Revised: 08/14/2014

Eczema: Chemical Irritants and Natural Skin Care Alternatives by Amber Conway BSN RN


Eczema is a type of hypersensitivity reaction; so in order to control it, you need to identify and avoid all of the irritants and allergens that cause your reactions. As most eczema sufferers know, this is easier said than done. But, a closer examination of your skin care products is a good place to start. 

People with eczema have extremely sensitive skin. A typical reaction occurs sometime after exposure to an irritant or stressor.  In most people, however, it may take hours to days for the reaction to surface. These delayed reactions make it very difficult to identify one's irritants. So, the easiest way is to start by eliminating common ones.

When evaluating skin care ingredients, synthetic chemicals should be your primary focus. Artificial fragrances and parabens are the most common and potentially the most irritating.

Artificial fragrances are used by millions of skin care companies around the world; There is no disputing their propensity to irritate sensitive skin.  Because of this, your doctor has probably recommended  fragrance free skin care products. The use of unscented products is especially important when your skin is broken and inflamed. Once your skin starts to clear, you can try experimenting with naturally scented products. Be sure to use products whose essential oils are isolated (extracted) without the use of chemical solvents. Even the slightest chemical residue can irritate sensitive tissue. Naturally scented skin care products are easily found on our website or at your local health food store. 

Parabens, on the other hand, are a type of petrochemical used to preserve an estimated 75 to 90% of all skin care and cosmetic products in the United States. The term paraben is short for para-hydroxybenzoic acid.  There are five types of widely used parabens; methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and benzylparaben. Sensitivities to parabens, specifically hypersensitivity reactions, have be documented as early as the 1940s. Research suggests that when paraben containing products are applied to broken skin (such as an eczema skin patch), the parabens reach the blood stream without being broken down. This phenomenon dramatically increases a person's likelihood of developing paraben related sensitivities and or contact dermatitis, which only exacerbates their skin condition.

Parabens are also hormone imitators. In 1998 parabens were found to mimic the female sex hormone estrogen. This estrogen activity could be linked to all sorts of hormone imbalances (testosterone issues, male reproductive problems and even breast cancer development). Although the long term effects of parabens are still under investigation, concern is mounting as recent studies have found traces of parabens in breast cancer tissue.  Based on this new research, the U.S. Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel decided to reevaluate the safety of parabens in 2004. Data is still pending.

Until long term side effects can be determined or a governmental agency prohibits paraben use, the skin care industry is in no hurry to eliminate parabens from their product lines. This makes it very difficult for savvy health conscious consumer to find paraben-free skin care products locally. Even the health food stores continue to stock their shelves with paraben preserved "natural" products. 

At Pure Complexions, we make it easy to find safe and natural products because everything in our store is paraben free.

Using unscented all natural (paraben-free) personal care products will reduce exposure to possible irritants and most likely reduce the severity and frequency of eczema outbreaks.

  Once you reduce irritant exposure, treatment is usually targeted at the underlying symptoms like dryness, itching, local inflammation, and high risk of infection.

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