What really surprised me when returning to the UK after a few years away was the number of people, young and old, that I kept meeting suffering with skin and scalp issues - many with psoriasis and eczema.
So, I got busy creating products full of natural and effective ingredients that could help relieve, soothe and calm these increasingly common skin conditions.
In the UK alone, current estimates of people suffering from eczema range from 7 to 15 million - that’s a lot of people, including one in five children. As a direct consequence, around 27 million prescriptions are written up annually by NHS doctors for a variety of pharmaceutical products to aid these sufferers.
So what exactly is Eczema? Also commonly named as 'dermatitis', eczema comes in different forms and is unique to each individually afflicted person.
With eczema, your skin doesn’t produce as much fat and oils as it should, it doesn’t allow the outer skin cells to retain as much water, which won’t then prevent harmful bacteria from entering the body.
There are several main types of eczema so I will attempt to address each one here.
Atopic Eczema is the most common type of eczema, with both genetic and environmental contributors affecting people of any age but particularly children. The body’s immune system overreacts to products carrying irritant ingredients as well as allergens such as pollen, dust mites and fur or skin shed from animals.
With this type of eczema, patches of skin tend to flare up and become very red and itchy, particularly in skin creases on knees, necks, elbows and wrists. Common triggers include stress, contact with soaps, detergents and fragrance, changes in temperature, pollens, clothing and teething in babies. Sometimes the itch resulting from a flare up becomes unbearable, particularly at night leading to sleep loss, frustration and depression (read more about our amazing anti-itch balm here).
Contact Dermatitis is another common form of eczema that is said to affect nearly one tenth of the UK population.
The most common form is ‘Irritant Contact Dermatitis’, a reaction that occurs when coming in to frequent contact with soaps, detergents, hair cosmetics, solvents, cement, cutting fluids, resin, meaning those working as nurses, hairdresser, chefs, cleaners and construction workers are more at risk of developing this type of eczema.
Symptoms of this type of eczema range from skin redness and mild dryness to the appearance of skin burns that can become fluid-filled and ulcerated.
Psoriasis is said to affect 125 million people worldwide and 1 in 50 people in the UK. It is genetically linked but the exact genetic role is still unclear. It is a long-term condition that comes and goes but is not infectious.
It is quite different to eczema in that the problem begins in the deepest layer of skin and is said to be caused by the immune system. One of the main types of cells used by the immune system is the ‘T Cell’ which detects bacteria in the body and fights it.
However, those with psoriasis finds this cell attacking healthy skin cells by mistake, causing the deepest layer of skin to produce new skin cells more quickly than usual. These new skin cells then push up to the outermost layer of skin in 3-7 days rather than 3-4 weeks, resulting in cells that aren’t fully mature building up rapidly on the surface of the skin. This then causes crusty, flaky red patches of skin with silvery scales which can be itchy and painful. It can also produce swelling and stiffness in joints and can be associated with diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Common triggers for psoriasis include excessive amounts of alcohol, smoking, stress, anti-inflammatory medicines, throat infections and skin injury, such as cuts, bites and stings.
There is no known cure for either eczema or psoriasis – but there are aids to ease and soothe both conditions to make them more bearable.
Thankfully, there are natural plant remedies used to help relieve the symptoms of both eczema and psoriasis and, using these natural ingredients, a number of ways they can be applied.
Firstly, through oil-based emollients or moisturisers – but one has to be careful to check the ingredients here.
Body butters, creams, salves and other products containing water – which are often the largest ingredient included in many major brand creams and body butters - will not hydrate as effectively as an oil or an oil and butter-based product.
Also, with water added, these products will have the essential necessary addition of some types of preservatives and anti-microbials to prevent bacteria growing in the water element of these butters and creams. These additives can themselves be the cause of further irritation, even in products made for sensitive skin.
Water itself does not hydrate the skin when applied atopically, quite the opposite, it actually disrupts the skin’s lipid barrier and causes skin to dry out. Unfortunately, it is often added by companies to increase profit margins rather than because it adds any sort of skin benefit.
Effective moisturisers will prevent water being naturally drawn from lower layers to evaporate too quickly and successfully hydrate the skin.
Safflower oil, derived from the seeds of the safflower plant (Carthamus tinctorius), known for its bright orange and yellow flowers. It has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits and it doesn’t clog pores. Additionally, the linoleic acid is thought to help maintain the integrity of the outer layer of skin by preventing flaking. You can also find this ingredient in our nappy balm.
1. Soothing Skin Balm
We also offer a ‘Soothing Skin Balm’ with 12 active ingredients made entirely from natural oils with a little food grade rice wax as a hardener. It is waterless and highly concentrated and a little goes a long way.
Neem Oil, a vegetable oil pressed from the fruits and seeds of Neem tree (‘Azadirachta inica’). The tree is native to India and has long been used in traditional medicine and as a natural and effective pesticide for organic farmers. The oil has natural anti-inflammatory properties that help relieve swelling skin. It is also anti-bacterial and is a natural pain killer for relieving painful eczema and psoriasis flare-ups.
Tamanu oil, a plant oil derived from the Tamanu (‘Calophyllum inphyllum’) tree which is native to Southeast Asia and Polynesia. It has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties and has long been used in the Vanautu Pacific islands for the treatment of eczema in both adults and babies and in Fiji for the treatment of arthritis. It is also said to help soothe and relieve the symptoms of Psoriasis. This oil can also be found in our ‘Muscle Balm’ and ‘Cuts and Scrapes Balm’.
Plantain oil, (a common lawn and wasteland weed, the broad leaved ‘Plantago major’ or narrow leaved ‘p. lanceolata’ are two common types), this plant can be traced back to the 1500’s when the leaf extract was used to treat flu and fever. It has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties and naturally contains ‘Allantoin’(also found in Aloe vera) which is known to speed up the healing of wounds, as well as increase the water content of cells. Its anti-bacterial properties help prevent itching and it is therefore a beneficial herb for both eczema and psoriasis. We infuse the plantain leaves in natural oil and add it to our ‘Soothing Skin Balm'
Calendula oil, extracted from the Marigold plant (Calendula officinalis), this flower has wide ranging antimicrobial properties including being antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-bacterial (see our post here for more on that), making it useful in relieving nappy rash and soothing eczema. We infuse the flower parts in oil and include this in our ‘Nappy Balm’, ‘Cuts and Scrapes Balm’, and ‘Soothing Skin Balm’.
Essential oils are completely natural and obtained through steam distillation and other methods of extraction of the parts of the plant. They are a great alternative to ‘fragrances’ (see our blog on that here) used as scent in perfumes, etc. that are man-made and can be irritating to skin.
Five key anti-inflammatory essential oils for both eczema and psoriasis that also smell amazing in our balm, include Rosemary, Geranium, Tea-Tree, Lavender and Bergamot.
2. After Bite Relief Balm
This is a highly effective After Bite Relief balm that will relieve any type of itching fast. As well as relieving the itching of mosquito, ants and other biting insects, it will also relieve the itching caused by rashes, including eczema and psoriasis.
Juniper berry oil, juniper berries have many beneficial properties including being astringent and antiseptic. It is considered to have purifying and detoxifying effects (depurative) and is used in the healing of wounds (vulnerary). Juniper berries are infused in natural oil and used as a key ingredient in this balm.
Coconut oil, with its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, has the natural ability to penetrate the skin quickly and efficiently, which boosts hydration, improves skin elasticity, fights itch and reduces the chances of infection. It is, therefore, hugely beneficial in combating skin problems such as eczema and psoriasis. Organic Coconut oil can also be found in our ‘Soothing Skin Balm', ‘Anti-itch Balm', ‘Nappy Balm', 'Breathe Easy Balm' and ‘Sleep Easy Balm'.
Basil essential oil, contains camphor and thymol, two compounds that relieve itching.
Lime essential oil, has antiseptic properties and is also able to kill any itch-inducing bacteria on the skin.
Our traditional Castile soaps are hand-made using four oils, including 50% Olive oil before they are cured for a month. They are palm oil free.
Our unscented Chamomile and Oatmeal Castile Soap is suitable for babies and those with sensitive skin, as well as those suffering from eczema and psoriasis, as they contain:
Chamomile oil, from the Asteraceae/Compositae family is considered to be one of the most ancient and versatile medicinal herbs known to man. It has been used for over 5,000 years as an effective, alternative medicine in tea, tinctures and extracts. It offers a high source of antioxidants that lowers inflammation and prevents cell mutation. It can also help reduce pain, swelling and redness and prevents scarring, so is ideal in helping those suffering with skin conditions including eczema and psoriasis. Chamomile flowers are infused into the olive oil which is then used to make our soap bars.
Oatmeal, rich in anti-oxidant properties helps reduce itching and inflammation that arises from eczema and psoriasis. It also forms an occlusive layer on the surface of the skin, helping the skin cells to retain water. It significantly improves skin dryness and roughness, providing gentle exfoliation. This is important in eczema and psoriasis sufferers, as it cleans the accumulated dried and dead skin cells that could otherwise exacerbate the symptoms. For your scalp, you can also find ‘hydrolysed oat protein’ in all our best UK shampoo bars and all natural conditioner bars.
Castor oil, a vegetable oil derived from the seeds of the Ricinus communis plant, has the ability to reduce inflammation and will also help moisturise skin and help reduce flaking skin. An ideal addition to our soap bar. You can also find this ingredient in our ‘Lemongrass Bug Repellent’ lotion bars.
Coconut oil, with it’s antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, has the natural ability to penetrate the skin quickly and efficiently, which can boost hydration, improve skin elasticity, fight itch and reduce the chances of infection. It is, therefore, hugely beneficial in combating skin problems such as eczema and psoriasis. For a gentle, cleaning, foaming bar for your hair and scalp, try our shampoo bars containing three coconut derived surfactants (also in our pet bars), as well as organic Coconut oil. Organic Coconut oil can also be found in our ‘Soothing Skin Balm', ‘Anti-itch Balm', ‘Nappy Balm', 'Breathe Easy Balm' and ‘Sleep Easy Balm'.
I hope this information is of some help to the many of you out there who suffer from these complaints. Don't forget, as always we advise that if you feel your complication is of a more urgent nature don’t delay in getting healthcare. If you need urgent medical help and it’s not an emergency, contact your GP or NHS 111 online or telephone NHS 111 first.
Disclaimer: These products and the related statements have not been evaluated by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.