Eczema is an extremely common skin condition here in the UK, so it’s hardly surprising that most of us are already familiar with the usual triggers: stress, lack of moisture, extreme temperature shifts, washing detergent, and so on. What about the more unusual eczema triggers, though? Today, I take a look at a few of the more surprising eczema triggers and what you can do to prevent them.
Eczema flare-ups can sometimes be triggered by things we may not have even considered, such as:
Read on to find out more about these unusual triggers and what can be done to avoid them.
When you think of itchy skin triggers, the chances are that you might think of your washing detergent or even the fabric of your clothes. The jewellery you wear is unlikely to be in your top list of suspects; however, nickel (a type of metal) is often used to make jewellery, and this could potentially be problematic for eczema sufferers.
This is because for eczema patients, particularly those with contact eczema, nickel can be quite an abrasive substance. It can trigger an inflammatory reaction in your skin, leading to the tell-tale redness and itchiness that we’re all familiar with. Usually, in cases of nickel, this irritation crops up around the same place you would wear your jewellery – your ears, your arms, your neck and around your navel.
How can you avoid nickel?
One of the real problems with nickel is that it’s widely used. In jewellery, nickel can be present in white gold and 9ct gold, so you may need to reassess the type of accessories you choose to wear. Beyond this, nickel can also be found in buttons, hair pins, metal zips and even the frames of your glasses, so be very careful and always try to go for options that are marked as ‘hypoallergenic’.
2. Thyroid imbalance
It’s widely known that hormone imbalances can upset your skin but, when we tend to think of the hormones involved, oestrogen always comes out on top. This makes sense, especially if you’re menopausal, as low oestrogen levels can negatively affect the strength of your skin and its ability to retain moisture.
Nevertheless, one hormone imbalance that doesn’t get enough attention when it comes to your skin is your thyroid. The hormones produced by your thyroid glands (T3 and T4) are responsible for regulating your metabolism, amongst other things. If you start to produce too little of these hormones, or too much, your skin will be impacted.
Your skin may become drier or more prone to fluid retention and puffiness. You may even notice some discolouration or that your skin becomes thinner. In cases of hypothyroidism, it’s also thought that your production of sebum oil may become impaired as poor thyroid function can sometimes influence your production of testosterone. All of these issues could potentially trigger an eczema outbreak.
How can you avoid a thyroid imbalance?
If you suspect that something is amiss with your thyroid levels, it is really important to speak to your doctor. A simple blood test should be enough to determine whether or not you have hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. Both will require medical treatment. If your thyroid levels are on the cusp, though, you could try supporting them by increasing your intake of iodine, a natural mineral that your thyroid can utilise to produce T3 and T4. You can find iodine mainly in sea vegetables such as kelp.
3. Food allergies
When it comes to eczema, it’s believed that your immune system plays a huge role in triggering your symptoms. Since around 70% of your immune cells reside in your gut, it’s easy to see a link between eczema symptoms and your digestion, but where do food allergies come into the picture?
Well, like eczema, food allergies are often connected to an overactive immune system; however, any link between eczema and food allergies is at this point believed to be causal. There is no clearly defined understanding of their connection, but allergies to food products such as dairy, wheat, soy or peanuts can often cause eczema symptoms to emerge. Not to mention, these types of allergies or sensitivities can often impact your digestive system too, thus also affecting eczema-prone skin.
How can you avoid food allergies?
When it comes to food allergies, you really need to be aware of what it is you’re allergic to and take steps to avoid contact with this food in your everyday life. In the case of dairy allergies, this might mean opting for alternatives such as oat milk, soya milk or almond milk. Fortunately, there are a wide variety of specialised food products out there, ranging from wheat-free, to gluten-free, to soy-free.
Believe it or not, certain medications can sometimes trigger eczema symptoms. For example, topical steroid creams are often recommended to help manage eczema; but, if used for too long or at a highly concentrated dose, these creams can actually cause your skin to become thinner, thus making irritation more likely.1 That’s why, if you’ve been prescribed a medication, it’s extremely important to read the product information leaflet and to educate yourself on the side-effects.
How can you avoid side-effects of medication?
As I’ve mentioned, education is key here. Always take any medication that your doctor has prescribed at the correct dose and for the correct period of time; however, if you do notice any side-effects, you should report these immediately to your doctor. They can work with you to find an alternative medication that shouldn’t produce this result.
5. Skincare routine
This might seem like an obvious candidate when it comes to an eczema flare up, but it’s amazing how often your skincare routine gets overlooked when it comes to your eczema symptoms. You might think that you’re doing everything right – you exfoliate regularly, you cleanse your skin of impurities and you moisturise numerous times throughout the day – so why are your symptoms still appearing?
Well, the quality of the products that you are using could be one possible explanation. In my blog, ‘What secrets are your skincare products hiding?’, I discuss how most conventional skincare products are loaded with an array of potentially hazardous ingredients, such as parabens, SLS, phthalates and even formaldehyde. All of these have the potential to irritate eczema-prone skin so try to bear this in mind going forward.
What can I do to improve my skincare routine?
Look for skincare products that are organic and preferably contain as few ingredients as possible. Here at A.Vogel, we offer a soothing Neem Cream that can help to take the itch and inflammation out of an eczema flare-up, so this is definitely worth considering if you suffer from this problem.
6. Insect bites
Midges, ticks, mosquitoes and wasp stings – insects are infamous for having unhappy effects on our skin. When you fall victim to an insect bite (or sting) your immune system will release a rush of inflammatory chemicals, such as histamine, to the affected area.
Unsurprisingly, it’s this sudden outpour of pro-inflammatory chemicals that can affect eczema-prone skin, inspiring a flare-up. In fact, a study published in the British Journal of General Practice revealed that eczema sufferers could be more vulnerable to insect bites.2 While the usual solution is to arm yourself with a repellent spray, again, this can cause problems as many eczema patients cannot tolerate the harsh chemicals used in such formulas.
How can you avoid insect bites?
If you’re trying to avoid getting bitten by insects, then there are a number of precautions you can take. Try to wear loose, breathable clothing and make sure that vulnerable areas of your body, such as your arms and legs, are suitably covered. It might also help to avoid going outdoors too much during peak hours. When it comes to repellent sprays, there are natural options out there, such as our Neem Insect Repellent Spray, which might also be worth investigating.
Just like your cosmetics and skincare products, perfumes are absorbed straight through your epidermal layer of skin, but these are often overlooked when it comes to the aggravation they can cause eczema sufferers. The problem here, as with many of the products that you apply to your skin, is the ingredients that are used.
Perfume companies often don’t disclose the full list of ingredients used in their products, but often they contain irritants like synthetic preservatives or artificial fragrances. Even natural products often derive their scent from botanical ingredients such as essential oils, so please bear this in mind when picking a fragrance that’s right for you.
How can you avoid abrasive perfumes?
When it comes to perfume, once again, it’s best to try and go as natural as possible. However, as I mentioned earlier, many perfumes which cut out parabens and artificial ingredients may instead contain potential irritants like alcohol and essential oils, so always read the ingredients list carefully. When in doubt, instead of spraying perfume on your skin, you could try spraying it on your clothes to avoid direct contact.
Originally written 30 April 2019 (updated 12 May 2020).