Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is a condition that makes your skin red and itchy. It’s common in children but can occur at any age. Eczema is long lasting (chronic) and tends to flare periodically and then subside. It may be accompanied by asthma or hay fever. Eczema affects people of all ages and can cause misery. Doctors often prescribe a steroidal cream, which for many people doesn’t always do the trick. There are other things you can do to ease the terrible itching and blistering.
Causes of Eczema
The exact cause of atopic dermatitis (eczema) is unknown. Healthy skin helps retain moisture and protects you from bacteria, irritants and allergens. Eczema is likely related to a mix of factors:
- Dry, irritable skin, which reduces the skin’s ability to be an effective barrier.
- A gene variation that affects the skin’s barrier function.
- Immune system dysfunction.
- Bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus, on the skin that creates a film that blocks sweat glands.
- Environmental conditions.
How to Treat Eczema
Avoid scratching. Keep your fingernails short to help keep your skin damage to a minimum. You want to try to itch your eczema as little as possible.
Wrap up your eczema. Cover the eczema-prone areas of your skin in bandages or gauze when you sleep. Many people unconsciously itch their eczema while sleeping, only to wake up and find their skin to have flared-up.
Use cold compresses. Hold an ice pack to cold compress to your eczema-prone areas to help relieve the itching. If you experience an eczema flare-up that is begging and pleading to be itched, get a clean washcloth, soak it in cold water, and apply to the skin. The moist compress could help soothe the itchiness.
Use a moisturizer. Reduce itching, redness, and chance of infection by moisturizing often. Your moisturizer, preferably one with natural ingredients and without scent, is your best friend. Use it several times a day so that your skin is never dry.
- Apply moisturizers after bathing or showering to trap in moisture to your skin.
- Before bathing, cover yourself in a moisturizer (like aqueous cream or emulsifying ointment such as Aquaphor or Vaseline) and gently wash the moisturizer off, either with or without soap. This helps prevent the water from drying the skin out too much. Pat the skin dry rather than rubbing it to avoid irritation.
Use hydrocortisone (1%) to help relieve the itching. Hydrocortisone is a common and effective anti-itch agent that comes in creams, gels, and sprays. One study found that 80% of respondents thought their eczema or dermatitis responded well to hydrocortisone, citing significant improvements.
- If using an over-the-counter hydrocortisone, use it 2-3 times per day for 7 days. If you fail to see improvement or an abatement of itching in 7 days, discontinue use and call your doctor.
- Hydrocortisone is a steroid, although the dosage of steroids in over-the-counter products is small enough to be safe. Use hydrocortisone only as directed on the package or by your doctor.
Home Remedies for Eczema
Apply calendula lotion. Calendula is a marigold-like flower whose extract is commonly use in skin lotions and salves. It is reputed to have skin healing properties, while also reducing pain and inflammation. Many calendula products, such as soaps, oils, lotions, salves and creams can be found at health food stores.
- These products are preferable to those found in drug stores, as they usually contain a higher percentage of pure calendula and less potentially irritating ingredients.
- Calendula products can be applied liberally all over the skin, as they are not known to produce any negative side effects when applied topically.
Try chamomile. Chamomile is a popular natural treatment for eczema, as it is said to sooth itchiness and calm inflammation. It can be used in one of two ways:
- Firstly, you can make chamomile tea by brewing dried chamomile flowers in boiling water for approximately 15 minutes. Strain the flowers and allow the tea to cool slightly. Make a warm compress by soaking a clean cloth in the chamomile, wringing out the excess moisture, then pressing it against the affected skin for 10-15 minutes.
- Secondly, you can use chamomile essential oils to sooth eczema, either by massaging the oils directly onto the skin, or adding a few drops to a warm bath.
Use organic coconut oil. Organic cold pressed virgin coconut oil is a highly effective moisturizer which many eczema suffers claim to be far more effective than expensive store bought creams. It can be found in health food stores, online and in select supermarkets. Apply the oil (which looks like a solid but quickly melts) on eczema patches all over the body and allow to sink in.
- Cold pressed means that the oil was processed at temperatures below 116 degrees, allowing all of the oil’s nutrients, enzymes and minerals to be preserved.
Try sweet almond oil. Sweet almond oil is often used in the treatment of eczema as it contains ursolic and oleic acids, which are believed to reduce inflammation and help repair the skin.
- It can be applied liberally all over the body as a moisturizer, or it can be spread all over the skin before baths and showers, creating a barrier that protects the skin from the drying effects of hot water.
Use aloe vera. The gel-like sap from the Aloe vera plant has been used for thousands of years as a remedy for wounds, burns and other skin conditions, thanks to it’s soothing, healing properties. Many people have found it effective in the treatment of eczema, as it soothes itchiness and moisturizes the dry, flaky skin.
- Although aloe vera is commonly used as an ingredient in many skin care products, these lotions and gels may also contain ingredients that irritate the skin. For this reason, it is best to buy an aloe vera plant from your local garden center or nursery and use the pure aloe vera gel instead.
- To use the aloe vera, snap off a leaf and squeeze out the clear, gel-like substance. Smear this gel over the skin effected by eczema and leave to soak in. You can store the leaf in the refrigerator for multiple uses.
Take evening primrose oil. Evening primrose oil is popularly believed to help with eczema, as it contains gamma-linolenic acid, a rare fatty acid which nourishes the skin and it thought to correct deficiencies in skin lipids, thus reducing inflammation. Evening primrose oil is usually taken orally, as a supplement.
Take warm baths. A warm bath — containing added eczema-soothing ingredients — can be very effective in easing itchiness and relieving pain. Remember that hot water can aggravate eczema, so keep the temperature in the lukewarm to warm range. Some of the best additions include:
- Oatmeal or colloidal oatmeal: Regular uncooked oatmeal or colloidal oatmeal (which is a form of very finely ground oatmeal made specifically for bathing in) can be sprinkled into the bathwater to soothe dry skin.
- Baking soda: A tablespoon of baking soda can be added to the bathwater to ease symptoms of itchiness.
- Bleach: One half a cup of regular bleach can be diluted in bathwater for a remedy that is believed to kill bacteria on the surface of the skin, thus preventing the eczema from spreading. This dilution is intended for a standard U.S. bath tub, filled to the drainage holes. It is advisable to start out using one quarter cup of bleach. Do not ever exceed one half cup. Make sure to use regular (6%) bleach. Some brands of bleach are sold in concentrated form which will affect the dilution.
Try Ayurvedic remedies for Eczema. Ayurvedic herbs such as Hemidesmus indicus, Rubia cordifolia, Acacia catechu, Azadirachta indica, Tinospora cordifolia, Swertia chiraita, Curcuma longa, Aloe vera have been used effectively for various skin disorders including eczema. These herbs work on improving the immune response and as potent anti-oxidants. These herbs help to detoxify blood and impart smoothness to skin. Flax seed oil (Linum usitatissimum) which is the only natural source containing highest amount of essential fatty acids like Omega 3, helps to relieve the inflammation of the skin.
Try alternative treatments. Alternative medical treatments such as homeopathy, hypnosis and acupuncture have sometimes been found successful in improving eczema — though this is often due to their effectiveness at reducing stress (which can cause eczema), or the result of a placebo effect. However, if you are struggling to find a solution to your eczema, they may be worth a try.
How to Prevent Eczema
Eliminate milk and dairy products. Cow’s milk is possibly the main dietary trigger for eczema, so it is worth cutting it out of your diet (at least temporarily) to see if you notice an improvement. Cow’s milk can be quite acidic and is often filled with hormones and chemicals which negatively impact the immune system and aggravate eczema. Try eliminating all cow’s milk for at least two weeks and see if you notice any difference.
- There are many, many substitutes for cow’s milk, so don’t worry about having to drink your coffee black. Goat, sheep and buffalo milk are all great creamy alternatives.
Improve your diet. It is important to remember when dealing with conditions like eczema that the skin is the body’s largest organ of elimination — this means that whatever you put into your body may be reflected on the outside, as the skin excretes waste. As a result, diet plays a huge role in the health of your skin, so a few simple changes could lead to a significant improvement in your eczema. Focus on eating foods that promote gut and liver health, and eliminate as many processed and high-gluten foods as possible.
- Switch from a standard diet to a wholesome diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, mostly in their raw form.
- Switch from grain-fed beef, chicken and pork to grass-fed meat products and eat plenty of foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, chia, walnuts and hemp seed.
- If possible, eliminate gluten from your diet as it may be triggering your skin condition. Cut out bread, pasta, cereals and other processed, carbohydrate rich foods.
Limit stress in your life. During stressful interactions or times, skin inflammation increases in an effort to protect the skin from harm. Take steps to organize your life, reduce stress, and deal with anxiety. Trying to improve your emotional health can help.
Wear non-irritating clothing. The clothes you wear are in contact with your skin all day long; brushing, rubbing and even chafing the skin. Many people even notice a worsening of their eczema in winter, when they tend to wear more layers. It’s something of a vicious cycle that the worse your eczema gets, the more you want to cover it up and the more you cover it up, the worse the irritation becomes. You can improve this situation by making smart clothing choices:
- Wear loose clothing wherever possible and avoid items made from itchy, scratchy fabrics like wool. Smooth-textured clothing made from cotton, silk and bamboo are the least irritating on your skin.
- When exercising, wear proper sports clothing designed to keep your skin cool. This will prevent you from sweating excessively, which can aggravate eczema.
- Also be wary of your washing detergent — it may be leaving a slight residue on your clothes that’s contributing to eczema fare-ups. Try using a natural washing powder, or simply switch to a different biological brand.
Take natural supplements. Ideally, people would get all the vitamins and nutrients they need from their diet, but in reality this is rarely the case. Luckily there are plenty of dietary supplements you can take to help in the battle against eczema. Some of the best ones include:
- Fatty Acids: Fatty acids help to relieve dry skin and reduce inflammation, making them effective for treating eczema. For best results, choose a supplement that contains Omega 3, 6 and 9.
- Vitamins A, D and E: The combined skin benefits of these vitamins is impressive — they help the skin to retain hydration, improve its texture, boost collagen production and protect it from free radicals.
- Supplements containing gamma-linolenic acid: Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is a fatty acid found in evening primrose oil, borage oil and blackcurrant oil. It is believed to help relieve skin inflammation and to correct the balance of lipids in the skin.
Bathe less frequently, using warm water. Though showers can feel soothing on dry, itchy skin, bathing too often can actually strip moisture from the skin and make eczema worse. For this reason, you should limit your baths and showers to every 1 to 2 days if possible. Try to use warm water rather than hot and limit each session to 15 to 20 minutes, tops.
- Make sure to moisturize after the shower, preferably while your skin is still damp as this locks in more moisture. Creams and lotions work well, but oil-based moisturizers are best as they last longer and form a barrier that prevents moisture from evaporating off the skin.
- Also make sure to dry yourself carefully, so you don’t irritate the eczema by rubbing too roughly. Use the palms of your hands to brush off any excess moisture, then use a clean, dry towel to gently pat yourself dry.
Use a humidifier. Dry air in your bedroom and home can exacerbate skin conditions such as eczema, causing the skin to become dehydrated and flaky. You can remedy this situation by investing in an air humidifier which will add moisture to the air and to your skin. Portable home humidifiers, along with humidifiers you can attach to a furnace, are easily available and can be found in a range of styles and price ranges.
- It is also possible to humidify the air in a room without buying a humidifier. House plants naturally increase the amount of moisture in the air through a process known as transpiration. The Areca Palm and the Boston Fern are two popular natural humidifiers.
- One other way to humidify the air is to place a bowl or pot of water beneath a radiator or heat source. As the water heats it will evaporate, thus adding moisture to the air.
Choose non-irritating soaps and shampoos. The products you use in the shower can have a huge impact on the condition of your skin, so it is important to be aware of the products you are using and the ingredients they contain. As a general rule, the more natural and moisturizing a product is, the less irritating it will be on eczema-prone skin. You should avoid anti-bacterial and deodorant products, as these can be extremely drying.
- Avoid shower gels and soaps with dyes and perfumes — while they may look and smell nice, they are usually full of chemicals which are harsh and drying on the skin.
- Avoid any products containing sodium lauryl sulfate. This ingredient is found in a huge array of soaps and shampoos, as it works as a foaming agent. However, sodium lauryl sulfate (which is also used in products to clean cars and garage floors) can be highly irritating and drying on the skin. It also breaks down skin’s natural proteins, making skin more vulnerable to outside contaminants.
- Avoid parabens. Parabens are a group of chemicals commonly found in hygiene products such as shampoos, conditioners, body washes, lotions and scrubs. They are known to cause skin irritation, and pose multiple other health risks, including a link to cancer.
- Although eliminating dairy products/milk from your diet can improve eczema symptoms, it is important to get Calcium and Vitamin D from other sources. Great choices are dark leafy green vegetables such as kale or almond or soy milk. Another good option is taking calcium supplements. It’s up to you to weigh the positives and negatives.
- Don’t try to cover your eczema with makeup, unless it’s very well under control. Even then, use an un-scented natural makeup that won’t make your skin flare.
- If you can’t afford to have an allergy test done, consider keeping a journal. Keep a log of everything you eat, wear, and do on a particular day. For example, write down that you ate oatmeal, wore a polyester blouse, and washed dishes with Palmolive. Then, notate how you felt that day and indicate the times and days you began to itch. Eventually, you will discover certain patterns.
- Use equal parts of sugar and olive oil and gently apply on eczema affected skin. Rub gently then use a damp cloth to lightly wipe off the sugar. The olive oil is a natural moisturizer.
- Pure avocado oil applied liberally can provide instant relief. The symptoms should go in 2-3 days if used daily.
- Consider getting an allergy test. Although having one done is sometimes cumbersome, and even a pain, you can discover what foods, animals, carpets, or even trees cause your eczema flare-ups.
- Remember that eczema is not something that will disappear overnight. Some people’s eczema goes away, and other people keep their eczema. In most cases, however, eczema gets better with age.
- Mix organic unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar 50% with 50% water dab on affected area twice a day when it dries off moisturize with coconut oil or mustard oil.
- If your hands are in bad shape, buy a pair of cotton gloves. After applying lotion mixed with a little coconut oil, slip them on and wear them about 1 hour on and 1 hour off, applying lotion mix each time.