What and Why?
Dermatitis means inflammation of the skin, which could usually during most of this century be traced to infection of some kind. Nowadays infection is less often the cause, and skin must already be rather unhealthy to get infected since in health it is very resistant to infection. So to understand skin problems of any kind, including infection, you need to look deeper.
Your skin is not just a container but a remarkably sophisticated organ which regulates losses of heat and moisture from your body, stores and excretes surpluses from metabolism, and receives sensory impressions. Despite its permeability it is a very effective barrier against microbes and moisture, and can regulate the penetration of sunlight to the tissues inside. It wears tirelessly, and will grow into a form appropriate to the physical work expected of it.
Its elasticity enables it to cope with changes over the years in your shape and size. Its thin surface sheet grows from a foundation layer one cell thick. Successive sheets of cells created there mount up in layers, each layer flattening and hardening as it ages. The oldest layer forms your outside surface, with its cells arranged like slates on a roof. Wear scrapes off these oldest cells as flakes of dry scale which are larger and greasier where your hair is thickest and sebaceous glands most active. The dandruff in your scalp arises in this way; some degree of it is inevitable, since even in health your surface skin must flake off eventually.
All this sophisticated life is thrown off balance if your skin is required to excrete or store poisons your blood cannot cope with. These toxins are dissolved in your sweat or incorporated in your skin cells to be worn away six weeks later. They combine to poison your skin metabolism, which drastically upsets its evolution. It inflames, grows faster and sheds its disordered surface faster still, attempting to right itself; this leaves vulnerable immature skin exposed, still chronically poisoned. This is eczema or dermatitis. It takes many forms, and is distributed variously on your body, according to the precise imbalances or pollutions associated with the underlying cause of your problem. Removal of that cause is the key to your cure, whatever kind of rash you have.
What can I do?
Advice to maintain and maximise your health
1. Avoid using soap when you do not need to; cold water is sufficient for ordinary washing, with cold cream (Aqueous Cream BP) as a lubricant if necessary. Soap removes fat from your skin and makes it much more vulnerable to irritants, fungi and bacteria on its surface. Prolonged soaking in a hot bath does the same. Emulsifying Ointment, much favoured by eczema sufferers, only puts back in what the soap and hot water take out!
2. After a short hot shower or bath wrap your body tightly from armpits to hips in a cold damp sheet; if the sheet oozes water when tightened, it is too wet. Wear a long warm woollen sweater over this, under a house-coat, for two hours; at night, just get into bed. After the initial chill you should quickly relax, glowing under the sheet. When you take it off (or wake in the morning) it will be dry, and may be stained with what your skin has excreted. Repeat this several times a week. It does not matter if your eczema is not covered by the sheet.
3. Practice good breathing technique: You can get rid of surprising amounts of chemical waste through your breath, provided you do it efficiently. Practise deep breathing several times daily, once as part of ten minutes’ brisk exercise in the open air. Shower afterwards while still perspiring, and finish with cold water for 20-30 seconds, especially on your eczematous patches. Pat yourself dry.
4. Diet: If your skin is chronically bad, start a cleansing diet, with raw food only for the first week and avoiding salt. Check using an exclusion diet whether you are allergic to dairy food in the early stages of this diet, and avoid it absolutely for several months if so.
5. If your problem is intermittent or reasonably limited a normal healthy diet should be fine; but check yourself using an exclusion diet for allergy to each family of foods you wish to eat regularly. You will get away with occasional portions of almost anything.
6. Supplements of Zinc, Vitamin C, and Essential Fatty Acids, with honey-cider vinegar for other minerals, are well worth while for three months, especially in dandruff; your diet should be sufficient thereafter.
7. Homoeopathic treatment is often helpful but you will need to stop using steroids first. If Sulphur fails, take expert advice.
8. Medical treatments: Steroid creams and ointments are the main medical treatment. They only suppress the effects of the condition, but that can be essential at times. Get your doctor in the first place to help you off the more powerful fluorinated ones and back to plain hydrocortisone ointment; covered with polythene gloves or food bags this is quite effective and much safer. Urea is good for soothing irritation and is combined with cortisone in some preparations. Your cure will in time get you off even this.