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What wouldn’t a mother do to soothe her baby? A Montreal mom found ways to soothe her first child’s troubled skin, then decided to share what she learned in the process. Here is my chat with founder Jennifer Roberge of the Eczema Company:
Q: When did your family start having skin concerns and changing the way you approached skin care?
A: My son was diagnosed with eczema at three months old, but I’m pretty sure he’s had it since birth. My daughter developed her eczema around 20 months old. I started managing my son’s eczema the same way most parents do. I slathered on drug store creams and cortisone based ointments as prescribed by physicians. It wasn’t until the doctors wanted to keep increasing the dosage and strength of these steroid medications that the alarm bells started going off. The long term effects of the stuff are quite frightening and I was afraid we were headed down that path. I decided to look at his diet, the household cleaners, and environmental factors instead of just masking the symptoms with medicine. At that time I moved our family away from the drug store creams, which always burned him because they contain alcohol, and opted for balms and salves that are naturally alcohol-free.
Q: You note that you are not a medical expert, but what response have you had from the medical community, for instance from your own doctors?
A: Oh, that’s a bit of a sensitive question. Most medical doctors swear by cortisone and big brand pharmaceutical creams for treating eczema. As to the creams, yes, they can help, but they are laden with chemicals that can leech through the skin barrier, which is much weaker in eczema skin. I have never been thrilled with that idea. I feel that treating with cortisone, in many, but not all cases, is just treating the symptom and not identifying the root cause. Many dermatologists we’ve come across are really only focused on patching symptoms when it comes to skin diseases. This is because it’s what they know and how they are trained in school. No problem there. What upsets me is when they are so adamant on medication that they cannot see the big picture or even consider possible underlying causes. A good allergist can help much more in this area from what we’ve found. But even allergists often don’t have the time to dedicate to facilitating a real food elimination diet followed by a food challenge, which is the best way (besides a history of past reactions to foods) to really understand if any specific foods are triggering a skin reaction. And they definitively don’t recommend doing these diets at home without a physician’s guidance, which I did for my son and it was not well regarded by his doctors and still isn’t. The diet is what changed my son’s life, so I would do it again in a heart beat. Once we removed dairy, gluten, soy, corn, and some tree nuts form his diet, his skin cleared up within days.
Q: Why do you think it’s so important for parents to read the labels on personal care products, especially for their children?
A: Skincare products can leech into our children’s bodies and possibly into their blood stream. Those with eczema are even at more risk as their skin barriers are damaged, leaving an open pathway through the skin into the body. Think about our children’s small bodies absorbing a chemical cocktail through the skin on a regular basis. Not to mention that curious toddlers could get into the skincare containers and digest them or they could rub them into their eyes. There are a lot of harmful things to look out for – parabens, phthalates, sodium laureth/sodium laurel sulfphate, PEGs anything with derivatives of soy or corn (likely genetically modified), harsh preservatives, and alcohol (drying and painful for those with eczema). For a full list of unsafe chemicals that can be found in skincare, check out SafeMama’s Glossary [http://safemama.com/glossary/]. If you’re not familiar with an ingredient listed on a label, look it up in the Skin Deep Database [http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/], a great resource which evaluates ingredients based on their safety levels and uses a scoring system to rate a product’s overall safety rating as well.
Q: The Eczema Company has products I can use even if I’m not specifically concerned with eczema, right?
A: Yes, definitely! We have a great variety of natural AND non-toxic skincare gentle enough for newborns, yet soothing and effective for adults. Our creams, salves, oils, bath teas, and soaps are great for those simply looking for a skincare product to maintain healthy skin or for those with sensitive skin or conditions like eczema. Most items are certified organic and tree nut-free. I hand select every item based on their list of ingredients. In fact, our most popular balm, several months ago, was suddenly reformulated by the manufacture without warning and since I didn’t agree with the ingredient change as it wasn’t up to our company’s standards, we discontinued the product and refunded our customers. In addition to skincare, we have clothing for children to help prevent them from scratching, either as infants, for those that experience the intense eczema itch, or for children with sensory disorders like autism who may habitually scratch. We also have super soft, tagless, non-irritating underwear and socks for children. We feature hazelwood and baltic amber jewelry for relief from pain often associated with teething and eczema. And of course we have our suncare products which are great for the entire family.
Q: Do we need to use sunscreen even if it’s not summer?
A: Yes, but first let me clarify that we only carry sunblock, not sunscreen. Let me explain. Sunblock is preferred as it is usually mineral based (zinc or titanium), sits on the outer layer of skin, and literally blocks the sun rays as compared to sunscreen which is chemical based, can break down easier, and is absorbs into the skin. And back to your question, yes, sun protection in some format is important all year round. While some vitamin D is important, if you’ll be out in the sun for more than 15 minutes during peak hours it’s safer to stay in the shade, wear UPF clothing or apply sunblock for protection ANY time of the year.
Q: What do you hope to share with other families through The Eczema Company?
A: My primary goal with starting the eczema company was to reach out to and support other families like ours that were struggling with childhood eczema. But as my family continues to travel farther down a greener, more sustainable path, I’m happy to be able to share our natural focus with others that may only be just beginning their path.
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