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What’s wrong with my emollient?

Most of the prescription emollients handed out by your doctor are likely to be drying your skin more than locking in moisture. The vast majority of these emollients are petroleum or paraffin based. Whilst they can feel like they are softening and moisturising the skin initially, the longer term effects of these emollients show they do just the opposite. Petroleum is an occlusive agent, this means that they create an airtight barrier on the skin, blocking the skin’s ability to breathe. Occlusive agents don’t allow the skin to absorb moisture from the atmosphere. The theory behind an occlusive is that is works by reducing transepidermal water loss (TEWL), it traps moisture. So if it isn’t pulling in moisture from the atmosphere it has to be drawing it from the deeper layers of the skin, which in the long term is only adding to the chronic dryness.

Being that an occlusive traps moisture and creates an airtight barrier it stands to reason that it can potentially trap any bacteria onto the skin too, making the perfect environment for fungal overgrowth.

Occlusive agents to be aware of in your skincare products are: paraffin, petroleum / petrolatum, mineral oils, silicones and dimethicone.

These lotions prescribed for eczema contain occlusives, emollients and humectants. Humectants bond with water molecules and draw water to the skin, but if there is a strong occlusive agent in your lotion then we already know that the skin has been sealed by it’s airtight action.

Phenoxyethanol, SLS and parabens are also ingredients I would be wary of. I used to work for a company that manufactured chemicals for the pharmaceutical industry, I would look at the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for these chemicals and wonder how and why we were slathering our bodies in these toxic ingredients?. We know the skin absorbs a lot of what we apply to it! Many skincare chemical ingredients are possibly carcinogenic.

A couple of examples of a chemical safety data sheet:

Phenoxyethanol safety data sheet Sodium Lauryl Sulfate safety data sheet All MSDS’s are available online for every chemical ingredient in your lotions! Worrying how the majority of them carry warnings of toxicity and skin irritation, yet pharmaceutical companies are happy to dilute them down and add them to their products.

So now you’re thinking, what can I use instead?

Not all occlusives are made equal! There are many safe and natural alternatives to the chemical laden offerings! Natural butters like shea butter, cocoa butter or waxes like bees wax etc all act as occlusives without being derived from toxic sources. They are easy to source and inexpensive.

Great products for eczema and itchy / dry skin: feels and looks like vaseline, yet completely free of anything nasty. I actually really love this stuff! Chickweed (Stellaria) cream is also very soothing for dry, itchy patches of eczema Tropic make a lovely all natural balm for dry skin. It’s not cheap and not something to slather all over like you would an emollient, but if you have dry patches. Its lovely!

I just think we need to be aware that what we apply to our skin may actually be more damaging in the longer term. I don’t feel toxic chemicals are ultimately going to do anything for skin that is already inflamed.

It’s worth mentioning that the vast majority of shampoos, shower gels, sun creams and general body care products are laden with these toxic ingredients, we are absorbing these through our skin, and multiple times a day. Regardless of whether we have a skin condition or not, these chemicals should be avoided (in my opinion) look at the safety data and make some changes if you feel concerned.

I have lost count of the times I have met someone with severe eczema and they’ve started looking at what they’re using and swapped for more natural products, often huge improvements are made doing this alone.

I remember one case of a 20 year old man who came to see me. His Mum said his eczema came when he was 3 days after his first bath, she used the Johnson & Johnson junk in the Bounty box, sadly the doctors told her it was not related so she continued to use these products. 20 years later I said to this man to swap out all his products for more skin friendly ones, 3 months after his skin was clear, for the first time ever!

Anyway, I could go on and on……my main aim is to raise awareness for everyone to be more aware, it’s so easy to trust a brand or labelling on a product that professes to be ‘natural’

Aveeno is a perfect example of this, but hey, they are owned by Johnson & Johnson!!


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