An introduction to the treatment of ichthyosis
When it comes to ichthyosis, most suffers feel that there is no hope of improving their condition as quite often, it is hereditary.
Nevertheless, although there is no definitive cure, there are still a number of important preventative steps you can take to avoid triggering an outbreak, and there are plenty of home and herbal remedies that can soothe the external symptoms, reducing any itchiness, discomfort or psychological stress.
Home remedies usually try to focus on supporting your immune system and easing the external irritation. If you notice any adverse effects from using any of these treatments, please speak to your doctor as soon as possible.
- Relax: Stress rarely does you any good and should be avoided at all costs if you want to try and given your immune system a boost. When you’re suffering from ichthyosis, a brisk walk in the fresh air can do you the world of good. Nevertheless, if this is slightly outside of your comfort zone, try to find ways of relaxing indoors, either by curling up on the couch with a good book or indulging in a nice hot bath. You could even try gentle forms of exercise like yoga or tai-chi as both are excellent ways of focusing your mind and teaching you how to take control of your body. Meditation is another worthwhile activity as it will teach you proper breathing techniques and how to keep calm in difficult situations
- Good nutrition: The correlation between your diet and the health of your immune system has already been discussed but further research can reveal the additional importance of your diet in relation to your ichthyosis symptoms. A study conducted by the National University of Health Sciences in Lombard, Illinoi, involving a young female sufferer of ichthyosis.1This case study found that the patient’s symptoms were considerably improved after amending her diet. The research discussed the connection between ichthyosis and atopic eczema, mentioning that around 50% of ichthyosis patients also suffer from atopic eczema. Atopic eczema is very closely linked to food allergies and conditions like celiac disease; therefore, treating this aspect of their health had a positive knock-on effect on their ichthyosis symptoms. In general you should be trying to avoid any inflammatory foods like caffeine, alcohol, refined sugars and processed fats but, you should also take into account in food intolerances or allergies that you might have. Try to increase your intake of essential minerals like magnesium, which can be found in products such sweet potatoes, spinach, bananas and pumpkin seeds. Vitamins like vitamins C, B, D and E are crucial for your skin and your immune system so focus on foods that are rich in these nutrients and consider eating more oily fish and chia seeds to boost your consumption of essential fatty acids. You could try whipping up one of our smoothies, which are chockfull of nutrients and can go a long way towards helping you get your five a day!
- Avoid exposure: When you suffer from ichthyosis, you should be more aware of your environment and the effect that it can have on your skin. Exposing your skin to cold, dry weather conditions will only provoke your symptoms and exacerbate an existing episode. Instead, try to keep your skin covered and make sure to moisturise it on a daily basis to avoid any potential dehydration. If you enjoy turning the heating up during the cold winter months, try to buy a humidifier to increase the amount of moisture in the air and reduce the risk of your skin becoming dry and damaged. This idea does not just apply to the temperature of your surroundings though – you should reduce your contact with irritants like abrasive detergents or products with too many harmful chemicals that might irritate your skin. You could try switching your usual cleansing products and cosmetics for a natural, organic and fragrance-free alternative that would be less likely to aggravate your symptoms. Your Health Food Store stocks a variety of skin care products, all of which are 100% natural, organic and cruelty-free!
- Oatmeal: If you suffer from ichthyosis, then you have probably been told to try and exfoliate your skin as much as possible to remove the dead skin cells. However, this process can cause further damage if it is not done properly and leave you vulnerable to a secondary bacterial infection. Oatmeal, as strange as it may sound, is an excellent at exfoliating your skin and works as a natural anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory agent. It can also add more moisture to dry skin and is frequently used in the treatment of eczema, another skin condition that ichthyosis sufferers often experience. You can try this treatment by mixing some oatmeal with a little water until it forms a paste, or by adding a couple of handfuls to your evening bath
- Coconut oil: When it comes to home remedies for skin ailments, coconut oil is the go-to option. It can be used to treat a wide range of issues and contains anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. The oil is also rich in essential vitamins, like vitamin E, and fatty acids such as capric and lauric acids. These are important when it comes to supporting the immune system and fighting off fungal infections while vitamin E can work on repairing the damage to your epidermis. You can apply organic and raw coconut oil to your skin directly, just take care not to apply too much and to ensure that you leave on for a suitable amount of time. Your Health Food Store has a selection of coconut oils to choose from so they might be worth paying a visit if you’re considering this option
- Evening primrose oil: Evening primrose oil is often used in the treatment of conditions such as osteoporosis and diabetes, and while there is no official evidence that it can be effective for ichthyosis, it is still very popular amongst sufferers. This could be because primrose oil contains high quantities of fatty acids, which can be very good at relieving inflammation and nourishing the skin cells. You can apply this remedy topically, but be aware that you should not be using primrose oil if you are pregnant, breast feeding, epileptic or suffer from a bleeding disorder
- Manuka honey: Unprocessed, raw manuka honey can be great at easing the unpleasant symptoms that accompany a skin condition like ichthyosis. It can be good at strengthening the skin cells and protecting the epidermis from an external infection. It works by creating a thick barrier to prevent pathogens from permeating the skin and honey can also be used to lock in moisture, hydrating the skin and alleviating any symptoms associated with dryness. You can apply honey topically to the affected area; just make sure you wash it off thoroughly to avoid any unwanted stickiness. Your Health Food Store stocks a range of manuka honey products if this option appeals to you.
There are a range of herbal remedies available to ease your symptoms of ichthyosis, with some aimed at soothing external dryness and itchiness while others are more focused on supporting your immune system and psychological wellbeing.
If you feel as though these solutions are not working or are making your symptoms worse, you should speak to your GP immediately.
- Neem cream: Neem has been used for centuries as a natural solution for dry, agitated skin. Neem Cream is made using extracts of neem leaves and can be used by virtually anyone. It is often popular with sufferers of eczema or those who suffer from an itchy or irritating skin condition, and if your ichthyosis has spread to your scalp, you could try using Neem Shampoo! You should be aware however, that neem cream should not be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women or those who suffer from nut allergies
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C is a wonderful nutrient for giving the immune system a boost, strengthening your skin cells and aiding the respiratory system. It is also one of the few vitamins that you must absorb from your diet as it cannot be produced naturally by your body. Nature-C is a natural and organic vitamin C supplement, made from fresh fruit extracts, making it a great option if you feel that you are not getting enough vitamin C from your diet
- Wheat Germ Oil: Wheat Germ Oil is a brilliant source of vitamin E, an essential nutrient when it comes to the maintenance of your skin cells. The remedy also contains high amounts of vitamin A, D and essential fatty acids, which can also work to keep your skin hydrated and to repair any damaged cells. This product can be taken by anyone over the age of 6 but you may need to speak to your doctor first if you are pregnant. Always taken any herbal remedy as specifically directed in the instructions
- Echinaforce®: Echinaforce® is an outstanding remedy when it comes to keeping the immune system strong and healthy, which is why it is often recommended for those suffering from the cold or a common viral infection.
- AvenaCalm: If you feel as though your ichthyosis symptoms are starting to severely impact your psychological wellbeing, you could try taking AvenaCalm to support and soothe your troubled moods. AvenaCalm works by gradually helping your nervous system, allowing you to feel calmer and more in control in pressured situations. It is not an immediate solution but it can work over a period of weeks to restore your mood and lower your stress levels
- Dormeasan®: If your sleep pattern is being routinely interrupted by your ichthyosis symptoms, it might be worthwhile considering a natural sleep remedy, like Dormeasan®. Unlike traditional sleeping tablets, Dormeasan works to restore a natural sleep cycle and is not addictive in any way. The formula is also non-drowsy, made using extract of Valerian and Hops, meaning that you won’t feel unusually disorientated or fatigued the following day.
If you suffer from ichthyosis, the chances are that you have already spoken to a doctor and sought medical attention. Your doctor will have informed you about the list of treatments below and advised you about which may or may not be suitable for you. However, you should be aware of the side-effects that come with using these medicines so that you can discuss these further with your doctor to reach an informed decision.
- Emollients: If you suffer from ichthyosis, then the first course of treatment that your doctor is likely to recommend is using a strong emollient. Emollients are powerful moisturisers, aimed at hydrating your skin and locking in moisture. However, there are many different variations and not all emollients will be compatible with your skin, sometimes leading to an adverse or allergic reaction. You may need to try a few different types before you find one that works for you and if you notice any unpleasant side-effects, speak to your doctor as soon as possible
- Retinoids: Retinoids are a type of synthetic vitamin A supplement that are aimed at reducing the development of scaly skin, however they often do little to minimalise other symptoms such as itchiness, erythema or inflammation. You should always discuss this course of treatment with your doctor beforehand as some forms of retinoid will not be suitable to take while you are pregnant and may cause a range of unfortunate side-effects
- Antibiotics: If your doctor thinks that you might be at risk of developing a bacterial infection, they might prescribe a course of antibiotics. These will not reduce your ichthyosis symptoms but they will work to prevent you from attracting a more serious infection and should be taken as specifically directed. There are some cases where a patient has developed an immunity to a specific type of antibiotic, meaning that your doctor may have to try you on several different variants before finding one that works for you. Antibiotics can also come with a variety of unpleasant side-effects, such as digestive complaints, stomach aches and headaches. If you feel as though you are suffering because of this particular medicine, you should inform your doctor
- Anti-depressants: When your doctor feels as though your psychological wellbeing is being negatively affected by your physical symptoms, they may prescribe you a course of anti-depressants. These drugs are aimed at supporting your mood and reducing feelings of anxiety, stress or depression but they can sometimes be associated with a range of nasty side-effects. There is no one anti-depressant to suit all, so you might be force to try a few different types before finding one that works for you – this process can be gruelling and sometimes the negative symptoms outweigh the benefits.