I’m so excited to bring this interview to you! I chat all things skin with Weleda Australia’s Naturopath Liezel Barnard.
A large proportion of my community have some sort of skin ailment, are you able to talk us through what the main conditions people suffer from and why you think this is?
Most people who suffer from skin ailments have an underlying genetic susceptibility or weakness which has been triggered into disease manifestation by environmental and lifestyle factors. The three skin ailments I get approached about the most are eczema, psoriasis and acne.
A typical western diet with high amounts of sugar and polyunsaturated fatty acids (particularly omega 6), antibiotic exposure during pregnancy and infancy, small family size, urban living and low humidity and sunlight exposure are all contributing factors to eczema. On the other hand, when babies have had exposure to non-pathogenic (harmless) microorganisms from living in rural areas, having older siblings or having pet dogs, their risk of developing eczema decreased. It is thought that a healthy and diverse gut microbiome trains a baby’s immune system to become more tolerant and less allergic.
Psoriasis is another chronic inflammatory skin condition that can be triggered by obesity, smoking, excessive alcohol intake, infections, injury to the skin and severe psychological stress.
The consumption of dairy (natural hormones in dairy), sugar and omega 6 fatty acids all increase the risk of developing acne.
To summarise, it seems that a typical western diet and lifestyle can increase the risk of immune system dysfunction and inflammation in the skin.
What would be the first thing you’d recommend to a parent who notices a patch of eczema popping up on their child’s skin?
Treat the eczema immediately with an anti-inflammatory cream or ointment. Eczema is usually very itchy and your child will want to scratch the eczema which will cause further inflammation and result in more damage to the skin and the skin barrier.
And the second consideration is to establish what has triggered the eczema and then to try and remove or avoid the trigger.
The most common triggers for eczema in children are:
- Dry skin
- Contact with pollen, mould, dust mites or animals
- Viral or bacterial infections
- Temperature changes such as overly heated rooms
- Exposure to water, soap, perfumes, washing detergents or other chemicals
- Swimming in chlorinated swimming pools
- Playing in sand and particularly sandpits
- Sitting directly on carpets or grass
- Woollen or synthetic fabrics
- Psychological stress
- Food allergies
Take note that you don’t have to avoid all the triggers listed, only the triggers that are relevant to your child.
Can you recommend some of your favourite go to Weleda products you would recommend for supporting a child’s skin?
The Weleda White Mallow Body Lotion is one of my favourite products for children because we get such great feedback on it from our customers. We use the gel from the white mallow root (also called marshmallow) which helps to relieve itchy skin. The product also contain plant oils rich in precious fatty acids that will absorb into the deeper skin layers and soften and soothe skin. In addition, we add ingredients that will form a protective layer on top of the skin and slow down moisture evaporation such as beeswax, coconut oil and cacao butter.
The Weleda Skin Food is another go-to product for children with dry and sensitive skin. This a very thick cream, closer to an ointment really. It contains extracts of calendula, chamomile and pansy to help soothe inflammation and strengthen the skin’s natural functions. One of the other key ingredients is hypoallergenic lanolin, which has this wonderful ability to trap moisture in the skin, with long-lasting results.
What would be your top tips for parents to help reduce the risk of their child/children developing over sensitive skin?
Moisturise, moisturise and moisturise!
Protect and maintain your child’s natural oily skin barrier. The skin barrier prevents irritants and allergens from penetrating the skin and causing inflammation in the skin. It also slows down moisture from escaping from the skin thus keeping the skin moist and supple.
A randomised controlled trial have shown a 50% reduction in the risk of developing eczema in high-risk babies (with one parent or sibling having eczema, asthma or hayfever) when their whole bodies were moisturised once a day for the first 6 months of life. (i)
For children who already suffer from dry skin or eczema, it is advisable to moisturise their skin as frequently as possible (2-3 times per day) and always after a shower or bath. Parents often underestimate the amount of moisturiser needed for children with dry or eczema-prone skin. Experts recommend using at least 250g of moisturiser per week on children with eczema! (ii)
Avoid products and activities that will dry out or irritate the skin
Soap and bubble baths damage and dry out the skin, with sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) being one of the main culprits. Use soap-free washes or oils when bathing your child to keep the skin barrier intact. And babies and small children don’t need to be bathed every day as they don’t secrete much sweat or sebum yet. Just wipe their little faces and hands and feet when needed.
I’ve read that you’ve suffered from your own skin issues in the past, do you mind telling us about your own journey?
I have been suffering from blepharitis (inflammation of the eye lids) since I was 16 years old. My eyes are also very dry and sensitive. I visited a quite few eye specialists and tried their suggestions, including washing the eye lids with baby shampoo, taking long-term oral antibiotics and also cortisone eye drops. I experimented with countless herbal and nutritional supplements, herbal eye baths, exclusion diets and homeopathy. My condition started improving about 10 years ago when I weaned myself off cortisone eye drops and I was also taking a double dose of grapeseed extract at the time. These days my eyes seem to be coping well if I stay away from any triggers such as eye make-up, contact lenses and chlorinated and sea water.
I also have acne rosacea and generally a dry and sensitive skin which I manage to keep happy with our beautiful Weleda products.
What’s your thoughts on the connection between eczema and food allergies? And how can diet affect our skin?
Food allergies play a role in about 30% of cases where there is an early and severe onset of eczema in babies, however it has a much smaller role to play in mildly affected babies or older children and adults. Aside from food allergies, what you eat can either encourage inflammatory or anti-inflammatory pathways in your body which will ultimately affect the health of your skin.
We talk increasingly about the need to encourage and maintain good gut flora but can you tell us more about skin flora?
Just like gut flora, everyone’s population of skin flora is unique. The beneficial or harmless microorganisms compete for space on the skin with the more harmful microorganisms, so it’s a good idea to keep the skin flora healthy by not harming them with excessive washing or harsh soaps and chemicals. We also know that eczema sufferers have a less diverse skin microbiome, with a relative abundance of Staphylococcus aureus (golden staph) compared to those with healthy skin.
I’ve read that genetics can play a role in certain skin issues developing, what are your thoughts around this?
Yes, the strongest risk factor for developing eczema is a family history of eczema, asthma or hayfever. The strongest known genetic risk factor is a mutation in the ﬁlaggrin gene which causes a reduced barrier function in the skin making it prone to dryness and hypersensitivity.
Genetics have some role to play in other skin issues such as psoriasis and acne, but not as decisively as compared to eczema.
(i) Simpson EL, Chalmers JR, Hanifin JM, Thomas KS, Cork MJ, McLean WH. Emollient enhancement of the skin barrier from birth offers effective atopic dermatitis prevention. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2014 Oct;134(4):818-23.
(ii) Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA). ASCIA Action Plan for Eczema. 2013.
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