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A Natural Approach to Soothing Eczema


Eczema presents a complicated picture, both in terms of understanding what causes the condition and determining the best treatments. Atopic eczema, the most common form of eczema, has been associated with allergies, particularly food allergies in very young children, while non-atopic eczema presents itself more frequently in older children and in adults. A genetic component to eczema has been identified in the form of mutations in the FLA gene that encodes for profilaggrin, a precursor to filaggrin, the structural protein that helps form the permeability barrier that is our skin. A compromised epidermal layer permits water-loss, and dry, scaly lesions that are susceptible to infection and often a cause for a discomforting itch. Some combination of allergy, barrier disruption, and environmental factors conspire to bring up the disease symptoms—but what that exact combination entails has thus far eluded clear explanation.

Environmental factors appear to influence the flare-ups associated with eczema, with dry climate and harsh soaps being two significant culprits leading to bouts of increased rash and redness from the condition. Natural remedies can help with both problems to alleviate eczema flare-ups. Restoring barrier integrity through the use of natural products helps address the first problem, even when exposed to dry environmental conditions.

In our experience, a combination approach tailored to your individual needs is often the best approach for gaining natural eczema relief. By combining ongoing lifestyle and dietary measures with a selection of herbal and other natural topical treatments you can soothe symptoms, gently nourish and detoxify your system from the inside out, support immunity, and gain the synergistic benefits of all that Nature has to offer.

A Very Good Place to Start—Childhood Dietary Exposure and Risk for Eczema

Atopic eczema is associated with allergies and, especially in the very young, with food allergies. Cow's milk and hen's eggs are two foods commonly behind allergic food reactions that spark eczema flare-ups or exacerbate the condition. The prevalence of food allergies in young children with eczema was further confirmed by testing a number of infants showing moderate atopic eczema at a dermatology clinic. Ninety percent of the infants tested in a small study conducted at the clinic in Australia tested positive to at least one food allergy.

The age at which infants are introduced to solid foods is a serious consideration, not just in terms of the child's ability to process solids but also because it can define whether the child develops either allergies or protections from the food. Early introduction of fish into an infant's diet has been shown to decrease risk for eczema when fish is included in the diet before 9 months of age. In this particular study, the time at which milk and egg were introduced did not affect the risk of eczema. Introducing solid foods too early, however, may pose a greater risk, as shown in a study that looked at early introduction to a range of foods in premature babies. How various factors converge to influence the child's developing immune system toward tolerance or sensitivity is not well understood, and there is much to be learned about how the introduction of foods can present risk for later problems.

Studies examining trace elements of selenium, zinc, copper and manganese—antioxidants—in cord blood have suggested that the prenatal exposure to these micronutrients might decrease the risk of eczema in the first years of life, while prenatal exposure to lead and mercury are likely to increase the risk. Another recent study found similar benefits from antioxidants in the diets of young children.

Teens and adults can also react to foods with increased eczematous outbreaks, but less frequently to classical food allergens such as hen's eggs and cow's milk. One way to identify food sensitivities is through an elimination diet. For best results, an elimination diet should be taken on under the care of an experienced clinical nutritionist or integrative medicine practitioner. You can also consult with a specialist in allergies and sensitivities to have appropriate allergy/sensitivity testing and evaluation performed. Once sensitivities have been accurately identified, and the degree and relevance of the sensitivities determined, a nutritionist can help craft a diet that keeps your system free of classic or pollen-based food allergens.

Outside In—Protecting Your Natural Skin Barrier

The dry, flaky, irritated skin common to eczema can be aided by following some commonsense precautions that minimize loss of your skin's natural oils and lipids. Start by avoiding long soaks in hot baths or hot tubs, or taking lengthy hot showers. A quick warm bath or shower is less likely to strip protective oils from the skin. Use a mild pH-balanced soap, preferably one that is free of harsh chemicals, and use it sparingly to avoid removing essential oils. Some people report good results with the use of Dead Sea salt added to their bathwater and used in place of soaps.

Applying a natural cream or ointment to moisturize the skin directly after your bath or shower can help seal in moisture and prevent water loss from the skin. If you live in a dry climate you may want to consider using an indoor humidifier to increase the amount of moisture in the air.

You will also want to avoid rubbing or scratching eczema flare-ups. Eczema sufferers can be susceptible to skin infections as a result of the condition, and avoidance of further damage by rubbing, scratching, or chafing from clothing can help minimize the risk of infection.

All Around You—Household Allergens

A group of researchers has examined the effects of specific immunotherapy in patients with atopic eczema and who had allergies to dust mites. Specific immunotherapy (SIT) is a common treatment for allergic reactions that involves weekly doses of a small quantity of the allergen to challenge the immune system to build immunity against that specific allergen. In this study, the improvement in eczema reduced the need for topical corticosteroids in the patients who were treated at weekly intervals for a year against dust mites.

Topical Herbal Remedies for Eczema

Natural Moisturizers in Your Kitchen

It has been written that the Ancient Greeks and Romans have used olive oil as a simple skin lubricant. After the shower or bath, gentle massage a combination of organic expeller pressed coconut oil, sweet almond oil, Chamomile oil, olive oil, or jojoba oil with a drop of essential lavender oil. This simple recipe can help to moisturize skin and is said to diminish wrinkles and inflammation symptoms from eczema, acne, and psoriasis.

Ceramides are skin surface lipids that may be compromised in patients with eczema. Components in oatmeal, avenanthramides, have been found to help restore the damaged skin barrier and relieve symptoms. Chamomile-based ointments have been found to help relieve symptoms from skin inflammation, and contribute to healing damaged skin. Feverfew, Tanacetum parthenium, is another herbal preparation that has been used by traditional healers to reduce inflammation and relieve symptoms of eczema. Aloe vera (A. barbadensis) gel used topically shows effectiveness in dermatological conditions such as eczema, promoting collagen synthesis, healing, and a reduction of inflammation.

Another natural product that can relieve the itch from eczema is witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana. Long used as a folk remedy for skin irritation, witch hazel has antioxidant and astringent properties that have been found to inhibit collagenase and elastase activity that disrupts tissues.

Natural Herbs and Supplements for Eczema

In addition to the natural remedies mentioned above other herbs with anti-inflammatory effects are thought to help relieve eczema symptoms, if not able to entirely cure the condition. St. John's wort, Hypericum perforatum, though best known for its antidepression potential has also been historically used for its anti-inflammatory properties. As stress and emotional turmoil are often listed as contributing factors in eczema flare-ups, St. John's wort may benefit the eczema sufferer through its combined calming effect and reducing inflammation associated with the skin irritation.

Oil of evening primrose, Oenothera biennis, has been used as a natural remedy for eczema as well as other conditions, with measurable benefit. Its effect seems attributable to the anti-inflammatory, immune-modulating properties of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an essential fatty acid (EFA) found in evening primrose oil. Some researchers think atopic eczema may be a manifestation of a minor inherited abnormality of EFA metabolism.

Turmeric has been used since ancient times in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic healing arts for a variety of health conditions. For eczema it has been compounded as a paste and applied directly to the affected skin for relief of inflammation.

The use of probiotics as a preventative or management strategy against atopic eczema in children is in its early stages but holds great promise. In a 2010 study children with atopic eczema–dermatitis syndrome (AEDS) were found to experience significant improvement of their atopic dermatitis with probiotic supplements. Another recent study found that when probiotic supplements were used by pregnant women with a history of allergic diseases, for 8 weeks prior to delivery and during their breastfed infants' first 6 months following delivery, the infants' incidence of eczema was significantly reduced, as compared to the mothers taking the placebo.


Putting It Together and Finding Your Eczema Solution

A look into natural treatments for eczema both old and new reveals many promising alternatives for treating eczema for those wishing to avoid the deleterious effects of corticosteroids and other powerful drugs. While a cure is still a goal yet to be realized, there are many natural options that can help the juvenile or adult eczema sufferer take part in managing—often reducing—the severity of the condition. A combination approach that includes identifying a healthy meal plan and avoiding dietary triggers, together with the use of natural herbs and other nutritional supplements, topical gels or ointments, and stress-reducing techniques are all ways to naturally reduce discomforting symptoms of eczema.


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bookInside Out and Outside In—The Natural Approach to Soothing Eczema—Reference Documents and Further Reading



Principal Author: C. Lucida, DermaHarmony Science Editor
Date of Publication: 05/10/2010
Article Last Updated: 06/07/2011