Note: this post focuses on atopic dermatitis, a common form of eczema. However, if like many people right now you are washing your hands a lot more frequently than usual, then you may be experiencing very dry skin and developing eczema-like symptoms such as cracked and blistered skin. Many of the tips covered in this post may help with those symptoms as well.
Disclaimer: This post is intended to provide information about how to use Dr. Bronner’s products, but is not medical advice, or a substitute for medical care or advice provided by a physician or licensed medical provider.
First, some clarification of terms. Eczema refers to a spectrum of skin disorders, but the kind of eczema this post will be focusing on is atopic dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis usually begins in infancy or childhood. It often clears up with age, though for too many sufferers it continues into adulthood. As with many skin issues, the underlying causes are not well understood. Some recent research has pointed to genetic factors that may impair the functioning of the skin barrier and allow more allergens and pathogens to penetrate the body—this in turn can lead to an overactive immune response and inflammation. At the same time, the lack of an effective skin barrier means the skin cannot as easily retain moisture, which can lead to drier skin that exacerbates the inflammation.
If you or a loved one suffer from atopic dermatitis, then you know it can be a terrible condition. Typically, skin develops red rashes and is intolerably itchy. It is hard not to scratch the itch, and this leads to what some call the itch-scratch cycle, as scratching only worsens the condition. With repeated scratching, sufferers can develop tough, scaly skin that itches nonetheless. Many treatment plans involve managing the symptoms to reduce itchiness—hopefully breaking the itch-scratch cycle.
Several factors have been identified that can make symptoms worse—they include chemical irritants (such as you would find in conventional cleaning products), stress, allergens, and hormonal fluctuations.
Use a moisturizing soap
Dry skin goes hand in hand with atopic dermatitis—the skin barrier is damaged and it is tougher for the skin to retain moisture. It’s important to select a soap that will help your skin keep all the moisture it can—one of our more moisturizing soaps could help (always use the unscented variety). Our most moisturizing soap is our Organic Shaving Soap, which has loads of added organic sugar that helps your skin lock in moisture. Our next most moisturizing soap is Organic Sugar Soap, which also has a good deal of added organic sugar. Finally, the Bar Soaps are also a good option to try, as they are superfatted (meaning some of the oils are added after saponification) and are a bit more moisturizing than our liquid Castile soaps. We recommend always using the unscented variety if you have sensitive skin. It is important to avoid overly hot or overly cold water. Try to bathe and wash with lukewarm water whenever possible. If you’re used to taking long, hot showers this recommendation can come as a bummer, but we think moderate temperature can help prevent your skin from drying out. Hot water can strip your skin of the natural oils that help keep moisture in. Since atopic dermatitis already impairs the skin barrier, this will only make the problem worse. If you must take a hot shower, make it as short as possible. Avoid scrubbing your skin with a washcloth or loofah.
Soak and seal: moisturize right after bathing to lock in moisture
When you step out of the shower or bath, pat yourself gently to dry (no scrubbing with your towel). Begin moisturizing within three minutes, as you want to try to provide a seal that supplements your skin barrier and serves to lock in the moisture. Our Unscented Organic Magic Balm is ideal for this purpose. Made with organic beeswax and organic avocado, jojoba, coconut, olive, and hemp oils—it will both soothe inflamed skin and provide an oily barrier to seal in moisture. Apply the Unscented Organic Magic Balm as often as you need, focus on the spots where your skin feels driest—and make sure to apply the balm on any areas that are red or irritated. We have heard from many customers who have had success treating eczema symptoms with our Unscented Organic Magic Balm, so encourage you to give it a try too.
Another option for moisturizing is to use our Regenerative Organic Coconut Oil. This is somewhat thinner and lighter than our Organic Magic Balm, but it nevertheless has excellent moisturization qualities. There have been some clinical trials showing the effectiveness of coconut oil for treating symptoms of atopic dermatitis.
Soap vs. Synthetic Skin Cleansers
One recommendation you will see for atopic dermatitis is to avoid soap all together and instead use a synthetic cleanser that is formulated for sensitive skin. The thinking behind this recommendation is that true soaps could not be mild enough and that they would disturb the outermost layer of the skin, the stratum corneum. Here are a few points to consider when trying to decide between Dr. Bronner’s soaps and a synthetic cleanser.
- Bronner’s is a mild soap, and the pH of a cleanser does not impact skin health, as explained in this post by Lisa Bronner, a must-read if you want to understand the science behind these issues.
- Chemical irritants can sometimes make eczema worse. Some of the surfactants in synthetic cleansers, like Cocoamidopropyl Betaine or PEG-40 Stereate, can cause skin irritation for some people. Make sure to read the ingredient lists and note which ingredients work for you and which ones don’t.
- Many synthetic detergents contain additional compounds that act as occlusives, humectants, or emollients—all with the aim of keeping your skin moisturized. Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Bar Soaps have organic oils and other ingredients that serve these functions: jojoba oil acts as an occlusive, glycerin is a humectant, and hemp oil is an emollient (our liquid soaps also have these ingredients, but jojoba oil and hemp oil are saponified in our liquid soaps, while they are superfatted in our bar soaps). Sugar acts as a humectant in our Organic Sugar Soaps and Organic Shaving Soaps.
- If our Liquid Pure-Castile Soap is too drying, try one of our more moisturizing soaps, such as the Organic Sugar Soap or Pure-Castile Bar Soap.
Ultimately your choice of cleanser is a personal one, and you have to find the products that work for you. Our point here is simply that a gentle, high quality natural soap may work just as well for washing sensitive skin and treating eczema symptoms as a synthetic cleanser.