How I Got Rid of Itchy Contact Dermatitis the Natural Way
Whether you have been living miserably with contact dermatitis for years—or whether it has reared its ugly head overnight—there are alternative ways to heal your skin and to keep flare-ups under control. You do not have to use prescription drugs, such as topical steroid creams like hydrocortisone.
I have personally suffered from severe irritant contact dermatitis on my hands since working in the healthcare profession. Although I am not a doctor or skin specialist, I have found different preventative methods and all-natural treatments that have soothed and healed my skin back to its former health.
I would like to share what has worked for me.
What Is It?
Anybody who has had contact dermatitis will know how painful it can be. It makes your skin inflamed and sore and flares up when your skin touches something it doesn’t like (hence the name). You are either allergic to the thing you are touching, or your skin is simply irritated by it.
It will also make your skin incredibly dry and prone to cracking, which puts you at risk for secondary skin infections, which are sometimes worse than the condition itself.
The hands are most commonly affected because it’s the one part of your body that touches things constantly. In fact, you might be touching things that you are allergic to without even realising it – especially if you frequently come into contact with hazardous chemicals or if you wash your hands a lot.
It is always advisable to visit your doctor or skin specialist for a proper diagnosis, because it can be very easy to mistake a skin complaint with something completely different.
For instance, if you suffer from tiny little bumps or blisters on your skin, you could have pompholyx eczema. This is the skin condition I developed as a result of my contact dermatitis.
Identifying the Cause
For me, the hardest part was identifying the things that were making my skin react in such a negative way, and then trying not to touch those things. I thought carefully about my day-to-day life and discovered the problems through sheer process of elimination.
The cause of my sore hands turned out to be the nitrile gloves that we use at work (the so-called hypoallergenic gloves that replaced the latex ones). I also discovered that I had developed two food allergies, which amplified my symptoms. I had to remove these from my diet until my symptoms got any better.
After my skin had become sensitive, everything else aggravated it . . . hand soap, drying my hands on abrasive cheap paper hand towels, preparing food, etc. When I removed the cause, the skin healed itself.
Have a good think about the things you come into contact with on a daily basis – from the moment you wake to the moment you go to sleep. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- When did you first develop contact dermatitis?
- What have you touched within the last 24-48 hours that could have aggravated your skin?
- Do you have any known or unknown allergies to things such as nickel or preservatives? If you are not sure, get yourself allergy tested! It may give you an important clue as to the cause of your skin condition. I developed a milk and lemon allergy out of the blue one day.
- Do you wash the dishes or hand wash clothes on a regular basis? The detergents might be irritating your skin.
- Have you changed the type of personal hygiene or domestic household products you use?
Choose Your Personal Hygiene Products Wisely
Finding a good quality range of bath, hair, and shower products is a positive start. They should preferably be hypoallergenic, free from fragrances, and harsh chemicals such as sodium lauryl sulphate. You could also consider a "soap-free lifestyle."
Personally, I love buying unscented products and adding my own aromatherapy oils – that way you can smell fantastic and know exactly what goes on your skin.
I don't like to use aqueous cream to moisturise because if you check the back of the label, it says, "The product contains cetostearyl alcohol which may cause local skin reactions (e.g. contact dermatitis)".
Aqueous also contains sodium lauryl sulphate and cheap mineral oil.
Inflammation Does Not Disappear Overnight
Even if you have discovered the cause of your condition and you do your best to avoid the culprits, your skin will still be vulnerable to future flare-ups. This is because skin cells can stay inflamed for as long as eight or nine months after first aggravated.
The skin may not look all that red by physical appearance but it won't take much to upset it again! Before you know it, your skin will return to its sore and angry state the moment you come back into contact with the irritant or allergen. This can be a problem if you don't know what the cause of your skin condition actually is. Make it your mission to find out!
When the skin begins to heal itself, take extra care to protect it from further damage. If your skin problem is caused by a food allergy, avoid it altogether if you can. This is when you will notice the inflammation begins to settle down.
It can take several months to get to this stage, but it will be worth it!
Many of us have our hands in and out of water and detergents all day because our job or lifestyle require us to . . . we can’t just not wash our hands altogether. What should we do?
If you haven't already, it would be a good idea to change your hand soap. You can purchase a small, empty, travel-sized squeezy bottle and fill it with hypoallergenic, scent-free soap, which is handy when you are on the go. I take one with me to work and another in my handbag for when I am out and about.
Important: Moisturisation Warning for Allergy Sufferers
Keeping the skin soft and supple is important but beware, moisturisers can in some cases push allergens and irritants deeper into the skin and make the problem worse, especially in the case of latex or Nitrile glove allergies.
On the other hand, if your skin is sore because of too much hand washing, moisturising is very important to help the skin retain its vital moisture levels.
Please try to do some research before assuming that moisturisers and barrier creams are the answer. This is why visiting a dermatologist is so vital. They are trained to know information like this.
Water can be a big problem where contact dermatitis is concerned – a lot of articles cover this subject briefly, but very few talk about the quality of the water supply itself.
Tap water contains vast amounts of metals, minerals and harsh chemicals such as chlorine, fluorine, and pesticides in order to kill off dangerous bacteria and microbes . . . but at what cost?
Since investing in a shower water filter, I noticed a dramatic difference in my skin and hair – my skin wasn't so dry, my hair was shinier and my eyes didn't feel as irritated by the water when showering. For anyone wanting better quality water to wash in and less exposure to chemicals, I definitely recommend buying a water purification system for your home.
Water filters range in price, depending on your budget and needs. For around £30, you can buy an attachment for your shower head that removes most of the harsh chemicals.
Secondly, keep an eye on the temperature of your water. Water that's too hot can strip the skin of its natural oils and inflame the skin – a real nuisance if you are a lover of hot baths and showers like I am!
Be Careful With the Use of Gloves
For some of us, gloves are a necessity for the workplace. If you are unlucky enough to have an allergy to the gloves themselves, you face a huge challenge. Without them, you are exposing yourself to a multitude of health risks. With them, you are causing yourself an equal amount of harm.
The most common glove allergy is to latex, although nitrile is also problematic for some. Hospitals generally use nitrile gloves these days instead of the traditional latex variety because it is believed to be hypoallergenic.
For the rare few who are allergic to nitrile however, one can experience some pretty severe reactions. According to my occupational health department, you can experience an allergic reaction from latex and nitrile for up to 72 hours after exposure!
Sometimes though, gloves can simply aggravate the symptoms of contact dermatitis. The latter happened to me.
One day I suddenly developed a nasty rash all over my fingers and palms. At first, I thought it was the gloves to blame but as it happens, I was later diagnosed with a new food allergy. Who would have thought that an allergy to dairy could cause a nasty localised rash over my hands? The rash didn't appear anywhere else.
The gloves basically amplified my symptoms because it made my hands hot and sweaty. It wasn't long before it progressed to full blown pompholyx eczema.
I overcame this by cutting out dairy from my diet and wearing cotton glove liners underneath the nitrile ones for several months until all redness and inflammation disappeared. When my skin was completely healthy, I was then able to wear nitrile gloves again, without cotton liners!
If it wasn't for the cotton liners, I don't think I ever would have ever healed my hands.
Healing Balm Recipe
For those of you who have been advised to moisturise the skin with a barrier cream or oil, I have a great recipe for you to try:
1 part beeswax granules
1 part jojoba oil
2 parts almond oil
A few drops organic lavender essential oil. (Can substitute blue chamomile essential oil, tea tree oil, or patchouli oil.)
Neals Yard sells the best essential oils in my opinion (by aromatherapy oils, I mean pure organic oils extracted from plants, not the cheap adulterated kind containing synthetic ingredients and chemicals).
- Melt the beeswax, jojoba, and almond oil together in a double boiler (or bain-marie) until melted completely.
- Remove from heat and wait a moment before adding the essential oil. The reason you don't add the essential oil during the cooking process is because extreme heat denatures the precious oils. If you like your balm to have more fragrance, add more essential oil if necessary.
- Start to stir the mixture to blend all the ingredients together. The aim here is stop the balm from completely setting into a hard block. By continually whipping the mixture as it cools, your balm will develop a lovely thick, mousse-like consistency. If you miss this step, the balm will completely solidify and it will be very hard to get out of the pot. The whole process should take about 5 minutes, depending on the quantity of balm you make. A very small amount of balm will take less time to cool than a big batch.
- Spoon the balm into a clean sterilized container such as a small glass jar. If possible, make sure the glass is dark blue or amber (easily found in aromatherapy shops or online) because it will protect the product from sunlight.
Apply the homemade balm to the skin before bed every night and whenever you get the opportunity during the day. This is incredibly soothing for dry skin. The essential oils help to reduce inflammation and to fight infection.
Please do the sensible thing by patch testing 48 hours prior to use (just to ensure your skin responds well to treatment). If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, I suggest checking with your doctor for recommendations of safe oils to use. Alternatively, you could omit the essential oils completely.
Remember, if you are allergic to latex or nitrile gloves, moisturisers and barrier creams are a bad idea to use until your allergic reaction has subsided. This can take as long as 72 hours.
Try not to pick and scratch your dermatitis since it will only delay the healing process. If you scratch in your sleep, try trimming your nails short and moisturising well before bed.
This should help to keep itching at bay. If moisturising doesn't help, consider changing your moisturiser.
Supporting Your Immune System
Some vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin C and Quercetin actually help reduce the severity of allergic reactions. In fact, eating a healthy and varied diet will give your body the boost it needs to heal quicker, regardless.
For advice on allergies, including tried and tested natural treatments, check out this comprehensive website by Natural Ways: http://www.naturalways.com/allergies.htm
Stress also affects the immune system and the body's natural ability to heal itself. This medical study explains how stress suppresses the immune system and why our skin reacts sympathetically to our emotions. This makes perfect sense to me. When I changed to a more stressful job, my hands were the worst they have ever been.
At the very least, get as much sleep as you can. Insomniacs: You might be interested in this article: http://www.rd.com/health/1-stress-fixes-for-better-sleep/.
Preparing and Consuming Food
Some foods can create negative skin reactions when touched or eaten. If you are allergic to nickel for instance (if cheap jewellery brings you out in a rash), there is a small possibility you might be allergic to foods containing nickel too.
Like with anything, intolerances vary from person to person – this is why you should get allergy tested. Your doctor should be able to do this for you.
My mother had an allergy test which revealed hypersensitivity to citrus fruits, wine, mould and trees! As an avid gardener, she was gutted to say the least. Still, it’s better to know what your body does and doesn’t like. That way you can be conscious of the things you can and cannot touch.
Personally, I find that milk and lemons are my problem foods. Whenever I eat them, I end up with the worst eczema ever . . . my hands blister up and I develop hives all over my chest area. It's weird because my food allergies developed out of the blue.
It wasn't until I went on an intense detox, that I realised I had a food sensitivity all this time. It is a good thing I discovered this when I did because I would still have dreadful skin now! In addition, my severe, long term back acne also cleared up altogether after I eliminated the problem foods from my diet. Bonus!
I also find that acidic foods in general, such as tomatoes, really aggravate my inflamed skin when I handle them. Wearing gloves can help in this instance. Just make sure you are not allergic to the gloves themselves!
Find out what is causing your contact dermatitis and then avoid exposure as much as possible. If you can, remove exposure completely. Choosing different personal hygiene products and detergents is often a good place to start.
As we all know, manufacturers can change their product formulations from time to time so always check the ingredients list for hidden preservatives and nasties. If it’s full of words you can’t pronounce, put the bottle back on the shelf and choose something else.
If you can't figure out the cause of your skin condition, please consult a doctor or skin specialist - they can test you for allergies and sensitivities. Hopefully this will highlight the problem.
My heart goes out to everybody suffering from this miserable skin condition. If any of you have any comments or suggestions, I look forward to hearing from you! Thanks for reading.