Natalie Balmond had tried “absolutely everything” to heal her daughter Lula’s eczema, from prescription steroid creams to traditional Chinese medicine to urine therapy. But nothing could get rid of her painfully dry, itchy and cracked skin.
“It was a nightmare,” said Natalie, 49, a mum of three from Brighton. “It started when Lula was six months old, but got really bad when she was around 18 months. Her skin was broken and bleeding from top to toe.”
So Natalie was amazed when a simple ointment she concocted in her kitchen seemed to soothe Lula’s skin almost instantly. “The first night I put it on her, she slept for six hours solid. That had never happened before.”
By morning, Natalie noticed a “phenomenal difference” in Lula’s skin, so she continued to apply the ointment. “I slathered her in it every day. In two weeks, she looked like a different child. It was astounding.”
That was 17 years ago. Today Lula is 19 and free of the sore, red, itchy skin that made her early childhood a misery. And the ointment, now known as Skin Salvation Ointment, is part of a successful skincare range developed by Natalie, called Purepotions, which has helped thousands of others like Lula with sensitive, eczema-prone skin.
Natalie first started to think about making a homemade remedy for Lula’s eczema after reading about the skin-soothing properties of herbs like Calendula officinalis (marigold) and chamomile in a book a friend gave her.
“Initially I hunted around for herbal skin creams in health-food shops, but they all contained added ingredients like preservatives and chemical stabilizers and emulsifiers, which I knew Lula’s skin wouldn’t tolerate,” said Natalie. “So I decided to make a traditional herbal ointment myself using only beneficial herbs and natural oils—and no unnecessary extras.”
After some experimenting, the final recipe Natalie came up with was a combination of Calendula, chamomile, nettle and chickweed extracts in a base of beeswax and olive, safflower and hemp seed oils. “It was instantly soothing and moisturizing,” said Natalie. “Over time, it healed Lula’s sores and made her skin less dry, which meant less itching and scratching and less damage. It broke the itch–scratch cycle.”
It wasn’t long before friends and family started to notice the difference in Lula’s skin, and those with eczema or children with eczema wanted to know how to get hold of the ‘magic ointment’ that had apparently worked wonders.
“I only made the ointment as a last resort to help Lula, but I started to get requests to make it for others. Then I heard that it worked for them too!”
Soon, Natalie was preparing large batches of the ointment in vats, and a local newspaper picked up on the story. After that, Natalie was inundated with letters from people wanting to try the ointment.
Inspired by the obvious demand and the desire to help others like Lula, Natalie teamed up with a partner and set up a business making, selling and distributing the ointment. “The goal was to get it to as many people with eczema as possible. In the first year, we sold £30,000 worth of ointments.”
In 2002, Natalie founded Purepotions, and went on to develop a range of skincare products for people with eczema and other skin conditions like psoriasis.
At first, the products were only available in a few independent health-food shops, but the company has gradually grown, and Purepotions can now be found on high streets nationwide in stores like Holland & Barrett and Waitrose. And thanks to the internet, people all over the world can also get hold of the products via the Purepotions online shop (www.purepotions.co.uk).
The range is even available on the NHS. “If it’s working for someone with a skin condition like eczema, they can go to their doctor and get them to prescribe it,” Natalie explains. “A large bulk of our orders are for NHS prescriptions.”
The business is now a big success, and Natalie is constantly thinking about expanding the range and making it accessible to as many people as possible.
“I want to be able to offer a full range of natural, non-irritating, alternative skincare products for people with eczema or dry, sensitive skin,” said Natalie. “And I want them to be able to get hold of it easily—and not have to go through what I went through with Lula.”
Natalie doesn’t claim to have found a cure for eczema, though. “Lula still has the occasional flare up,” says Natalie, “but we’ve got it under control and she can lead a normal life.”
And judging by the thousands of testimonies Natalie has received from other eczema sufferers, it seems her natural kitchen remedy is much more than just a fluke.
Eczema: not just for kids
Atopic dermatitis—better known as eczema—is often thought of as a childhood condition. But the symptoms of red, scaly skin and intense itching can persist well into the adult years and even over a lifetime.
According to a large US study, children with eczema don’t necessarily outgrow the disease, as is commonly believed. After tracking more than 7,000 sufferers enrolled in the Pediatric Eczema Elective Registry (PEER), researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia discovered that, at every age between two and 26 years, more than 80 per cent of these sufferers either still had eczema symptoms or were using medication to treat the condition. Even at age 20, only half the patients had enjoyed at least one six-month period free of symptoms and treatment.
The rather bleak conclusion drawn by the researchers is that atopic dermatitis is “probably a life-long illness”, and that symptoms in children can continue well into the second decade of life and most likely longer.1
Part of the problem may be the conventional approach for treating the condition: creams and ointments, which often don’t work and can even cause side-effects every bit as bad as the eczema itself.
Steroid-based creams, for example, can cause irritation, discoloration and thinning of the skin with long-term use, while topical immunomodulators like tacrolimus and pimecrolimus—newer options for treating chronic eczema—have both been linked to skin cancer.2
Even the basic emollients recommended to eczema sufferers to keep the skin moist, such as aqueous cream, may be doing more harm than good. A study published in the British Journal of Dermatology found that the cream thins healthy skin and actually increases susceptibility to water loss—findings that call into question the use of this emollient on eczema-affected skin, which is already thin and dry.3
According to the researchers, sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) is the problem ingredient in the formulation, as it’s a known irritant. But other ingredients in the cream, like cetostearyl alcohol and chlorocresol, can have irritant effects too. In fact, the emollient called Diprobase, containing both of these agents, admits on its package insert that the ingredients can cause skin reactions like “itching, rash, redness, peeling, burning, pain, dryness and skin inflammation (dermatitis)”4—rather ironic for a product specifically targeted at people with sensitive, eczema-prone skin.