While most of us welcome the summer, for the one in four adults with eczema, it can be the season of flare-ups.
As the temperature rises we sweat more, and one theory is that people with eczema are sensitive to sweat — which prompts the release of the chemical histamine, which causes itching and other symptoms of allergies. They also have a weakened skin barrier, making it less able to hold in moisture and protect against irritants — which is why it’s sore and itchy in the first place.
So which products can help? Caroline Jones asked consultant dermatologists Dr Justine Hextall, from Tarrant Street Clinic in Arundel, West Sussex, and Dr Catherine Borysiewicz, from London’s Cadogan Clinic and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, to assess some of the newer products. We then rated them.
Menthod ERM 2% Cream
£6.92, 100g, sk1n.co.uk
Claim: An aqueous (water-trapping) cream that also contains menthol, which will ‘soothe and cool heated, dry, irritated and itchy skin conditions’ and is sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) free. Apply as needed.
Expert verdict: ‘One of the most distressing parts of eczema is the itching,’ says Dr Hextall.
‘Menthol is a natural anti-itch ingredient that has an anaesthetic effect. It works by activating the TRPM8 sensory receptors in the skin — which alert the brain to temperature changes on the skin. This triggers a cooling sensation.
‘But if I was looking for a cream to hydrate and repair skin, this wouldn’t be my first choice. I like ingredients that mimic the oils in the skin barrier, such as shea butter. This contains petroleum-based products and won’t provide long-lasting hydration. That said, it could be used with a moisturiser to soothe itchy skin.’
Sapienic Probiotic Mist
£59, 40ml, skincity.com
Claim: A facial spritz containing 10 million live probiotics (good bacteria) per bottle which the makers say can help with eczema. They suggest applying Bacillus coagulans — a common bacteria — will help prevent ‘bad’ bacteria from triggering inflammation. Add the powder into the liquid, shake and spray onto the face four times daily.
Expert verdict: ‘There’s currently a lot of interest in the skin’s microbiome [the community of good and bad bacteria] and its effects on inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema,’ says Dr Hextall.
‘There is evidence it plays a crucial part, reducing inflammation and protecting against infections, but it may be more about getting the right balance of bacteria than eradicating all the bad ones.
‘A review by the well-respected Cochrane Library in 2017 looking at topical probiotics to help eczema found little conclusive benefits. That said, a small trial this year found that a cream containing “good” bacteria improved eczema symptoms.
‘I couldn’t find any specific studies on this skin mist, so until we know more, this is an expensive product without solid evidence of any benefit.’
Gladskin eczema cream
£17.50, 15ml, gladskin.co.uk
Claim: This treatment cream contains staphefekt, which kills Staphylococcus aureus bacteria — a ‘bad’ bacteria found on the skin that the makers say can cause or worsen eczema — ‘whilst leaving the good bacteria unharmed’.
Expert verdict: ‘Scientists have found evidence that there are increased levels of Staphylococcal aureus in skin with eczema,’ says Dr Hextall.
‘Staphefekt is a naturally occurring antibacterial that kills staphylococcus. However, I can’t find any published studies that show suppressing the Staphylococcal aureus bacteria reduces eczema flare-ups.
‘This contains petroleum jelly and liquid paraffin, but because these thick barrier creams trap heat, they can actually cause irritation. That said, I would not be adverse to a patient trying this.’
Cotton Comfort PJ top and bottoms
£60.70 for both, eczemaclothing.com
Claim: These 100 per cent organic cotton pyjamas have no irritating side seams — and they fit so they ‘move with you like a second skin to prevent chafing on sore eczema’ says the maker.
Expert verdict: ‘Wearing the right clothing can be very helpful with eczema,’ says Dr Hextall.
‘The nature of the condition means the affected skin is hot to touch, so any garments that trap heat (such as synthetic materials) can cause further irritation. Night-time can be difficult and patients with eczema can scratch while asleep.
‘This clothing is made from cotton, which allows the skin to breathe; and it has no seams, to reduce chafing.
‘A 2004 study found silk was better at easing eczema than cotton. But silk can be expensive and must be gently washed, while this cotton can be washed at 60c.’
Hope’s Relief Spray
£16.61, 90ml, amazon.co.uk
Claim: A natural ‘no-touch’ skin spray containing tea tree oil, aloe vera, calendula and glycerin to ease itching and ‘moisturise skin for those prone to eczema and dermatitis’.
Expert verdict: ‘Spray products can be especially helpful for eczema, as they don’t need to be rubbed into sore skin,’ says Dr Borysiewicz. ‘There are a number of “soothing” ingredients here, including aloe vera and glycerin, which studies have found can calm and help moisturise eczema-prone skin.
‘The tea tree oil is also antibacterial to fight skin infections, which can often occur with eczema.
‘However, it’s probably best not used on broken skin as not only might it sting, but this can sometimes create a sensitivity to the ingredients.’
CleanRite Hand Sanitiser
£10.95, 150ml, conellaholdings.com
Claim: An alcohol-free sanitiser ‘delivering a moisturising effect on dermatitis’. It contains hypochlorous acid, a disinfectant that kills viruses and bacteria, including coronavirus, without drying the skin says the maker.
Expert verdict: ‘Many people are struggling with hand eczema thanks to the extra handwashing and sanitising since the start of the pandemic,’ says Dr Borysiewicz.
‘All the published studies on hypochlorous acid found it’s effective as a Covid-killing agent, but isn’t as irritating as alcohol-based products, which can trigger or worsen eczema as they strip the lipid [oil] layer which forms the surface of the skin barrier, so moisture leaves and irritants enter, leaving skin dry and inflamed.
‘Well worth trying if your hands are eczema-prone or sore from over-washing.’
£16.47, 500 ml, amazon.co.uk
Claim: This contains an ingredient called ‘dermosoft decalact’ which the makers say has ‘antimicrobial’ and ‘gentle exfoliating’ properties. It also contains arnica and chamomile to ‘nourish your skin while forming a barrier against inflammation and infection’.
Expert verdict: ‘The product you choose to wash with is important for eczema patients whose skin barrier is already weakened,’ says Dr Hextall.
‘A gentle hydrating wash such as this is ideal, and there seems to be evidence for the anti-inflammatory effects of chamomile, although less so with arnica.
‘Dermosoft decalact is a natural anti-yeast ingredient that is used to help fight dandruff in some shampoos, and as there is now an established link between the overgrowth of the yeast [called malassezia] that’s found naturally on our skin and some types of eczema, this could be a useful addition.
‘The gentle exfoliation properties could also help reduce flakiness.’
£49.99, 30 sachets, curapella.com
Claim: This is said to be ‘the world’s first supplement to help eczema’. It contains the amino acid [a building block of protein], L-histidine, which the maker says can strengthen the skin barrier, plus zinc, biotin and vitamins B2 and B3 which make your skin ‘less susceptible to dryness, reddening and cracking’. Take one sachet a day.
Expert verdict: ‘We know eczema sufferers have lower levels of a protein called filaggrin, which is needed to maintain the skin barrier,’ says Dr Borysiewicz. ‘We also know that histidine [found in lentils] is turned into filaggrin in the body.
‘The researchers behind this product looked at whether 4g of L-histidine — a synthetic form of histidine — daily could increase filaggrin production, and a very small study found that after eight weeks eczema symptoms had reduced in severity. The additional nutrients — biotin, zinc and B vitamins — are known to improve skin health.
‘Overall, this offers a potentially effective way to improve severe eczema, but larger studies are needed. You will still need to use your normal moisturiser.’
Granberg bamboo gloves
Claim: These gloves are designed to prevent patients scratching directly on their eczema at night, helping to make the creams last longer. Made from bamboo, they can be machine washed at 60c and come in a variety of sizes.
Expert verdict: ‘Night-time scratching can be incredibly challenging, particularly for children with eczema,’ says Dr Borysiewicz. ‘Some find wearing gloves such as these helpful, and they can also help with the absorption of treatment creams if the hands are affected with eczema.
‘A natural “breathable” fabric, such as this bamboo fibre, is softer than cotton and allows heat and moisture to evaporate quickly so you avoid sweaty palms.’