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Defective Skin Barrier - Key to Eczema

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

A defective skin barrier is the primary cause of eczema not environmental irritants, according to new research.

The research shows that instead of problems with allergies, tiny cracks in the skin barrier predispose some people to the atopic dermatitis.

Dr John Su from the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne says the findings will revolutionise scientists' understanding of the skin disease, previously thought to have been caused by an immune reaction to allergies.

“Until now, we believed most people with eczema were having an immune reaction to some external influence,” Dr Su said.

“However, this new report showed that up to 66 per cent of children with mild to moderate eczema did not actually have raised allergic antibodies.

“Rather, a key factor in developing eczema is the structure of the skin barrier and the integrity of the cells' lipids and binders.

“So we now believe that tiny cracks in the skin barrier predispose some people to eczema.”

The report, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, finds that defective genes can affect normal functions of the skin, such as the shedding of dead skin and new skin replacement.

People with those defective genes shed the skin cells much faster than they should resulting in thinner skin barriers.

“People prone to eczema have a much thinner skin barrier than people with normal skin and this can be seen under a microscope, even if they do not have obvious eczema lesions,” Dr Su said.

He said while thin skin barriers make people more susceptible to developing eczema, flares or lesions often first occur following the use of irritants such as soap.

The report found genetic predisposition to skin barrier breakdown combined with environmental irritants significantly increases the chance of eczema flares.

The new findings also confirm the importance of treating eczema much earlier in the cycle rather than waiting for a flare to occur, he said.



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