The Good Bacteria, the Bad Bacteria and the Ugly

You know how I keep saying – if you are suffering quietly from eczema and atopic dermatitis then you are not alone?

Well, as it turns out, I didn’t realise how right I was. I happened to be talking about the fact that we are surrounded by an incredible community of like-minded and supportive fellow sufferers who help to bolster our confidence on those truly awful eczema days; but recent research has shown that you and I are actually likely to be playing host to a thumping, jumping party of a little microbial devils called Staphylococcus Aureus (Staph A for short).

Staph A is responsible for those pretty nasty infections we manage to contract, following the inevitable itch-scratch-itch cycle and, according to recent research, us long suffering folks with eczema or atopic dermatitis are probably lucky enough to have 80-90% colonisation of Staph A on our skin.

Here is what they might look like under one of those super-powerful scientific microscopes.

Warning: serious and alarming scientific evidence follows – look away if you are easily disturbed.

Are you ready?

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s OK you can come back now, they’re gone.

Eczema: The Bad Bacteria

Not only does this pesky bacteria – Staph A – cause much of the horrible swelling, weeping and crusting that we have grown to know and love from our friend atopic dermatitis, but it in fact could be causing the irritation in the first place. While most people carry Staph A on their skin, those with normal skin function are also populated by a whole host of other good and helpful microorganisms which help to keep our whole eco-system in harmony. Eczema skin on the other-hand? Well…

With all those other good bacteria and microorganisms being obliterated by Staph A, it’s no wonder our skin starts to resemble the scorched earth of an alien invasion.

Take a look at this clip from the BBC’s Trust Me I’m a Doctor. Here, the clever doctors and scientists explain it far better than I can – and are less likely to wander off into dodgy sci-fi territory:

As the BBC programme points out, one way of controlling the Staph A bacteria is to zap it out of existence on the skin so that the millions of other good bacteria and helpful microorganisms can thrive and offer a rich and diverse skin flora in order for our skin to be fully protected.

Up until recently, the only way of obliterating Staph A has been through the use of powerful antibiotics and other home-remedies such as controversial diluted bleach baths for eczema. (Some claim that apple cider vinegar also targets the bad bacteria on the skin, but the jury is well and truly out on that one.) The trouble is, by indiscriminately blasting the bad and damaging bacteria we could also be taking out millions of the other innocent and helpful microorganisms that are happily going about their daily business and protecting us from irritants and allergens.

Glad Skin are already offering the product containing the enzymes called endolysins which rather impressively attacked and killed the Staph A in a matter of seconds in the above clip. I’m currently trying this out and will report back soon on progress. But, I’ve got to say, early signs are very encouraging. It’s soothing, thick and creamy and after using it for just one week I have noticed a distinct lack of irritation. It also, rather impressively, appeared to stifle the tell-tale signs of swelling and puffing around my eyes – usually the first indication for me of a major and prolonged flare up on my face. It’s obviously far too early to tell, but I remain hopeful.

More of that later, but here’s a little taster:

Before: eyes and face starting to swell, puff and itch
Three days after application of Glad Skin: Eczema

Eczema: The Good Bacteria

Another way of controlling the bad bacteria is to focus on growing more of the good bacteria in your gut. I have tried (and failed) to do this through the continued use of kefir – a probiotic milk drink which aims to populate the gut with the good bacteria that will help to protect the skin against allergens and irritation (see here for much, much more on the subject).

The reason I failed was because I got a serious case of the jitters when making my own (I couldn’t guarentee the safety of the product that I was making in my own kitchen) and, because I wasn’t seeing miraculous results, I just couldn’t justify the monthly cost of the quality ready made stuff.

However, Shann Jones of the Chuckling Goat, a small scale goat farm on the Welsh coast which produces and distributes kefir in the UK, has written a new book called the Good Skin Solution, in which she sets out a clear plan for cultivating an army of good bacteria in your gut for warding off not only Staph A but a whole host of other nasty invaders. Here’s her plan in a 20 minute video:

I do plan to introduce probiotics back into my diet, but I’m currently searching for an alternative method to kefir – firstly, because it’s frankly a bit of a faff to do it yourself (not to mention the safety considerations of growing your own live cultures) and secondly, ready made kefir is so blooming expensive. I have however, dramatically cut down on my sugar intake and as Shann also suggests, I have banished the ubiquitous and hidden antibacterial and antifungal agent called triclosan found in loads of consumer products, including toothpaste – who knew!? – which is helping to kill off all those good bacteria. Hot tip: Sensodyne Pronamel is one of the only toothpastes that is triclosan free. 

The Ugly

Alright, so we’ve had the Good and the Bad – where’s the Ugly?

Well, yep. I’m still fighting and winning the battle, if not the war – on getting out and about when I’m having truly terrible skin days, which have been coming thick and fast in recent weeks. (Thank you, birch pollen.)

Here’s a little gallery of the latest faces I’ve had the pleasure of taking out into the world.

On days like these I have to remind myself of my very own 10 ways to take on the world with a face full of eczema. It’s not easy, but it really helps.

Here’s wishing everyone happy skin – and if you’ve managed to tame the bad bacteria and cultivate the good – please do let me know how you’ve been getting on? I’d love to hear some longer-term success stories.

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