- Your skin
The confidence of healthy skin
When skin overreacts, is itchy, bothersome or hurts, how can it be soothed? How do you find relief? 10 Questions for Dr Ariadna Ortiz-Brugués, dermatologist and Medical Director of the Eau Thermale Avène brand and Joëlle Nonni, head of the skin health education workshops at the Avène Hydrotherapy Center.
This is likely to be the case for atopic eczema, an inflammatory skin disease that usually starts in early childhood. It appears that this dermatitis is associated with genetic predispositions that affect the skin barrier. Made more permeable, the skin allows various environmental allergens to pass into the body, causing the immune system to over-react. But there is another type of eczema – contact eczema or contact dermatitis – which occurs without any genetic predispositions when the skin comes into direct contact with a particular allergenic substance.
Atopic eczema and contact eczema present with roughly the same types of skin lesions: redness, irritation, dry skin (xerosis), severe itching, sometimes oozing. But unlike contact eczema, atopic eczema is not triggered by a single, generally identifiable factor, but by various environmental and endogenous factors. It is a chronic condition that tends to come and go.
Atopic eczema does not necessarily mean allergies, but it is often linked to an allergic background and therefore an increased risk of food allergies, allergic rhinitis or conjunctivitis. You should, therefore try to avoid allergenic environments (dust, feathers, pet hair, etc.).
The management of eczema is highly codified and the therapeutic solutions vary according to the severity of the symptoms: dryness, redness, itching, scaling, etc. In all cases, applying an emollient daily is the first step in treating atopic eczema. It reduces intense skin dryness and calms itching sensations. In the event of an attack, a prescription of topical corticosteroids remains the standard treatment for treating the inflammation.
Eczema is often caused by several factors but anxiety and stress can be triggers for flare-ups and itching. Prioritise physical activity if you can, reading, music, abdominal breathing, etc. Practice relaxation and activities that you enjoy.
Daily care can become tedious over time, especially as the skin condition improves. However, it is important to persevere. Keeping the skin hydrated is one of the simplest and most effective methods of strengthening the barrier function and thus reducing dryness and spacing out outbreaks.
We often don’t realise we are scratching and it's hard to resist. It is therefore important to identify these moments and find suitable alternatives. There are a few tricks to divert your attention: keep your hands busy, scratch an object such as small textured balls for little ones, play with your fingers, scratch the velcro side sewn on a stuffed animal or the scratch areas of pyjamas. And to avoid scratches, cutting fingernails short and wearing cotton or silk gloves (if tolerated) for the night can also be a solution, and they can be transformed into puppets for children.
Bathing has several benefits: it cleanses, relaxes and prepares the skin for the application of emollients. However, you should reduce how often you bathe and limit its duration to a maximum of 10 minutes because hard water dries out the skin and therefore encourages irritation and itching. Opt for quick 5-minute showers each day. The water temperature should not exceed 34°C to avoid reactivating inflammation. Dry yourself by gently dabbing with a towel so as not to rekindle the itching sensation.
The cold can effectively soothe itching. You can use frozen peas stored in a personalised bag, a cooling bag or stones stored in the refrigerator, as long as you do not put them directly on the skin, especially if it is already damaged. Daily applications of Thermal Spring Water soaked compresses on the areas that need soothing are also very effective, and an opportunity for you to take a moment to relax.
Apply a balm moisturiser before bed – and keep an emollient and Thermal Spring Water Spray handy. Make sure you create a relaxing atmosphere, e.g. with dimmed lighting and soft music. Do not cover up too much and keep the room at a temperature of 18°C.