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Eczema (or, as it’s sometimes referred to, dermatitis) is essentially an itchy inflammation of the skin.

There are a number of different types of eczema, as well as a variety of different causes, some of which are explained here, (it’s worth noting that the symptoms and appearance of the skin in all types can be exactly the same) but as with all the advice we give, in the first instance make an appointment with your GP if you think you or a family member may have it.

The causes of the condition vary and depend on the type of eczema suffered but it is estimated that around one-fifth of school age children and around one in twelve adults have eczema and those figures appear to be increasing.

Types of Eczema

Atopic eczema – the most common form and is thought to be hereditary. It is linked with allergies such as hay fever and asthma and the symptoms include itchiness, dry skin, redness or inflammation, and if the skin becomes infected it may crack and weep fluid.

Allergic contact dermatitis – develops when the skin of those who are prone to this kind of eczema comes in contact with a particular substance. This could be nickel in jewellery, certain ingredients in perfume or even rubber.

Irritant contact dermatitis – this is caused by direct skin contact with detergents or other chemicals. It can be avoided by wearing lined rubber gloves when washing up or by avoiding the cause of the reaction altogether. Keeping the skin moisturised with a hypoallergenic and vitamin cream or emollient can also help.

Seborrhoeic eczema – This form of eczema is generally suffered by babies and usually lasts just a few months, however in adults it will persist until it is treated. It is usually found on the scalp in the form of mild dandruff but can also spread to the face and chest. It is understood to be caused by a yeast growth and may be treated with an anti-fungal cream.

Discoid eczema – this is more usually found in adults and appears as a coin-shaped patch of red skin on the upper body or lower legs that can become itchy and can weep fluid.

While the causes of eczema vary and some are yet to be explained, the increasing number of people suffering from these types of skin disorders could point to stress or environmental factors such as pollution or the increased exposure to allergens (protein substances such as house dust mites) as causes.

Whichever type of eczema you suffer from, the first step to treatment is a correct diagnosis. You should visit your GP who, dependent on the severity, may refer you to a skin specialist (dermatologist) for advice about treatment.

Treatments will vary depending on the type of eczema suffered. Some may require the use of emollients  - agents that soothe and moisturise the skin – available as ointments, creams, lotions, soap-free replacements or bath oils, although some forms of eczema respond well to the use of steroids, taken either orally or applied to the skin. It’s important to note that steroids should never be used unless prescribed by a doctor. Additionally, anti-histamines may also be prescribed to reduce inflammation and itching.

While a doctor may only prescribe steroid creams, they should not be used continuously as they can thin the skin and make it more fragile. Studies have shown that the condition can be eased by regular applications of vitamin A and anti-oxidant creams to the affected areas. Vitamin A works by regulating and normalising the functions of the skin cells, restoring moisture and strengthening the skins own defences against the environment. It can also effectively counter the potential negative side effects of steroids.

Eczema also causes damage to active free radicals – chemically active atoms in the skin cells – so the skin needs to be nourished with vitamins A, C, E, pro-vitamin B5 and beta-carotene – all ingredients present in the Environ range used at Skin Deep. By using these, you can expect to see a significant improvement in the skin and the application of these vitamins may even reduce the need for steroids completely.