Dermatologists have noted a stark rise in the number of eczema cases they’re seeing – linked to the increased amount of hand washing that’s been going on to curb Coronavirus.
Whilst eczema is relatively common, it’s easy to confuse with other skin conditions like rosacea, hives and psoriasis. So it’s worth making sure you know what you’re dealing with in order to treat it most effectively.
To help you determine whether you have eczema, we quizzed Alice Henshaw, nurse prescriber and owner of Harley Street Injectables on everything there is to know about the red, rashy, skin ailment. Then, we asked what can be done to treat it or prevent if from happening in the first place.
What is eczema and what does it look like?
There are a few types of eczema, including severe eczema, atopic dermatitis and atopic eczema. All of which are “a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease, where the skin barrier can be defective, leading to loss of function which means allergens can sensitise through the skin”, says Nurse Alice.
“It is characterised by itchy, non-contagious, inflamed skin that can be present on any part of the body. The appearance of eczema can vary from mild forms, when skin looks dry and flaky, to severe forms, when skin can be extremely irritated and red. The most severe forms of eczema can make your skin crack and ooze.”
What causes eczema?
The exact cause of eczema is unknown, but “it’s thought to be linked to an overactive response by the body’s immune system to an irritant. And it’s this response that causes the symptoms of eczema.”
“In addition, eczema is commonly found in families with a history of other allergies or asthma. While it’s not contagious, eczema is often inherited and infants with parents who have allergies or asthma are at highest risk for development.”
Why would hand-washing make eczema worse?
“Proper hand-washing is one of the best ways to prevent spreading viruses but when you have a skin condition, washing your hands often can lead to dry and cracked skin, itchiness, pain and possibly infection,” explains Alice. “Hand washing may exacerbate existing conditions such as; allergic contact dermatitis (in which the skin flares up in response to external agents like metals, fragrances or preservatives) or irritant contact dermatitis (caused by a persistent irritation of the skin),” she says.
“Even people with unaffected skin will suffer from drying skin if regularly washed each day. This is because washing hands with warm water and soap makes the natural oils in your skin more soluble and removes them, leaving your skin dry. We notice this even more in winter as the cold, dry air leaches moisture from the wet skin surface. Hand sanitisers cause even more dryness for our skin unless you can find products with added emollients (moisturising elements),” adds Alice.
What can we do to prevent eczema from hand-washing?
“I’d advise people wash their hands in cold water, pat dry with a hand-towel and apply a moisturiser after each hand-washing to offset much of the drying effects of hand-washing,” advises Alice. Just avoid rubbing hands too hard. “Too much pressure or frequency of rubbing material over the skin will be traumatic to skin integrity and further exacerbate dryness. This can cause cracks which will be more exposed to any bacteria or virus.”
“Try patting your hands dry with paper towels until the surface is still a little damp. Then apply a generous dose of moisturiser to the hands including front, palm and fingers. Moisturising maintains healthy skin preventing eczema outbreaks which also provides greater skin strength to resist the rounds of washing. A healthy circle of protection. Just remember to look at the hand cream as some can be very thick and better for over night use than in the day,” she says. “If you have space you can carry a pocket tube of moisturiser alongside your hand sanitiser to apply anywhere,” she adds.
“This should hopefully prevent eczema break outs. A secondary line of action would be using prescription topical therapy to reduce the inflammation, however this is not as readily available [especially with the current demand on the NHS and the restrictions on safely entering places like pharmacies], therefore I would recommend clients who are sensitive to certain soaps or moisturisers to carry their own tried and tested brands.” In general, your best bet is to opt for something fragrance-free as scented hand salves can exacerbate the problem.