Q. I'm 52, and since I was a teenager I've had dry skin, or as my dermatologist puts it, “atopic dermatitis.” He tells me it is stress-related and genetic.

Every three months I can get a steroid shot, but it only clears the problem up for a month at most. Then the skin on my hands dries out, peels off, and splits and cracks.

I've tried an assortment of hand creams and ointments, including prescribed creams like Dovonex or steroids. At times I even sleep with greased-up hands in white cotton gloves. Nothing really seems to do the trick. Do you have any suggestions?

A. Atopic dermatitis, or eczema, is often a chronic problem, but here are some approaches that may help. Probiotics, or good bacteria, have shown benefit in some studies. Hemp seed oil, Pycnogenol (maritime pine bark extract) or oolong tea may be helpful. A low-glycemic index diet (no sugar, bread or pasta) eases symptoms for some people.

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  1. PP

    Get a good evaluation from someone trained in allergies. A child we knew suffered from eczema for 7 years until they found out she was allergic to petroleum based products that are in soaps, shampoos, toothpaste and many other products. Keeping free from them brought her relief after all those years of suffering.

  2. sw

    What are the probiotics that you take everyday? I am not familiar with probiotics.

  3. EJS

    I suffered from eczema for 10 years. It got a little better after I stopped taking Lipitor (I didn’t have eczema before taking Lipitor), but it still persisted. After doing some research on the internet, I tried a combination of probiotics and mild tanning in a tanning booth. After two weeks, it went away completely. I’ve been free of eczema for three months, the first time in 10 years. I take a probiotic with each meal and tan 10-12 minutes two to three times a week. I’ve also noticed my mood has improved with the additional vitamin D from tanning.
    I’m taking red yeast rice, 500 mg. of niacin, fish oil and use Benecol spread and after meal chews to replace the Lipitor. These supplements don’t quite match the cholesterol level reduction of Lipitor but my level stays within an acceptable range. I have it checked every six months.

  4. VB

    As an infant I suffered from severe eczema and cholic. My doctor’s solution was to feed me mashed up egg yolks. The eczema continued into my teen years, and as an adult, I have suffered from severe headaches. For ten years I went to various doctors trying to find out why I had a headache every day of my life. One doctor went so far as to tell me it was “all in my head.”
    Finally, I made an appointment with a naturopath who told me that “95% of his patients who suffer from headaches have an allergy to eggs.” He also told me that eczema is one symptom of an allergy to eggs. My allergy to eggs was way off the charts. Since I have stopped eating eggs, the eczema has disappeared and my headaches have been greatly reduced. I have to read labels very carefully and ask questions when I eat out. When I inadvertently eat something containing egg, I invariably end up with a severe headache anywhere from 1-4 days later.
    I would ask the person who wrote regarding their severe dry skin if they also suffer from headaches, and if so, to try eliminating eggs from the diet and see if that helps.

  5. MJW

    Reiterating THA’s comments on shea butter, I have found it very helpful in keeping my fingertips from cracking in the winter. As it’s not always easy to find in health-food stores, I order pure shea butter from purelyshea.com.

  6. THA

    I have many types of psoriasis and eczema. I have found that nothing works better for me than the consistent use of RAW shea butter. RAW shea butter has given my life back to me. It is not perfect, because my condition/s are incurable, but I can say the word “relief” and I function much better. I also take fish oil in large doses, which helps with inflammation. I have struggled with this for a few years and have learned that different things work for for different people — and even then, that changes! Shea has proved to be the most consistant topical treatment for me. It is so good to be off of the steroids, too! No more after-steriod flare-ups and no more additional steriod side effects!

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