on goat’s milk that was being used all over the body to relieve the symptoms of eczema. So what could have gone wrong?
The specifics of this case can only be speculated upon and that is not what is needed here. Further the fact that it was goats milk that triggered this reaction should also be seen as secondary detail in my opinion – it is all too easy when stories like this break to go ‘oh well, goats milk should be avoided’ and miss the bigger picture while acting in a way that continues to put one at risk.
So what is the problem?
Eczema and what it does to your skin is the problem.
Eczema is a term we use to describe a chronic (persistent/ long-lasting) condition that leaves the skin barrier weakened, cracked, inflamed, itchy and sore. At times it can be weeping and crusts can form but most importantly is the fact that the skin -our protective barrier – is weakened and has holes in it.
A compromised barrier is vulnerable just in the same way that we are more prone to picking up colds and flu when we are tired, stressed, run down or are fighting off some other disease.
Eczema leaves sufferers vulnerable as their first line of defence against the environment is down.
And what does that mean in terms of skin care?
That more of what you put onto the skin will penetrate in and through it because it is broken.
And isn’t that why we should only put on our skin what we eat? Because we only want GOOD things to go through our skin?
I simply don’t ‘get’ this logic. It makes no sense to me to think of our skins nutritional needs in the same way that we think of our guts. Our digestive system may consist of organs – the first one being our mouth (with the lips being the outpost) but the rest of our digestion goes on INSIDE the body in an environment that is waaaaaaayyyy different to the one our skin has to function in. Our skin is a different organ with different needs and different strengths and weaknesses.
The desire to only put onto our skin things that we would eat stems from our desire to keep things simple and relatable rather than anything scientific. That is understandable, familiarity is nice, easy to handle, makes us feel good, takes away the worry that someone is trying to con us (and let’s face it ‘science’ doesn’t always get things right and has stuffed up many of natures cures) BUT thinking that because we can eat it is safe for eczema prone skin is a gross oversimplification and we talked about that on the blog the other day! We should also not jump to the conclusion that edible ingredients are BAD for our skin, that is equally wrong.
Maybe not everything we eat is good for the skin or maybe things that we would NEVER eat are just what the skin needs or maybe some edible ingredients are great for eczema prone skin and some are less so……
The main point is we don’t want anything to go through our skin!
Skin products should work on the skin not end up in our bloodstream and when it comes to those suffering from eczema the potential for ingredients to penetrate further than we anticipated is dramatically increased (because the skin is broken). To that end it makes sense that skin care products for those suffering from eczema should be:
- As microbiologically clean as possible – this requires micro checking, ideally of each batch to make sure that bacteria, yeast and /or mould are not putting people at greater risk.
- Base Ingredients should be inert and function physically rather than chemically. Here I’m talking carrier oils, butters and waxes. Our obsession with all things natural is great but when you have eczema popping rice bran or olive oil straight onto your skin may not be the best plan. Vegetable oils are chemically active and in some cases can increase penetration of other ingredients. This is awesome for those of us wanting anti-ageing and anti-oxidant benefits but all eczema sufferers need is their barrier repaired!
- Active ingredients that are proven, soothing and at appropriate levels. cortisone is used in pharmaceutical eczema products because it does help to reduce itching and as it is the itching that is breaking the barrier down further this can help. That said it comes with a terrible side effect – the skin gets weaker and that in turn can make things worse. Natural additives such as those based on Calendula and chamomile may be better alternatives and have the added bonus of being natural.
- Comfortable to use – a non-greasy or sticky cream is going to be better tolerated and less likely to cause itching.
So what does this mean for the Goats Milk Eczema Story?
As a child I grew up being told that I should drink goats milk rather than cows milk as it would be better for my eczema. In the 1970’s and 80’s around where I lived goats milk wasn’t easy or cheap to get so I didn’t get any. The theory of it being easier to tolerate does stack up scientifically but that doesn’t mean that it is a perfect alternative. It might have been better for me to go dairy free…….
Animal milk contains proteins that can trigger allergic reactions in susceptible people and while rubbing food that you have an allergy to on your skin won’t give you the same instant reaction as you get by ingesting it, over time and especially when the barrier is partially broken it is possible that a reaction can happen. It looks like this has happened in the case highlighted here and this is similar to what we were saying about the risk of gluten in skin care.
The take home message.
Eczema prone skin is damaged skin. It is porous and has the potential to let things through it and into the blood stream. That isn’t to say that everything you put onto someone with eczema will end up racing around in their blood but it is a possibility. It is logical to expect that not all ingredients are created equally in terms of their ability to induce an allergic reaction and much evidence exists as to the allergic potential of different groups of foods – dairy, nuts, some vegetables etc. By that rationale it makes sense to me that those seeking to market to the eczema community be extra vigilant with their ingredient selection and don’t just fall down the oversimplified ‘its edible so it must be better’ trap and people should never, ever, ever market a product that hasn’t been micro tested to the eczema community. I don’t want septic shock with my moisturiser thank you!
Goats milk isn’t bad.
Food inspired ingredients lists aren’t bad.
Eczema isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ condition.
Putting food ingredients that you are allergic to on your skin may not be the best idea.
Approach the market and products with caution and beware of jumping to conclusions.