Awareness and Action
Identifying the Chemicals and Toxins Responsible for Chronic Skin Conditions
Originally Posted on the Whole Foods Magazine blog
As someone who suffers from chronic itch, a condition that impacts tens of millions of Americans, I know all too well how harsh chemicals and toxins can worsen this problem. For people already battling eczema, psoriasis, diabetic or arthritic itch, in addition to those (myself included) experiencing seasonal or “winter itch,” there are commonplace chemicals that can further inflame the skin; reddening the arms, shoulders and chest—from a combination of allergic reactions and intense scratching—that ruins any notion of quality of life. Having an all-natural and organic way to relieve these symptoms must be a public health priority. The following three steps serve as a map for immediate action concerning this issue, so people may reclaim their health.
Action Item One: Educate and Empower Yourself
Personal empowerment begins with education. Which is to say, researchers know more about chronic itch than at any point in recent memory. Take the time to contact these experts, or read their studies online. Review the findings from major academic institutions—like the centers at Temple University in Philadelphia, and Washington University in St. Louis—where there is a full-time campaign to uncover the causes and potential cures involving this matter. Call or e-mail these scientists so you can learn more about their discoveries and gather notes about their respective recommendations about how to identify (and thus, avoid) the toxins that trigger chronic itch.
Bottom line: Let the credibility of these studies with the heavily detailed conclusions of each peer-reviewed paper guide your behavior. According to a report from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease:
Itch was once thought to be sensed through the body’s pain pathways, but research over the past few decades has revealed that it uses its own dedicated nerves, molecules and receptors. While itch is ultimately conveyed through nerves to the brain, the most well-understood itch pathway initiates with immune molecules called histamines.
Action Item Two: Do Not Become the Prisoner of Prescriptions
As an “empowered patient,” and in my role as founder of Kiss My Itch Goodbye®, I believe we should not limit ourselves to the use of prescription medications for the treatment of chronic itch. Put a different way, we must not become the prisoners of prescriptions with no options but the continued use of steroid-based drugs. We should, instead, be aware of these facts:
- A prescription is not a panacea. There is no one solution—no pill of absolute purity—to eradicate a variety of skin disorders like eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis and chronic or seasonal itch.
- We must always remind ourselves that we have options; we do not have to proscribe our own health by only using prescription drugs.
- We can, therefore, eliminate the false choice between steroids and no treatment at all.
As the spouse of a chemist, and as someone who understands that there is no single treatment (never mind cure) for the vast majority of illnesses patients face, I think we must should turn our attention to something more practical and readily available: Relief from the very symptoms that ruin quality of life for the young, and derail the longevity of our otherwise active and vibrant seniors.
We need to think in these terms because we can improve lives right now, as opposed to succumbing to the status quo. That amounts to no choice at all, imprisoning people—yes, the literal confinement of innumerable men, women and children—within their own skin.
Still, I have an ethical duty to issue this disclaimer: There are patients who enjoy relief from severe skin conditions, which usually require hospitalization but for a combination of intravenous steroids and biologics. I would never blindly attack treatments—to do so would be an assault against science in general and medicine in particular—and I would never prevent a patient’s recovery. With that caveat having been said, let us talk about a more expansive kind of relief.
Action Item Three: Identify and Avoid the Toxic Chemicals that Aggravate Chronic Itch
Consider this sobering report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that states that more than 13 million workers in the United States have some degree of itch or inflammation because of chemicals that can be absorbed through the skin. These toxic accomplices include:
- Irritating substances like acids, bases, tar, reducing agents, detergents and other compounds.
- Exposure to benzene vapors, resulting in dry, itchy, red skin.
- Perfumes and cosmetics that contain formaldehyde, resulting in dermatitis, chronic itch, rashes and blisters.
- Chlorhexidine, which is used in disinfectants (disinfection of the skin and hands), cosmetics (additive to creams, toothpaste, deodorants, and antiperspirants) and pharmaceutical products (preservative in eye drops, active substance in wound dressings and antiseptic mouthwashes). Side effects associated with this chemical are many, such as burning, itching, numbness, dryness, soreness and dizziness.
This list inspires my emphasis on transparency of ingredients. I believe doctors and nurses—and more specifically, dermatologists—should do likewise about serious (though necessary, given the circumstances) prescription pills, topical creams, injections and/or patches. That “itch” for data is one we should scratch . . . until we get the answers we deserve. Pragmatic and holistic relief should be part of our medical vernacular.
A Reminder: Your Health Is Your Destiny
Remember, there is a surplus of material available for patients with chronic itch. Be an active and inquisitive patient. Ask questions—a lot of them, so you can be healthy.