By: Steve Nelson
n the midst of an itchy eczema flare, it’s easy to overlook the more chronic effects of this skin disease when all you want to do is to stop scratching. Still, the long-term effects of eczema pose unique challenges for people who live with the disease for an extended period of time. The skin barrier can become damaged and eventually show signs of damage because of extended periods of dryness and inflammation. To combat how eczema can accelerate our skin’s aging process, we connected with two medical experts to identify three anti-aging hacks to consider incorporating into your eczema care routine.
#1 Manage your microbiome with a well-balanced diet
Watching your diet closely might sound like a no brainer, but once you get under the microscope of what we put into our bodies the story gets much more complex. Our bodies are comprised of billions of microbes that contribute to the strength of our skin barrier; this living system of microorganisms inside our bodies and on the surface of our skin is called the microbiome.
“The skin microbiome can contribute to the process of aging in eczema patients,” said Dr. Gil Yosipovitch, board-certified dermatologist who teaches in the Miller School of Medicine at Miami University. “An increasing body of research has examined the roles of fatty acids, vitamins and probiotic supplementation as adjunctive treatment for atopic dermatitis.”
That’s good news for people with eczema looking to better manage the chronic effects of their flare-ups. Dr. Yosipovitch added that “the results are conflicting still, but overall probiotic supplementation could help the aging process.”
The natural way to increase your body’s supply of probiotics, or “good bacteria,” is to be sure you’re eating enough prebiotic food, or food that helps grow the “good bacteria” your body uses to fight harmful bacteria like Staphyloccocus aureus. Prebiotics are widely found in foods like asparagus, bananas, berries, leeks, legumes, nuts and seeds, oats, soy beans, spinach and whole wheat. Consider incorporating more of the above items in your daily diet to ensure that you’re getting the recommended five grams of prebiotics per day for optimal gut health.
#2: Protect your skin from the sun (no matter what, no matter where)
There’s nothing quite like the sun to bring out all those early wrinkles in our skin. Add eczema into the mix, and preventative care gets even more complicated. Susan Tofte, RN, practices in the dermatology department at Oregon Health and Science University and counseled caution in the search for any anti-aging hacks.
“The number one thing I tell everyone is to use sun protection,” she said. There’s no real secret to this, she added: “The sun can damage the skin over time and eventually the sun will accentuate wrinkles and brown spots.”
Because sunscreen comes with its own series of challenges and potential allergens, be sure to choose a sunscreen that uses either titanium oxide or zinc oxide as a base; avoid fragrances, any aerosolized options and any sunscreen that include oxybenzones or avobenzones. Keep in mind that reapplication of sunscreen is critical, at least every hour or so. Consider the NEA Product Directory as a repository of eczema-friendly sunscreen options. “Always use sunscreen,” said Susan. “That’s what I tell everyone.”
#3: Minimize your alcohol intake
For people looking to manage the chronic effects of their eczema, in particular how eczema can accelerate the aging process, alcohol isn’t doing anyone any favors.
“Excessive intake of alcohol isn’t good for any of our body’s organs,” Tofte said. “Including our skin.” Alcohol can accelerate many of our skin’s natural aging processes, particularly how it dehydrates our skin and robs our body of minerals needed for cellular maintenance, such as thiamin, vitamin B12, folic acid and zinc.
Recent studies have explored the associations between alcohol and many skin diseases, such as rosacea, acne, psoriasis and discoid eczema (also known as nummular eczema). In short, alcohol does not help anyone’s skin, and, in the worst case scenario, it can exacerbate the aging process in many different severe ways.
Should people with eczema consider eliminating alcohol completely? Not necessarily. Tofte said: “Everything in moderation is a good mantra to follow.” Consider alternating glasses of wine with glasses of water to stay hydrated. Keep in mind, too, that eczema is a chronic disease, so it’s less the harm of an individual unit of alcohol, and more the importance of a long-term skincare routine to identify potential triggers and minimize them over the course of many decades.
Bonus tip: sleep
They call it “beauty rest” for a reason. When we sleep, our bodies increase blood flow to our skin, allowing it to regenerate and rebuild itself. In a 2015 study published in Clinical & Experimental Dermatology, researchers determined that chronic poor sleep quality was associated with “increased signs of intrinsic aging, diminished skin barrier function and lower satisfaction with appearance.” For expert advice on how to get a good night sleep, check out our Ask the Ecz-Perts article on sleep, and let us know of any other anti-aging hacks you’ve discovered through your own research at Editor@NationalEczema.org.