Dry skin and eczema help

Originally Published: January 6, 1995 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: May 31, 2012
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Alice:

In a recent question about abnormal hair-growth, the writer mentioned a long history of hydrocortisone use as a means of treating eczema. I too have a long history of severely uncomfortable and troubling eczema. During the worst outbreaks, I have visited several different dermatologists, and all have prescribed topical hydrocortisones, such as Hytone or Topicort, as well as anti-itching pills, such as Atarax. One prescribed Diprolene ointment, which I used for a year, until my next dermatologist dismissively told me it was far too strong and could be damaging.

I would like to know once and for all how damaging the extensive and long-term use of any of these creams is. Please give me one of your straightforward answers; I have been frustrated by the differing views and lack of concern among the dermatologists I have visited. I am tired of being told it is "just eczema." I already use the gentlest cleansing products available, tons of moisturizing cream, rinse all my clothes twice, wear soft fabrics, etc. I am still absolutely tortured by itching, often resorting to scratching at my skin with a hairbrush. The eczema reappears without fail in the same places, even on my face, and is particularly bad after stress periods, when I absolutely cannot control my itching or scratching. Isn't there anyone anywhere doing research on this? Is there anything else I can try? I am not averse to vitamin, holistic, or homeopathic therapies, if there are any. Please help. This is really a very ugly and upsetting problem.

--Helplessly Itchy

Dear Helplessly Itchy,

Eczema (a.k.a., "atopic dermatitis") is a skin disease with red, blistering, oozing, scaly, brownish, thickened, and itchy skin lesions. Eczema runs in families with allergies, such as hay fever or asthma. Eczema causes constant itching in a vicious itch-scratch-rash-itch cycle. Stress, dry skin, environmental temperature and/or humidity changes, bacterial skin infections, and wool and synthetic garments often make the condition worse.

No one knows what causes eczema. There is no cure, but several treatments for eczema are available. It is impossible to know exactly how any one treatment will affect each and every patient. Treatment involves a good deal of trial and error.

Corticosteroid creams or ointments applied topically are the most effective medications known. They vary widely in strength, however (the first two you name are quite mild hydrocortisones, whereas the last treatment you mention is strong and can be damaging). The major hazard of topical steroids is skin atrophy. This results from regular use of stronger creams, especially on the face, but this would be unusual with hydrocortisone. The other problem with long-term use is potential ineffectiveness after a time, which can be avoided by using simple emollients (moisturizers) for a week or more, after which the cream may again become effective.

Emollients, sedating antihistamines at night, antibiotics, bandaging, and avoidance of irritant detergents, clothing, fabrics, perfumes, dyes, and metals, among other things, are other treatments. Phototherapy -- exposure to ultraviolet radiation in gradually increasing increments -- and a diet which eliminates potentially irritating foods can help some people. The most common foods eliminated are nuts, tomatoes, milk, eggs, and cereals. A dermatologist and/or nutritionist may be able to help with this approach. If your eczema continues to bother you, seeing a dermatologist regularly may help.

Acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and evening primrose oil (applied topically) are other possible treatments. For more information on alternative or complementary medicine, contact the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at (888) 644-6226, or the American Foundation for Alternative Healthcare, Research, and Development at (914) 794-8181. Since stress can exacerbate eczema, you could sign up for a stress reduction/relaxation course. If you are at Columbia, contact Alice!, Columbia University's Health Education Program, at x4-5453 for schedule information on stress management workshops that are offered during the Fall and Spring semesters.

Alice

P.S.:

Relief from Dry Skin

Dry or sensitive skin can leave many of us itching and scratching, too, especially in the winter. There are some ways, however, to get relief. For one, water dries out skin. Taking shorter showers and baths in warm (not hot) water and patting yourself dry can help. Also, use soaps and moisturizers that won't dry your skin -- look for ones that are hypo-allergenic and unscented, and avoid antibacterial products. In the winter, keep the air in your home moist by using a humidifier or vaporizer, or placing pans of water on the radiator.

February 5, 2009

21374
Dear Alice,

I suffer from eczema, I found it drastically improved when I changed my diet. I no longer eat any cow milk products or anything containing artificial preservatives, including all...

Dear Alice,

I suffer from eczema, I found it drastically improved when I changed my diet. I no longer eat any cow milk products or anything containing artificial preservatives, including all processed meats.

February 5, 2009

21424
Hi,

I can only tell you what my experience of eczema has been and that has been with my daughter. When it came to her eczema and the doctors, I felt like I was a rat on a treadmill. They were only...

Hi,

I can only tell you what my experience of eczema has been and that has been with my daughter. When it came to her eczema and the doctors, I felt like I was a rat on a treadmill. They were only concerned with treating the symptoms and not in treating the cause of the problem in the first place.

Anyway, to make a long story short I read that traditional Chinese medicine has the best track record with treating eczema because (amongst other things) they take into account the person's diet. I took her to a tradational chinese doctor and was given a cream for her skin, a herbal tea to help cleanse her blood (lots of green, leafy veges are also good for this), and told which foods she needed to avoid. Through elimination and gradual introduction of food groups to determine which one was causing her eczema, we found that sugar was the culprit in her case. It was amazing. Her skin was beautiful, but if she had sugar she would break out within the next day or two. There was a clear, unmistakable connection.

Years later our young niece had a much worse case of eczema. Thankfully they knew what we went through and they found through trial and error that hers was exacerbated by wheat, gluten, and dairy products (which are the more common culprits).

I hope this helps you.

July 1, 2008

21459

To the reader:

This works for me:

Use a mixture in the proportion of 1 tablespoon of organic apple cider vinegar to 1 cup of distilled water. Place mixture in a spray bottle and use...

To the reader:

This works for me:

Use a mixture in the proportion of 1 tablespoon of organic apple cider vinegar to 1 cup of distilled water. Place mixture in a spray bottle and use on the dry areas. Let it stand for 5-10 min or longer if you have the time, then rinse. Repeat twice a day. I have used this once a day for my head and had results immediately. I would stay away from commercial soaps and laundry detergents. All the best!!!!

June 9, 2008

21455
To the reader:

I too suffered intollerable eczema, and acne. I too suffered though useless dermatologist appointments that I waited three months to get and was in and out of their offices in three...

To the reader:

I too suffered intollerable eczema, and acne. I too suffered though useless dermatologist appointments that I waited three months to get and was in and out of their offices in three minutes! Go to a naturopath physician or herbologist!!! My skin issues are completely cleared. Eczema, acne, you name it!

I personally see an herbalist. The remedies are toally natural with extremely few to no side effects. My first consultation was two hours!!! Be prepeared to do some altering of your diet and implement some new eating habits, but it works. These people study your body and habits and create solutions using plants and plant materials and the food you eat! They work, and if you're at your wits end you've got nothing to loose. Good luck!

July 13, 2004

20766
Dear Alice,

I have heard that excessive stress can be a cause of eczema, and that reducing the stress is one way to combat the problem from the inside (rather than creams which only treat the...

Dear Alice,

I have heard that excessive stress can be a cause of eczema, and that reducing the stress is one way to combat the problem from the inside (rather than creams which only treat the symptoms). Probably easier than it sounds, but I hope it helps.

January 30, 2004

20528
Dear Alice, Dear Helplessly Itchy, I have been able to control all areas of eczema on my body using a prescription cream called Elocon. For the past year or so, the only area that needs the...
Dear Alice, Dear Helplessly Itchy, I have been able to control all areas of eczema on my body using a prescription cream called Elocon. For the past year or so, the only area that needs the medicine now is my face. I urge you to ask your dermatologist about this one; it eliminates the itch immediately for me. A patch of eczema randomly showed up on my cheek, and with one application of the cream it was gone and hasn't returned since. However, it does make my skin a bit lighter, but that is a lot better than having red flaky skin. I also alternate using Eucerin cream (the Eucerin lotions that I've tried sting and don't help) and Aquaphor. I find that Aquaphor works better, especially if my skin breaks. I hope that you at least try the non-prescription products that I use, because out of all the lotions, creams, and ointments that I've used, those are the only ones that have worked for me. - Not-so-helplessly Itchy