Dermatitis is a disease; the word means the skin is inflamed. What you see is the immune system reacting to something. The obvious question is what it could be reacting to? The answer tends to be less obvious.

Consider eczema. We helped a man who’d had eczema for 75 years quickly end his disease. He was frustrated to learn what his immune system had been reacting to for so long. We’ve also ended eczema in toddlers within weeks. The parents achieved this rapid success when they learned what was happening.

Occupational dermatitis is an immune reaction in the skin to something work related. Specialists are often frustrated to find the most obvious causes haven’t been present for some time. Skin patch tests show what the patient would react to if it was present but confusion reigns if none of those are present. It’s also not unusual for the person to encounter one or more of the problem substances in real life and not react. The science is good but it becomes confusing when it conflicts with life’s reality. And the occupational dermatitis goes on.

Reports suggest about a third of British nurses have occupational dermatitis on their hands. It’s widely presumed their disease arose as a result of aggressive hand hygiene products. That may be true, but why does it continue when so many of the nurses virtually stop using those products. Around the world, hand hygiene compliance rates in the profession are very poor, yet the disease continues.

Hairdressers, florists, veterinary surgeons and many other professionals are not at all surprised to develop occupational dermatitis. Those professions have very little in common which could be a clue to the cause.

Returning to eczema, it has become a complicated disease. It was made much simpler when I published a short book: EXeczema. The 7 biggest mistakes made while managing childhood eczema. In there I pointed out that mineral oils like paraffin are fine ON the skin but not IN the skin. When applied to the inflamed broken skin of eczema, they find their way IN the skin and the immune system reacts to them. The treatment is then inducing more inflammation.  The treatment becomes the cause, which I call the Eczema Cycle.

It’s normal to apply moisturisers and emollients to dry inflamed skin. Many such products contain mineral oils like paraffin or petrolatum. If any enters the skin the immune system will react with inflammation. I call that Petrochemical Dermatitis to focus minds on this single aspect. When people stop applying those chemicals to broken skin, be it eczema or occupation dermatitis, the inflammation ends. That also ends the confusion as people realise the dermatitis has been maintained by the treatment. This was the point the elderly man realised, as did the parents who ended their children’s eczema.

What first initiated the skin inflammation may never be known, but what maintained it for years is now blatantly clear.

Dr Harley Farmer PhD BVSc(hons) BVBiol(path) MRCVS

CEO NewGenn, public speaker, novelist.


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