Our lifestyle choices, diet and daily routine can impact our overall health, immune system and even our skin health.
Researchers have known for a while that individuals with eczema have a specific skin bacteria footprint. Over the last few years, studies have clarified the relationship between skin health and our microbiome. While there is no definitive cure for eczema yet, understanding how the different bacteria on your skin impacts your flare-ups can help you relieve and reduce skin inflammation. Here’s all you need to know.
What is Eczema?
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Affecting an estimated 3% of the adult population worldwide, eczema is one of the most common chronic inflammatory skin conditions. Eczema affects people of all ages but is most frequently seen in children as some people’s symptoms improve with age.
There are seven types of eczema: atopic dermatitis, allergic contact dermatitis, neurodermatitis, dyshidrotic eczema, discoid eczema, seborrheic dermatitis and stasis dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis (also known as atopic eczema) is the most common type. People with this type of eczema often have additional allergic conditions such as food allergies, asthma, or allergic rhinitis such as hay fever.
Symptoms of eczema include itchy skin, dry skin, and swollen and sore patches across the body. Itchy patches and rashes are often located on the face, hands, feet, and inside elbow and knee creases.
For some people with mild eczema, this is nothing more than a temporary annoyance. For those with severe eczema it is a life-changing condition that can have physiological and psychological effects that negatively impact their quality of life. People with eczema may also be more at risk of skin infections due to a compromised skin barrier function and scratching causing cracks in the skin surface.
What Causes Eczema?
Scientists have not yet pinpointed one triggering factor as the cause of eczema, though people with atopic conditions may have a genetic tendency for an increased immune system response and allergies.
Recent studies have linked eczema flare-ups and the worsening of eczema symptoms with changes in the immune system and microbial composition.
Common triggers that weaken the immune system (such as high-stress levels, unhealthy diets, limited physical activity, lack of sleep, alcohol and cigarette smoke) can affect the skin microbiome and make eczema symptoms worse.
What is Your Skin Microbiome?
Your microbiome is made up of all the bacteria and microorganisms that inhabit your body – from your gut to your skin. Those that live on your skin make up your unique skin microbiome which contributes to your skin type, health and needs. Skin microbiome composition differs from one person to another and is influenced by several factors including the environment, skincare routine, lifestyle, and genetics of the individual.
While everyone has their own distinctive skin microbiome, we all have an array of beneficial bacteria ready to help protect our skin from inflammation and infections.
Eczema and the Skin Microbiome
Some lifestyle, genetic and environmental factors can modify the microbial composition of a person’s skin. This can lead to drastic negative changes and imbalances in your microbiome, also known as “dysbiosis”. Recently, studies have shown that these changes affect the immune system and general health, and some have been linked to skin diseases.
If the good and bad bacteria in your skin microbiome fall out of balance, you can experience various side effects like high levels of inflammation. Inflammation is the immune response of our body to foreign or dangerous bacteria and viruses. An increase in inflammation can make your eczema worse and lead to flare-ups, as well as conditions such as acne and dandruff.
In particular, scientists have been researching a specific type of bacteria that is present at a higher level in the skin microbiome of patients with eczema. Unfortunately, there are also typically fewer beneficial bacteria capable of fighting off infections in the microbiome of people with this common skin condition.
How Your Lifestyle Can Affect Eczema
The skin microbiome composition starts developing from the moment of birth onwards. While it typically reaches a stable balance by the time we are in our 30s, nothing is set in stone! Your diet, environment, level of exercise, and skincare products all influence the health of your skin microbiome.
Understanding this connection is essential to make the lifestyle choices necessary to reduce inflammation and limit the overgrowth of the harmful bacteria associated with eczema flare-ups.
Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Nutrition – since the skin and gut microbiome are connected through the gut-skin axis, a varied diet rich in plant-based proteins, vegetables, and healthy fats may help improve your skin health. Some triggering food can include gluten and dairy.
- Environmental triggers – prolonged exposure to extreme heat, extreme cold, pollutants, and UV rays are common eczema triggers.
- Emotional stress – stress and anxiety are linked to high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. While cortisol does not cause eczema, it increases inflammation throughout the body, which can trigger flare-ups.
- Chemicals, fragrances, detergents and fabric softener – strong chemicals and unsuitable skincare products can throw your microbiome off-balance, worsening inflammation and creating an environment in which beneficial bacteria can’t thrive.
- Hydration – Keep hydrated to help prevent skin fractures and cracks, which can allow bacterial infection.
- Treatment for eczema – If you are struggling with severe symptoms, consult your healthcare provider or pharmacist for advice. Topical steroid cream, antihistamines, cotton gloves, prescription medication, or other topical treatments for eczema may be recommended.
When trying to bring balance back to your skin, keep in mind that your daily routine and the skincare products you apply will affect your skin microbiome.
Here are our top tips:
- Run a bath with warm water (not too hot) and sprinkle in ground oats. Ground oatmeal helps the skin retain moisture, has anti-inflammatory properties and reduces itching. Oats are also prebiotic which means they are a source of food for good bacteria. Soak for 10 to 15 minutes, then gently pat dry, avoiding rubbing irritated skin. Apply moisturiser while the skin is still damp.
- Avoid harsh soaps and cleansers as these strip the natural oils from your skin. This can impair your skin barrier function and leave your skin more vulnerable to environmental stressors. Go for an un-fragranced moisturising cleanser for your face and neck, as well as mild soap for your body.
- Products containing ingredients such as vitamin B3, glycerine, and hyaluronic acid can help your skin draw moisture from the surrounding air and keep it balanced and moisturised.
- Moisturise at least once a day even if you are not suffering with signs of eczema that day. Look for rich moisturising creams with ceramides and plant oils and butters. Apply gently to avoid irritating inflamed skin. Occlusives such as petroleum jelly will also help seal in moisture after this step.
- Avoid skincare with fragrances and essential oils as these may irritate sensitive skin.
- Don’t forget sunscreen to protect your skin from UV damage.
Understanding Your Unique Skin Microbiome
As we continue to learn more about the skin microbiome and it’s role in skin health, it is clear that understanding your skin is key when choosing the right products for you.
At Skin Trust Club, we provide a revolutionary service where members can book recurring at-home skin microbiome tests to really understand their skin health and needs.
For a limited time, we are offering a free trial including a skin microbiome swab test kit, analysis of your swab at our lab, a skin report with personalised microbiome friendly skincare recommendations and access to our health tracking app!
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