Nearly 2.5 million people in the UK have psoriasis and one-in-eight suffers from eczema.

A rise in the number of cases has led to a search for a natural way to treat these painful conditions.

Siobhan Ryan speaks to those who think they may have found the answer.

Skin disorders such as psoriasis or eczema may not be life-threatening, but living with them can be a nightmare for sufferers and their families.

Continual itching,raw and sore skin,disfiguring lesions and scaly patches are a constant source of misery.

The term eczema is used to describe a number of skin conditions which share such symptoms as inflammation, flaking and blistering.

At its mildest eczema may just be a tendency towards dry skin, but in severe cases it can affect the whole body.

The skin becomes itchy and hot and areas of hard thick skin develop because of continual scratching which may crack and become infected, although eczema itself is neither infectious nor contagious.

People can inherit the tendency to develop psoriasis, but it may lie dormant and flare up at any time. Sufferers develop itchy, sore crimson scaly patches as skin cell production goes into overdrive. The condition often affects the knees, elbows and scalp, although it can cover virtually the entire body.

Attacks may be sparked by a reaction to infectious disease or certain foods, but the main trigger seems to be physical or emotional stress.

There is no cure or universal treatment for psoriasis as a remedy which works for one person may do nothing for another. The medical answer is to use steroids, but these are increasingly unpopular due to their side effects.

The lack of a firm answer has led to the increasing popularity of home grown medicines using natural products which have all had some measure of success.

Mahonia aquifolium is a plant remedy which appears to have no significant side effects and is safe for children. This plant is found in the forests of the Pacific coast of North America. The dried bark of the roots and stems contains a cocktail of chemically related alkaloids which appears to alleviate skin disorders. The bark helps to promote healthy fat metabolism which can help to eliminate toxins from the body.

In tests on psoriasis patients of five years and over, more than 80 per cent of subjects found that their symptoms had improved or disappeared completely.

Cecilia Clarke from Angmering, 77, had severe psoriasis for more than four years on her face, legs, hands and arms.

She said:"It was an awful thing to live with and I tried so many creams and potions, but nothing seemed to work. Then somebody told me about this Mahonia plant and I discovered there was a treatment available.

"After about three months of using it most of the problems had gone and I have been doing well ever since. It may not work for everyone, but it has had a good effect on me."

Jane Stephens,from Eastbourne, 48, had psoriasis for more than 23 years before trying the Mahonia cream.

She said:You have to keep on constantly using it but it has certainly stopped the condition from flaring up. You eventually get to the point where you are fed up using things like steroid creams and are desperate to try something which feels more natural."

In a fit of desperation, Tracy Wood from Newhaven invented a cream which eventually cured her two children's eczema.

The natural cream is made from the herbs chick-weed and marigold and has also helped many other people with skin disorders including acne and psoriasis.

Mrs Wood, 35, developed the cream for her daughter Charlotte, five, and her younger son Robert, who both suffered from eczema.

Tracy became concerned by the fact that she was having to apply more and more steroid cream to treat the children's condition and this made her decide to look for alternative treatments. She decided to develop her own ointment using natural remedies and spent weeks measuring and remeasuring ingredients to get the formula right.

She said: "It has helped alot of people. It took a lot of time and effort to get it right but the benefits are great."

Elena Schalburg from Wadhurst also used natural ingredients to develop what she calls her Eureka cream.

The cream, made from plants grown in Denmark, where Mrs Schalburg's was born, has the consistency of thick Danish butter and has been proved to ease the symptoms of skin conditions almost immediately.

For details of the Mahonia plant treatments call Taylor Jackson products on 01923 853111