Are people with eczema just too thin-skinned?

Several recent studies have suggested that defects in the skin barrier may be as important in the development of eczema and psoriasis as environmental irritants, or as the allergens which cause a hyperactive immune response.

In fact, in one study, 66% of children who had mild to moderate eczema did not have any raised antibodies in their blood - an indication that no allergic reaction was taking place.

The key factor, it now appears, is the structure of the skin barrier and the integrity of the skin cells' lipids and binders. It is also becoming clear that people who are prone to eczema tend to have a much thinner skin barrier than people with normal skin, even before they develop obvious eczema lesions.

The structure of the skin and the way in which it behaves are determined by genetic factors which can affect all normal functions of the skin, such as the shedding of dead skin and its replacement by new skin.

People with defective genes may shed skin cells much faster than they should, resulting in a thinner skin barrier. Other people may have an over-production of skin cells, which can prevent wounds from healing and can trigger an ongoing inflammatory reaction.

Once tiny cracks occur in the skin barrier, from whatever cause, the way is open for environmental irritants to gain access and for allergens to trigger an immune response.

These new findings confirm the importance of treating eczema much earlier, rather than waiting for flare-ups to occur, and suggest new directions for treatment aimed less at suppressing the immune response and more towards encouraging the normal growth and maturation of skin cells and enhancing the skin barrier.

February 2007

Click here for more research on eczema

For LINKS to freefrom skin care products click here.