Your skin is the fingerprint of what is going on inside your body, and all skin conditions, from eczema to viral warts and acne, are the manifestations of your body’s internal needs.
The skin is one of the most powerful indicators of health. Dry or oily skin, acne, Athlete’s Foot and inflammatory conditions such as eczema and psoriasis are all signs of poor internal health.However, only treating the symptoms with chemical-laden hydrocortisone creams or medications with heaps of dangerous side-effects does little to address the root-cause of the problem; poor nutrition and exposure to toxins in dietary, personal care, including topical creams, leading to immune system dysfunction and inflammation. The most common skin condition is eczema. And it can significantly affect your child’s schooling and confidence – the itching can drive them up the wall, and some kids feel embarrassed about the red, inflamed and infected welts. So let’s check out what you can do to get your kids skin in tip-top condition – naturally.
ECZEMA OR ATOPIC DERMATITIS (AD)
They’re red, itchy and sometimes weepy patches of skin. Scratching worsens them; the patches become scaly, thickened and infected. They’re the calling card of eczema.
Eczema affects about 15-20% of children. Most often AD onset is before our babies are about two years old. In infants, it shows up most often on the cheeks and nappy area. The skin is often dry, scaly and red with small scratch marks made by sharp baby nails. As the infant becomes a toddler or pre-schooler, eczema often affects the outer parts of wrists, elbows, ankles and knees and also genitals. By school age, the same joint creases are affected, and the skin often becomes dry and thickened from constant scratching and rubbing.
Although the medical name for eczema, atopic dermatitis, means allergic skin inflammation, researchers have not yet identified the precise role that allergies play in this condition. They do know that ASD seems to run in families with a parent, child or sibling also affected and occurred along with other allergic conditions, such as asthma and hay fever
Research indicates that three types of allergens may contribute to eczema:
- Food allergies: Especially milk, eggs and
- Airborne allergens: The most common culprit is the common house-dust Others are plant, pollens, animal danders and moulds.
- Microbes: Bacteria and yeast can aggravate skin allergies. Many people with eczema also have more bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus on their skin than do people without the condition. People with eczema are also more likely to develop fungal skin infections and allergic reactions to these
So what can you do?
Explore and reduce exposure to allergens: Sometimes that can be tricky, but we need to be like a scientist and see if we can pinpoint what is causing the flare-ups.
Food allergies: I get my parents to start by removing the common foods that cause food allergies, especially dairy, eggs and peanuts, but also tomatoes, wheat, sugar, chocolate, yeast extracts, pork, beef, nightshades and food additives, for at least four days. Watch for changes in their child’s skin and overall health. It may help to keep a diet and symptom diary. Then, reintroduce the foods, one at a time, no sooner than every three days. If food recreates or worsens the symptoms, it is at least partly responsible for your condition.
Airborne allergens: These are harder to detect, and this is when a trip to your Doctor to get some tests done may be useful. Because the most common culprit is the house-dust mite, I often suggest that the house is cleaned from top to bottom – particularly the child’s bedroom and bedding and laundry to get rid of moulds, mites and pet dander. Change house cleaning materials to ones less likely to cause reactions. Personally, we use essential oils (such as Lemon and Tea Tree) as a base for most of our cleaning needs and wash clothes in hypoallergenic detergents. Remember, the reaction may not occur with immediate contact because it can take the immune system a while to identify allergens.
Keep the skin moist
Eczema is a dry skin condition, so it is necessary to keep the skin moist. Baths hydrate the skin but have the water cool as hot water may aggravate itching. Don’t soak too long or bathe too frequently – this will deplete the skin’s natural oils. On the few parts of your body that need soap (most do not), use a mild variety. Finally, after your bath, pat excess water rather than rub dry. Immediately apply plenty of body lotion or cream to hold the moisture. Avoid products with alcohol, synthetic fragrances or lanolin; use products that incorporate skin-soothing herbs. Your naturopath or medical herbalist can make you up a natural vitamin E cream with herbs such as Liquorice, St Johns wort, Chickweed and Chamomile.
Prevent further irritation by avoiding rough-textured clothing, wash clothing with mild soaps and rinse them thoroughly. Avoid exposure to chemical irritants and any other agents that may cause skin irritation.
Add oats to the bath
Oats have a soothing and moistening effect on the skin. Boil 2 litres of water, toss in 2 handfuls of oatmeal and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Strain into a bathtub of water or cool the solution and apply to your skin with a clean cloth. Alternatively, put 1-2 handfuls of oatmeal in a sock and drop it in the bath as the hot water is running. Use the oat bundle as a sponge on itchy areas. Don’t put whole oats directly into the tub – it will create a massive cleaning problem and isn’t ideal for the plumbing!
Stop the itch that rashes
We need to stop the itches from intensifying. Itching begets scratching, which begets more itching. Ward off scratching before it gets out of hand with a natural anti-itching cream. Finding things to keep your child’s hands and brain busy also can help distract from the itch.
Fun in the sun
Sunlight often clears up eczema. Be sure to reduce the risk of sunburn by keeping exposure to the sun short and wearing a hypoallergenic sunblock. Go indoors if you start to feel hot and sweaty, which can aggravate itching.
Boost omega-3 fats
To improve overall health and the health of your skin eat foods rich in these oils: cold-water fish (mackerel, salmon, herring, sardines, anchovies), ground flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and dark-green leafy vegetables.
Reinoculate the digestive system with good bacteria
In the sections on immunity, digestion and allergy we talk about the importance of healthy gut bacteria. We know that eczema and other skin conditions also respond well to inoculation with good bacteria such as Bifidobacterium lactis, Lactobacillus GG, Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus rheuteri.
Try herbal medicines and nutraceuticals
Herbal medicines such as Echinacea, Albizzia, turmeric, Baical Skullcap and Nettle Leaf and are all herbs that a qualified herbalist may use to manage skin conditions. Antioxidants such as vitamin A, C, E, selenium and zinc, in particular, are also useful.
As I have mentioned before, stress and anxiety play major havoc with our kids physical, mental and emotional health. The same goes for skin. Stressful life events may cause or exacerbate eczema, acne, urticaria and psoriasis. So if you think this may ring true of your kid, I suggest reading Chapter X: A focus on your child’s mental and emotional needs
What about other common skin conditions?
In general, most skin conditions affecting our school age children include viral warts, Herpes Simplex Viral (HPV) infections. Impetigo (a highly contagious, viral infection of the skin), Ringworm or Tinea, and Acne Vulgaris (usually starts in adolescence and adulthood). The scope of this book does not enable me to go into detail of treatment, but in all cases, keeping your child healthy and well through a balanced diet and exercise will go a long way to prevent or minimise the impact of these skin diseases on your child
CASE STUDY: ITCHY ECZEMA
Baby Jack had been born with perfect skin. Then at the age of three months, after a bout of bronchiolitis, the GP prescribed steroids and antibiotics (after a 10-minute consultation). The parents told me that the doctor thought he might have Strep throat. However, they found out he did not but had already started the antibiotics.
Additionally, the GP suggested they start on solids at four months as Jack was ‘fussy’. Jack was a small baby but well within the recommended percentiles for healthy weight and height. At eight months old Jack and mum and dad came in for a consultation as he had developed atopic eczema, inside his elbows and knees and on his cheeks. The eczema was red and inflamed and apparently causing discomfort as Jack had been itching the sites on his elbows and behind his knees. Although Jack had a sunny disposition, he was not sleeping well because of the itching. The GP had prescribed a steroidal cream, but the family were not keen to use it. The parents had already done an intolerance test which showed wheat and dairy intolerances. The mother had a history of eczema, and the father has Coeliac disease.
Treating the cause
It seemed that the antibiotics and steroidal cream might have inflamed and injured the gut lining as well as cause a build-up of ‘bad’ microorganisms in the gut and so this was my focus to reinoculate the intestine with good bacteria, heal the gut and reduce inflammation
Because Jack was still breastfed, it was important to eliminate dairy and wheat from the mother’s diet for a trial period of one month while we aimed to repair the gut. We also ensured mum was eating a balanced and nutrition-dense diet high in essential fatty acids, in particular, fish and flax oils, and probiotic foods, the goodness of which would pass through to Jack via breast milk.
Jack was given a particular probiotic powder (by popping a small amount of the mum’s nipple when breastfeeding), and mum was provided with a first food diet for Jack to reduce the risk of developing allergies and intolerances. I also recommended the addition of Flax oil to Jack’s food, such as in his kumara, banana or avocado puree.
Treating the symptoms
Recognising how distressing the itching was, I quickly made up a topical cream to trial. The cream contained a base of natural preservative free vitamin E cream to which I added chickweed and liquorice herbal liquid extracts (alcohol-free), fractionated coconut oil, and melaleuca and lavender essential oils. A day later the parents emailed to let me know the redness had gone down and Jack did not seem to be scratching as much.
His eczema quickly healed, and Jack began to sleep much better. Two months later he has beautiful bright, dermatitis – free skin.
It was important to educate the parents about long-term natural health practices to incorporate into their family, because of the possible genetic link to allergies and intolerances. In this case, the father has Coeliac (gluten intolerance) and the mum a dairy intolerance. Information included advising on optimum diet, nutrition and lifestyle factors to reduce risk or severity of allergies and intolerances for Jack and any other children they might have in the future, as well as ways to manage the symptoms now and in the future.