If you’ve every had a poison ivy rash as a child, you’ll remember being covered in pink calamine lotion. What many people don’t know is that it can also bring relief to eczema sufferers. Of course, it isn’t something you’re going to wear in public, you’ll need a shielding lotion for an eczema treatment that doesn’t make you look like a slightly pink ghost, but it has a cooling affect and can help reduce the itching.
How does calamine lotion work? Its primary ingredients are zinc oxide and ferrous (iron) oxide. The ferrous oxide is an inactive ingredient and is a black powder. Zinc oxide is a white or yellowish powder. How these two ingredients result in “calamine pink” is a mystery only your pharmacist can reveal. However, that aside, zinc oxide has several properties which make it useful for certain skin conditions, including eczema; it is antiseptic and astringent, it absorbs moisture, which makes it particularly good for severe eczema with weeping sores and, as it’s not water soluble, it will keep the skin dry when exposed to alkaline liquids – which is why it’s used for diaper rash. It also absorbs ultraviolet light, both UVA and UVB, and is therefore frequently included in the ingredients of sunblock products.
Internally, zinc supports the immune system and is an essential trace mineral used by hundreds of enzymes.
Effective though they may be, in high dosages both zinc oxide and ferrous oxide are toxic through skin contact and when inhaled. Inhalation of zinc oxide affects the nervous system and toxicity is a common enough occurrence to have its own named disorders – “oxide shakes” and “zinc chills”. For this reason, it is recommended that zinc oxide be used in a well-ventilated room. Given the possibility of toxicity, it is wise to use calamine lotion for only a limited time.
If you’re still using calamine lotion, you may want to try switching to shielding lotion, at least when you’re out in public. Eczema is often caused by dry skin that is further irritated by exposure to toxic chemicals. A good shielding lotion bonds with the outer layer of the skin to form a protective layer that keeps those chemicals out, keeps the moisture in and allows the eczema to heal. However, if you’re attached to calamine pink you may be disappointed – shielding lotion goes on clear and colorless.
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