Allergic Contact Dermatitis in Children (I) – Q&A with Dr Steve Xu

Eczema is a skin condition with many parts to the puzzle – it is linked to hereditary skin condition, allergens (food, inhaled, contact and airborne), environmental factors (heat, humidity), bacteria colonization on skin (and how gut microbiome may affect allergic conditions), lifestyle factors (stress, hormonal change) and also suspected to be linked with diet/ water. Very often we may think of what we have eaten, rather than what we have applied on our skin. A moisturizer or topical prescription tend not to fall under our usual ‘list of suspects’ when we try to figure out what’s triggering the eczema.

This 2-part blog series aim to bring greater awareness of contact allergens, and how some of these may be the ingredients in your skincare products. Especially for pediatric patients, we have to be even more careful because:

  1. Babies’ skin barrier is thinner than that of an adult- making it extra vulnerable to chemical irritants (also greater transepidermal water loss and therefore, moisturizing is important)
  2. Increasing research showing that a strong skin barrier has protective effect against eczema, and reduce likelihood of food sensitization
  3. Babies have a larger surface area to volume ratio, therefore potentially the risk associated with chemical absorption is higher
Contact allergens is of particular importance to pediatric patients

Contact allergens is of particular importance to pediatric patients

I’m privileged to have dermatologist Steve Xu, MD MSc to help with this series. Dr Steve is currently a 2nd year dermatology resident at McGaw Medical Center of Northwestern University. He earned his MD from Harvard as a Soros Fellow, and a Masters in Health Policy and Finance from The London School of Economics as a Marshall Scholar. He completed a BS in bioengineering at Rice University. For his academic interests, Steve is focused on consumer education and the intersection between health policy and clinical medicine. His publications have appeared in The New England Journal of Medicine, and PLOS Medicine garnering broad press attention from sources such as CNN, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times. Dr Steve has created a web resource for patients with eczema and contact dermatitis at itchyrash.org. See also Dr Steve’s publications at the end of this post.

Dermatologist Dr Steve Xu MD

Dr Steve Xu MD, MSc

Allergic Contact Dermatitis – What is it?

MarcieMom: Contact dermatitis refer to skin rash that is triggered by contact with an allergen/ irritant. If the immune response is that related to IgE, it would be allergic contact dermatitis; conversely, if the response is due to overtime exposure to the irritant (leading the skin to develop delayed-type hypersensitivity), it is irritant contact dermatitis. 

The thing is a child can have all the different types of dermatitis – atopic, allergic contact and irritant contact.

MarcieMom: Dr Steve, thank you for joining me for this series. The different terms can get very confusing for parents of eczema children. How would you explain the different types of dermatitis to a patient?

Dr Steve Xu:  Right now even within the scientific community, there’s a big debate on what exactly we should call ‘eczema’. At our institution (Northwestern University), this is how we break it down.

The term ‘eczema’ itself actually describes how a certain rash looks.  Atopic dermatitis, allergic contact dermatitis, and irritant contact dermatitis all can cause an ‘eczema’ rash that looks exactly the same. Eczema used as a standalone term isn’t really specific.

For classic childhood ‘eczema’, we refer to this as atopic dermatitis. Allergic and irritant contact dermatitis is defined as a condition where an external agent leads to an eczematous rash. We define the difference between allergic and contact dermatitis here. Basically, an allergic contact dermatitis is defined by an immune-mediated response to an external agent applied to the skin. These reactions typically require only a very small amount of the agent to lead to a rash. Irritant contact dermatitis is not immune related but leads to an indistinguishable eczematous reaction. Typically, more of an external agent must be applied to cause a rash in irritant contact dermatitis.

MarcieMom: In practical terms, is diagnosing the type of dermatitis important? Or knowing the triggers are adequate for management of eczema?

Dr Steve Xu: Yes, definitely. An irritant contact dermatitis usually requires more of the external agent to cause a rash. This is practically important because if you only have an irritant contact dermatitis you may be able to tolerate products that are wash off or rinse off. If you have an allergic contact dermatitis, then we recommend avoidance altogether. Even a little exposure can cause a miserable rash.

Prevalence of Allergic Contact Dermatitis

There is increasing evidence that allergic contact dermatitis is underreported in children and while traditionally thought as unlikely for children, contact dermatitis is becoming more common.

MarcieMom: In the article1, the top ten pediatric allergens found in personal hygiene products are listed (with the first as having most percentage of children being hypersensitive to it):

  1. Neomycin – topical antibiotic, another contact allergen is over-the-counter antibiotic Bacitracin
  2. Balsam of Peru – also known as Myroxylon pereirae, chemically related to fragrance and thus used to screen for fragrance allergy
  3. Fragrance mix – Of the flowering plants, the Comositae family is the most likely to cause skin sensitization, such as chamomile, dandelion and ragweed; also cross-reactive with propolis (beeswax)
  4. Benzalkonium chloride – ammonium compound used as preservative, including in disinfecting wipes and eye drops
  5. Lanolin – natural oil from sebum of wool-bearing animals
  6. Cocamidopropyl betaine (CAPB) – used as a surfactant
  7. Formaldehyde – preservative, also associated with quaternium 15, imidazolindinyl urea (most common), diazolidinyl urea, bronopol, dimethyl-dimethyl hydantoin (this can get very tricky to memorize, readers can refer to this table created by dermapathologist in a previous interview)
  8. Methylchlorsothiazolinone (MCI)/ Methylisothiazolinone (MI) – likely to be in bubble baths, soaps, cosmetic products, and baby wipes
  9. Propylene glycol – previously common in moisturizers (but many brands stopped including propylene glycol: it has humectant properties and also an emulsifier) and topical steroids
  10. Corticosteroids – when using steroid creams, we have to be aware of its potency, but we may now have to know its likelihood of being contact allergen (we will discuss this next week)
Top 10 Pediatric Contact Allergens in Personal Hygiene Products

Top 10 Pediatric Contact Allergens in Personal Hygiene Products

Other than the above 10, the other well-known contact allergens are cetylstearyl alcohol, sodium lauryl sulphate, pehnoxyethanol, parabens, TEA (triethanolamine) and vitamin E.

Nickel and cobalt are also common contact allergens but less likely that children will come into contact with them.

MarcieMom: It is interesting to note that the above can be found in personal care products, even in those marketed for children. I’m wondering if there is an increase in sensitization in personal hygiene/ skincare products? If so, why? (for instance, is it the increased use of products? Or increased awareness/ patch testing/ consultation)

Dr Steve Xu: The prevalence of contact dermatitis has remained stable overall but certain chemicals are representing a larger share of problems. This is related to industry trends. For example, as formaldehyde was phased out over the past 20 years in personal care products, we’ve seen a growing use of methylisothiazolinone as a preservative. It’s unsurprising that methylisothiazolinone contact allergy is rising rapidly.

Pediatric dermatologists have really worked hard to raise awareness among pediatricians and allergists about contact dermatitis in kids with atopic dermatitis. More than half of kids with atopic dermatitis will have a relevant positive patch test. In general, we’re arguing that kids with atopic dermatitis should be patch tested more and tested for food allergies less

Parents need to know that just because a product is labeled “For babies” or “Safe for kids”, it doesn’t mean it’s any different than what products are sold for adults. These are just marketing claims. Statements like “sensitive skin safe” ororganicalso aren’t regulated. Even carefully reading the labels may not be completely fool-proof. Often times, manufacturers do not have to be specific about which fragrance they are using (different fragrances can cause contact dermatitis).

MarcieMom: Practically, this feels like being caught between a rock and a hard place. The baby’s skin loses more moisture, has less lipids and for babies with dry skin, even more so we have to moisturize. Now, we know the common contact allergens to avoid and of course, should take the effort to read the product label and make sure we’re not putting something on our babies with these allergens. YET, the more we put something on our babies, the more likely the skin can become sensitized to it overtime! (for instance, lanolin, CAPB weren’t previously contact allergens)

MarcieMom: Is there a strategy to moisturizing to reduce likelihood of contact dermatitis? For instance, rotating skincare products which one expert has previously mentioned.

Dr Steve Xu: We often have patients come into our clinic with classic allergic contact dermatitis and exclaim: “I haven’t changed my products in years!”. In truth, this is exactly how a contact allergy develops. It’s true that small, continued exposures over time train your immune system to develop an allergy.

Interview with dermatologist Dr Steve Xu, MD

Interview with dermatologist Dr Steve Xu, MD

With that being said and to the best of my knowledge, there are no well-designed clinical studies showing that rotating skincare products reduces the risk of future allergic contact dermatitis. I’m hesitant to recommend this strategy.

Here’s some practical advice to perhaps help answer this question. Let’s say you have a child with atopic dermatitis and it’s fairly well controlled. Over the course of a period of time, let’s say the atopic dermatitis has taken a turn for the worst and is not getting better with optimal therapy. Or, let’s say that that the atopic dermatitis is appearing in areas it never has before (e.g. belly button, waistband, wrist). Then, this is a time to consider whether there is a simultaneous allergic or irritant contact dermatitis. Patch testing would be recommended.

If there is a relevant positive patch test, than this is the time to follow a safe list. Severely limiting what skincare products or household products can be used in the absence of a patch-test proven allergen may be overkill.

MarcieMom: Thank you Dr Steve for helping us to understand more about contact dermatitis; for me, I’ve learnt that there is practical benefit of knowing the type of dermatitis one is suffering from, and being mindful of the possible development of contact dermatitis for an eczema child. Look forward to next week where we will discuss more about skincare product, prevalence of contact dermatitis in kids and corticosteroids.

References:

  1. Hannah Hill, Alina Goldenberg, Linda Golkar, Kristyn Beck, Judith Williams & Sharon E. Jacob (2016): Pre-Emptive Avoidance Strategy (P.E.A.S.) – addressing allergic contact dermatitis in pediatric populations, Expert Review of Clinical Immunology, DOI: 10.1586/1744666X.2016.1142373

For some of Dr Steve’s publications, see below:

  1. Xu S, Walter JR and Bhatia A. Online Reported User Satisfaction with Laser and Light Treatments: Need for Caution. Dermatologic Surgery. Published online September 9th, 2016. DOI: 10.1097/DSS.0000000000000862.
  2. Xu S, Kwa M, Agarwal A, Rademaker A, and Kundu RV. Sunscreen Product Performance and Other Determinants of Consumer Preference. JAMA Dermatology. 2016. 152(8):920-927.
  3. Walter JR and Xu S. Therapeutic Transdermal Drug Innovation from 2000-2014: Current Status and Future Outlook. 2015. Drug Discovery Today. 2015. 20(11):1293-1299.
  4. Walter JR and Xu S. Topical Drug Innovation from 2000 through 2014. JAMA Dermatology. 2015. 151(7):792-794.
  5. Xu S, Heller M, Wu PA and Nambudiri VE. Chemical Burn Caused by Topical Application of Garlic Under Occlusion. Dermatology Online Journal. 2014. 20(1). URL: https://escholarship.org/uc/item/88v527wg.

Topical Corticosteroid Withdrawal – Q&A with Prof Hugo

In March 2015, the National Eczema Association (NEA, in US) published a study on steroid addiction in patients with atopic dermatitis. This was by members of its task force, who looked into the evidence regarding steroid withdrawal as many eczema sufferers were asking about the steroid addiction syndrome, along with many cautioning and enquiring on this online and over social media. The use of steroid creams remains a common treatment option, and the phobia of steroids has also stopped eczema sufferers, including children, from receiving treatment. The questions we are exploring with Professor Hugo centered on:

  1. What is steroid addiction?
  2. What is steroid withdrawal and its symptoms?
  3. Is steroid addiction/ withdrawal common?
  4. What are the treatment options for eczema?

Professor Hugo is no stranger to this blog – He has previously helped in Friday Doctor Q&A in 2012 and is my co-author for our book “Living with Eczema – Mom Asks, Doc Answers”. Professor Hugo van Bever is the Professor in Paediatrics (MD, PhD) at the National University Singapore, and also the Senior Consultant in its Division of Paediatric Allergy, Immunology & Rheumatology.

The questions are loosely structured based on the paper published by the National Eczema Association, to address the above questions that are surely on the minds of many parents with eczema children.

Topical corticosteroid withdrawal

What is Steroid Addiction?

MarcieMom: Steroid addiction is used broadly to refer to eczema sufferers whose skin are “addicted” to the topical corticosteroids, and therefore, when they stop applying the steroid creams, they experience steroid withdrawal and its adverse symptoms.

MarcieMom: I looked up the meaning of addiction online and found a broader definition by MedicineNet.com that defines addiction as

“An uncontrollable craving, seeking, and use of a substance such as alcohol or another drug. Dependence is such an issue with addiction that stopping is very difficult and causes severe physical and mental reactions.”

Medical definitions of addiction linked addiction to a brain disease, rather than a skin disease. Is it even possible for the skin to crave topical corticosteroids and be dependent on it to the extent that stopping is difficult?

Professor Hugo: I disagree with the word “addiction”, as the situation here doesn’t refer to a mental state (addiction always refers to a mental state). As for the possibility of the skin being addicted, the answer is NO!

To me, it is more a “bad habit” of using topical corticosteroids (TCS), mainly because of wrong expectations of this treatment. When used inappropriately (such as too long, too high, too frequent, or too strong), every medication (even a simple anti-fever medication) can cause side effects or unwanted (unexpected) effects. That’s why it doesn’t surprise me that inappropriate usage of TCS can cause withdrawal effects or, at least, unexpected side effects – I strongly doubt the existence of a withdrawal syndrome (especially when there are no specific biopsy features).

What is Steroid Withdrawal and its Symptoms?

MarcieMom: From Dermnetz, topical corticosteroid withdrawal refers to:

(1)   A rash that has appeared within days to weeks of discontinuing topical corticosteroid that has been used for many months. This flare may be worse than the pre-treatment rash. Before stopping the topical corticosteroid, the skin is typically normal or near-normal, although localised itch, ‘resistant’ patches of eczema or prurigo-like nodules may be present; and

(2)   The rash must be only where the topical corticosteroid was being applied, at least initially, although it can later spread more widely.

From the review article by NEA, there are two types of rash:

(1)   Eythematoedematous type – meaning redness (thus topical steroid withdrawal is also referred to as the Red Skin Syndrome), typically found in patients with an underlying eczema-like skin condition like atopic or seborrheic dermatitis; or

(2)   Papulopustular type – meaning with bumps and pimples, typically found in patients who used topical corticosteroids for cosmetic purpose like acne or pigment.

The withdrawal symptoms include:

  1. Burning and stinging
  2. Erythema (redness)
  3. Mostly on the face and genital area of women
  4. Exacerbation with heat or sun
  5. Pruritus (itch)
  6. Pain
  7. Facial hot flashes

Both types of rash primarily affect the face of adult females and are mostly associated with inappropriately using mid- to high-potency topical corticosteroids daily for more than 12 months.

MarcieMom: First of all, it is important to understand what a review article is. It is not a controlled trial, meaning there are no two groups of people that are given different treatments and thereafter the results are evaluated. Instead, it systematically reviews other studies. The limitation of the study is that the quality of evidence in regard to topical corticosteroid withdrawal in the studies reviewed were very low.

MarcieMom: Is there a way to study topical steroid withdrawal definitively?

Professor Hugo: The article is a collection of case reports, and not a study. There are no studies on the subject. Therefore, the quality of the science behind this is very low. It is a misuse of TCS, and you cannot ask patients (is not ethical) to misuse a treatment in order to prove side effects. Better is to look for its existence in patients who didn’t misuse TCS, but I assume the prevalence will be close to zero.

MarcieMom: It is also briefly discussed in the review article that the signs and symptoms of atopic dermatitis may be confused with that of steroid withdrawal. It is suggested in the review article that if:

(1) Burning is the prominent symptom, and

(2) Confluent erythema (meaning continuous red patches) occurs within days to weeks after stopping topical corticosteroids, with

(3) History of frequent, prolonged topical corticosteroid use on the face or genital region, then the symptoms are more likely to be from topical steroid withdrawal (rather than other forms of dermatitis).

MarcieMom: How do we know if the rash is caused by steroid withdrawal and not something else? Would you contact patch testing for contact allergens?

Professor Hugo: The so-called withdrawal syndrome (as a consequence of misusage of TCS) is mainly made-up by a re-occurrence of eczema lesions, as shown by looking at the results of the biopsy studies: the withdrawal syndrome has no specific biopsy features, but mainly features of eczema. Therefore, I am not sure whether the withdrawal syndrome is a separate entity, or whether it is mainly an expression of re-occurrence of eczema. Indeed, I strongly doubt of its existence.

I think the withdrawal syndrome is NOT a new syndrome, but merely a flare-up of eczema on an altered skin (because of the long-term usage of TCS).

It is not a new syndrome because:

  1. It has no specific clinical features (all manifestations might be manifestations of a re-occurring eczema)
  2. It has no biological marker (blood)
  3. It has no solid underlying mechanism – hypothesis
  4. Biopsy finding are similar of findings in eczema (no specific biopsy)

It is merely a re-manifestation eczema, but on an altered skin, because of the long-term usage (misusage) of TCS.

  1. Alterations of the skin can be summarized as following:
  2. A thinner epidermis (as a consequence of misuse of TCS)
  3. Higher Staphylococcus aureus colonization, as TCS do not affect Staph colonization – this explains the papular / pustular (infected) features of the lesions
  4. A concomitant contact dermatitis (to TCS or other substances)

Contact dermatitis is a possibility, but is not common in children (more in adults), especially after years of usage of creams.

Is Steroid Addiction/ Withdrawal common?

In the review article, there were various factors that contributed to topical corticosteroid withdrawal, namely:

  1. Mid or high potency use of topical corticosteroids
  2. Daily use of topical corticosteroids (only one out of the 34 studies recorded frequency)
  3. Duration of use longer than a year

From the studies reviewed, only 7.1% of the cases reported (in these studies) were of patients 18 years and younger. Only 0.3% were for children younger than 3 years.

MarcieMom: The general guideline in topical corticosteroid use for children is using a mild to (no higher than) mid potency, no more than twice a day, for a two week period. Professor Hugo, do you think that it is likely that children will suffer from topical steroid withdrawal even with the right use of prescribed steroid cream?

Professor Hugo: Patients should know that eczema (or atopic dermatitis) is a non-curable disease and that no doctor in the world can cure eczema today (perhaps in the future a cure will be found, mainly through immunomodulatory treatments, but not for the moment i.e. at the time of this interview in September 2016).

TCS are effective in controlling inflammation of the skin, and are, therefore, a part of the therapeutic approach to eczema. However: 1) TCS are ONLY (!) part of the treatment, which constitutes of offering a holistic package to the patient (focused on life style, and on usage of other treatments), and 2) once TSC are stopped the lesions will re-occur, as TCS do not cure, but only control inflammation, and 3) the rule is to use mild TCS (according to age and severity of the patches), in combination with antiseptics (TCS on a clean eczema patch) and NEVER more than 2 x day.

The main observation here is that this withdrawal effect is not caused by the TCS on itself, but by the inappropriate usage (i.e. misusage, leading to over-usage) of it. The unwanted effect was mainly seen in adult women (in more than 90%) who were using their TCS as if it was a kind of moisturizer. In other words, every time they felt a little itch or saw a little flare-up they put their TSC on it, many times per day, and during long periods (in 85.2% for more than 1 year).

The main point here is that TCS were misused, mainly because patients had wrong expectations of TCS, which I assumed is due to lack of correct information on eczema and on the role of TCS in its treatment. Who is to blame? I guess, both the doctor and the patient, and, for sure, the wrong doctor-patient relationship and wrong communication. Correct information on eczema and on the role of TCS is pivotal.

When TCS are used appropriately, as part of the holistic treatment of eczema, and according to correct expectations, it is extremely unlikely that a withdrawal syndrome will occur. I even dare to state that it is even (almost) impossible. However, I recommend close monitoring of all children with eczema, with appropriate individualization of treatment, focused on offering a treatment package in which TCS have a role, but only as a controller of acute inflammation, and with strict rules on their usage.

What are the treatment options for eczema?

MarcieMom: There are many brands and types of topical corticosteroid creams available, with varying potency and with different chemicals, and functions (for instance, with the added ingredients to reduce bacteria or fungus). Often, there is a trial and error process to see if a certain prescription cream works.

MarcieMom: How would a patient know if the steroid cream is not working for his rash? Is there a safe period of trial before stopping?

Professor Hugo: TCS are only PART of the treatment, and usually have a fast effect on acute inflammation (1 – 3 days). For each patient the optimal TCS needs to be selected (based on severity and age) and needs to fit into the whole package of treatment.

MarcieMom: There are many other eczema therapeutics that can be used alongside topical corticosteroids or in place of topical corticosteroids, for instance:

  1. Moisturizing – with a quality emollient that does not contain major irritants and have humectant properties and lipids to help with skin lipid deficiency
  2. Bathing – Basic good bathing routine like no hot water, no soap, no longer than ten minute, pat dry and not rub dry AND moisturizing immediately after
  3. Wet wrap or dry wrap
  4. Ways to reduce staph bacteria, such as swimming, using diluted zinc sulphate or chlorhexidine gluconate
  5. Non-steroidal prescriptions like topical calcineurin inhibitors
  6. Antihistamines (non-conclusive research)

MarcieMom: I’m a believer that one ought to diligently practice good bathing and moisturizing regime, reduce staph bacteria colonization, along with healthy lifestyle (non-inflammatory diet and exercise). However, I find that sometimes we tend to discuss topical corticosteroids exclusively, i.e. use topical corticosteroids or (do something else). What are your top 3 eczema therapeutics in your practice and how effective has these reduce the use of topical corticosteroids in your young patients?

Professor Hugo: My top 3 are: allergen avoidance (airborne food, house dust mites  – which is an outdoor life style) – usage of antiseptics (swimming – baby spa) and extensive usage of moisturizers have important additional effects and are therefore TCS-sparing.

MarcieMom: In summary, topical corticosteroid withdrawal is increasingly acknowledged by the dermatological community as evident by NEA taking the step to conduct a systematic review. However, we have seen that it is not easy to diagnose topical steroid withdrawal, and at the same time, removing topical corticosteroids completely as one of the eczema therapeutics may make it harder to treat the eczema/ skin inflammation. It is therefore important to recognize both the dangers of steroid misuse and underuse. Physicians should adopt an open attitude when hearing about patients’ steroid fears as totally ignoring steroid phobia would possibly alienate patients and without trust, it is making controlling eczema an uphill battle.

Eczema Blues Google Collections

For the past 6 months, I’ve been receiving emails on where to find certain information and this prompted me to create Google Collections for your ease of reference, under my Google Plus Profile

A graphical way to search for eczema related posts on Eczema Blues

A graphical way to search for posts on Eczema Blues

You can continue to find information on this blog, using

  1. Search button on the right top
  2. Topics under menu bar drop-down list at Eczema Tips
  3. Interview series with Featured Guests
  4. Categories on right side column
  5. Tagged words on right side column

Hope that this eczema blog continues to be of help to you and make your life with eczema better!

New Sail for Marcie’s Family

Dear Mommies, Daddies and Friends of this Blog,

MarcieMom EczemaBlues

This is the time I waved goodbye to you (at least for 2016) as I’ve decided to stop updating this blog with 3 posts a week. There are 859 posts on this blog for the past 5 years, with the first blog post in January 2011. Marcie (my daughter with eczema from 2 weeks old) has just started Primary 1 this year and it is very stressful to continue with the blogging commitments while helping her with school. I also feel that this year is a year of change for me and nothing can change if all my free time is used to update this blog.

This blog has comprehensive information you need to care for your child with eczema, and use the (i) search box, (ii) categories on the right side bar and also the (iii) drop down list under Eczema Tips in the menu bar to find the eczema information you need. It has come to the point when my blog has so much information that there’s little value-add I can provide by committing to a 3 blog posts/week – trying to squeeze knowledge into this blog for the sake of fulfilling blogging commitments won’t be helpful to you.

I’m not sure if I will blog in 2016, nor the plans for 2017 onward. This is a blog I believe is a blessing from God, often he brings expert guests to me and help me be able to complete the blog posts. As and when I’m called to add more to this blog, I’d do so.

For now, thank you to all of you who read this blog, to all of you who commented and emailed me, to all the GPs and dermatologists who recommended this blog to parents, to all the experts and friends who helped out and are a part of this blog, thank you for this 5-year journey with me.

Surfactant Skincare Series – Impact on Eczema Skin

This week, we’re looking at the research surrounding Surfactants on Atopic Dermatitis. First a recap of eczema skin and its ‘compromised’ characteristics that warrant special care during skin cleansing.

The defective skin barrier in atopic dermatitis makes it:

–    Increased skin permeability

–    Increased transepidermal water loss

–    Increased bacterial colonization

–    Reduced antimicrobial peptides (AMP) expression, possibly resulting in higher incidences of infection

–    Elevated skin pH

The above makes eczema skin more prone to irritants and more vulnerable to the ‘harsh’ effects of surfactants, discussed last week:

  • Alkalization –  Elevated skin pH has the impact of (i) reducing skin lipids (ii) allows for growth of harmful bacteria like staph bacteria and (iii) increases transepidermal water loss (TEWL)
  • Damage to Skin Lipids
  • Damage to Skin Cells
  • Toxic to Skin Cells
  • Irritation to Skin

Research on Surfactant Impacts on Eczema Skin

Much of the research focuses on certain surfactant ingredients, as below:

A defective skin barrier requires careful selection of cleansing product

A defective skin barrier requires careful selection of cleansing product

(I) Chlorhexidine Gluconate is the antiseptic for use on eczema skin as it causes the least atopic dermatitis skin lesions.

This is from a study examining the Effect of Hand Antiseptic Agents Benzalkonium Chloride, Povidone-Iodine, Ethanol, and Chlorhexidine Gluconate on Atopic Dermatitis in NC/Nga Mice. The four common antiseptic agents in hand sanitizers are:

Benzalkonium Chloride (BZK): A Cationic detergent with strong antiseptic activity, more gentle than that of ethanol-based BUT with reported contact dermatitis cases

Povidone-iodine (PVP-I) – Commonly use in mouthwash and in disinfection before surgery, low toxicity in humans BUT with reported contact dermatitis cases

Ethanol (Et-OH) – Broad antibacterial and antiviral spectrum BUT result in rough hands because of its strong defatting effect on the skin

Chlorhexidine gluconate (CHG)Broad antibacterial spectrum AND with low incidences of contact dermatitis

(II) Reduce the use of Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS)

In a study involving twenty volunteers with atopic dermatitis, it was found that repeated exposure to sodium lauryl sulphate and sodium hydroxide lead to a more pronounced impairment of the skin barrier function and significant transepidermal water loss.

SLS is a known skin irritant that damages the lipid barrier, causing inflammation and detachment of the skin layers (denaturation discussed last week).

(III) Reduce Cocamidopropyl Betaine (CAPB)

In another study involving 1674 patients, atopic dermatitis was associated with contact hypersensitivity to cocamidopropyl betaine (CAPB), but not to cocamide diethanolamide DEA or amidoamine. CAPB is an amphoteric surfactant, that is considered milder than SLS and a very common surfactant in many products. However, CAPB is cytotoxic, i.e. toxic to skin cells.

(IV) The Use of Hydrophobically modified polymers (HMPs)

The recent studies on surfactants are in agreement that for patients with skin conditions, a gentle liquid cleanser containing HMPs are more appropriate. Addition of cationic polymers to skin cleansers can further protect the skin and improve moisturization. To further improve cleanser mildness, adding hydrophobically modified polymers (HMPs) to cleansers make it less irritating to the skin. This is due to the formation of larger micelle of the surfactant, i.e. the larger the less likely to penetrate and remove skin lipids.

Above is similar to the care to note when cleansing baby skin, as well as what to use/ avoid to limit the harmful effects of surfactants on skin discussed in the previous two weeks. For all the posts in this Surfactant Skincare Series, see:

  1. Surfactants and Functions
  2. Cleansing Baby Skin
  3. Impact on Skin

References

Word Search for Eczema Kids – Things Bad for Skin

Learn about what is bad for our skin and build awareness with your eczema child to avoid these ingredients/ actions

Learn about what is bad for our skin and build awareness with your eczema child to avoid these ingredients/ actions

Print out the pdf and go through with your child what’s bad for eczema skin! Type in the word into the search box in this blog and read through the posts to learn more.

Surfactant Skincare Series – Impact on Skin

This month, we’re looking at surfactants – the chemical agents in cleansing products. It is important because while surfactants play an important cleansing function, they also potentially cause skin irritation. Last two weeks, we have understood:

  1. Different groups of surfactants and their functions – Anionic, Cationic, Amphoteric and Non-ionic surfactants
  2. What to Look out for when Cleansing Baby Skin – Discussion on the use of liquid cleanser being preferable to water, and what to look out for in the choice of liquid cleanser

Today, we’re looking more in-depth into how surfactants interact with skin and the potential harm to our skin.

Surfactants, while cleanse and remove oil soluble dirt/sebum, also potentially damage skin cells and lipids

Surfactants, while cleanse and remove oil soluble dirt/sebum, also potentially damage skin cells and lipids

Alkalization – The traditional soap is alkaline in nature (pH of 9 and above) and the alkalinity will increase the skin pH (which is of pH 4.6 to 5.6). Modifying the skin pH to more alkaline than it is supposed to be has the impact of (i) reducing skin lipids, including ceramides (ii) allows for growth of harmful bacteria like staph bacteria that thrives in a more alkaline environment and (iii) increases transepidermal water loss (TEWL). Alkaline soap is able to dissolve both fat and water-soluble components of skin. Synthetic cleansers are of varying pH and able to modify the pH of the cleansing product.

Damage to Skin Lipids – Surfactants are able to clean dirt and sebum that are oil-soluble. However, this property also means that surfactants may inadvertently solubilize the skin natural lipid membranes (ceramides). Stronger anionic surfactants like Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) enhances penetration into the skin and able to affect the deeper skin cells (skin lipids).

Damage to Skin Cells – During washing, the surfactants interact with the skin cells and collagen fibers and cause temporarily swelling and hyper-hydration. Once the water evaporates, there is destruction of the skin protein structures (known as denaturation) and leads to skin dryness, roughness, tightness and scaling. This is an adverse effect of anionic surfactant.

Toxic to Skin Cells – Known as cytotoxicity, surfactants can permeate skin cells and cause irreparable alteration. Certain surfactants such as benzalkonium chloride and cocamidopropyl betaine (CAPB) are known to be more cytotoxic than SLS.  CAPB is an amphoteric surfactant, a group of surfactant less irritating than anionic surfactant (SLS belongs to anionic group) but nonetheless can be cytotoxic. CAPB is also associated with allergic contact dermatitis.

Irritation to Skin – This is related to the duration of exposure, frequency, concentration and individual skin type. SLS is a known irritant that can cause skin inflammation (irritant contact dermatitis) and when combined with triclosan (an antibacterial and antifungal agent in products), can stay on the skin for hours/days. Amphoteric and nonionic surfactants are considered to be less irritating to skin. (Note: Skin irritation and cytotoxity are different concepts.)

What to Note when Choosing Cleansing Products

Based on the above surfactant interaction with skin, it follows that we ought to choose:

  • Products close to the skin pH (even water is not, either neutral pH 7 or sometimes more alkali)
  • It follows then to avoid soaps, which by nature are alkaline
  • Avoid SLS, as it can penetrate, damage and irritant skin
  • Avoid CAPB as it is cytotoxic
  • Choose products with larger micelles as they do not penetrate the skin cells as much (product packaging may not indicate this information so it’s quite hard to know; look out for Polyethylene oxide (PEO)/ PEO Sorbitan Laurate which forms larger micelles in the surfactant or for the term Hydrophobically Modified Polymers (HMPs))
  • Choose cleansing products that are moisturizing and moisturize right after washing
  • Reduce washing for prolonged time and frequent washing
  • Avoid alcohols, gels and alphahydroxy acids that can cause stinging
  • Avoid perfume, benzoyl peroxide, preservatives, parabens, propylene glycol, lanolin, methylisothiazolinone and other top irritants in this post
  • Avoid ingredients ending with sulfates

It is not easy to find a cleanser without any of the above-mentioned ingredient. For those with sensitive skin, it may be better to not wash as often and take care to choose a hypoallergenic product. Try to read the ingredient label of your product and be sure that the first few ingredients are at least not those in this post.

References

I Am Kate cartoon – No Escape from Targets

Marriage targets cartoon

This is one of those situations that seem perfectly right for the wife but totally wrong for the husband, well, at least for this couple.

Mark, the husband, is going to be featured more prominently in this year I Am Kate cartoon, but no, never to replace the wife. Follow their marriage and life here.

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