Is your skin red, dry, scaly and extremely itchy? Have you been diagnosed with eczema? The skin condition eczema is believed to affect over 30 million Americans. So, what is eczema? In fact, eczema isn’t a single condition; it is actually a group of skin conditions that includes atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, dyshidrotic eczema, hand eczema, neurodermatitis, nummular eczema and stasis dermatitis. (1) Finding a soothing, natural eczema treatment can be life-changing for those suffering from this frustrating condition.
Eczema typically first appears in very young children with research finding that 65 percent of cases occur before infants hit their first birthday, and 90 percent of those affected have their first cases before they turn 5 years old. Of further concern is that eczema in children is becoming more and more common. (2) Diseases eczema can resemble include psoriasis, rosacea and dermatitis, but it’s a different condition.
A study conducted by the Department of Pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center found that 39 percent of Caucasian children develop eczema by 3 years old. Interestingly, this same study found children that have a dog in the home are significantly less likely to develop eczema at any age. (3)
Although initial outbreaks of eczema most often occur in infants and young children, onset can occur at any time. While the majority of the skin conditions that fall under the eczema heading are chronic, it is important to note that contact dermatitis and hand eczema may be acute in nature, occurring due to an exposure to allergens or chemicals.
For many people, the severity of flare-ups will lessen with maturity, and some may even outgrow it altogether. However, eczema can come and go throughout life. Learning how to treat your eczema and identifying triggers that cause flares is the best course of action.
And while there is no definitive answer as to the cause of eczema, and there is no identified cure, there are effective natural treatments, home remedies and essential oils for eczema that may help prevent future flares and ease discomfort during an outbreak. It is important to understand that eczema is an embarrassing, stressful and frustrating condition that often disrupts sleeping patterns. Finding an eczema treatment to help relieve the symptoms must be a top priority.
Eczema Risk Factors, Causes & Symptoms
As a matter of fact, there is a wide range of causes and risk factors associated with eczema. And, eczema symptoms can manifest widely differently between those affected. While a singular cause of eczema has not been established, there are certain common causes leading to the onset and flares. In addition, a wide range of risk factors has been identified.
Risk Factors for Eczema
- A genetic predisposition or family history of eczema, hay fever or asthma
- Young age
- Healthcare worker
- Children that attend daycare
- Living in a dry climate
- Nutritional deficiency
- Adolescent obesity, for later onset of eczema cases
- Low vitamin D levels during pregnancy may increase the risk of developing eczema in the first year of life.
Causes of Eczema
So far, the medical community has yet to determine a definitive cause of eczema. For some, it may occur due to a nutritional deficiency, while for others it may first arise due to an allergen or other irritant. Here are the widely-accepted causes of eczema:
- Dry skin and sensitive skin that cracks
- Immune system dysfunction
- Environmental conditions
- Gene variation that affects skin
- Allergies to foods, beauty products, laundry detergents or other chemical allergy
- Chronic stress
- Temperature changes
Symptoms of Eczema
While many will experience a lessening of symptoms and fewer flares as they age, some will continue to experience eczema symptoms throughout adulthood, such as atopic eczema rashes. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and change from one outbreak to another. Common symptoms include:
- The appearance of small, raised bumps which may ooze liquid and develop a crust
- Thick, dry, scaly skin that cracks
- Red, brown or grayish patches of skin on hands, feet, ankles, wrists, neck, upper chest, eyelids, in skin folds, and on the face and scalp of infants
- Sensitive skin that is swollen and raw from scratching
- A recurring rash that causes intense itching, often disrupting sleep patterns
- Rashes due to atopic eczema
Eczema Treatment: 13 Ways to Find Relief
While there is no cure for eczema, there are a variety of non-invasive eczema treatment options that can provide relief during a flare-up and some that may prevent its onset. These can include corticosteroids, but the following home eczema treatment options may be best.
1. Light Therapy/Phototherapy
According to the National Eczema Association, phototherapy helps to calm inflammation, reduces itching, increases vitamin D production and helps fight bacteria on the skin. (4) Adding 10–15 minutes a day of sun exposure, particularly during an eczema flare, can provide relief and potentially speed healing.
2. Vitamin D
In addition to increasing sun exposure, supplementing with vitamin D rich foods like cod liver oil, sardines, salmon, eggs and raw milk may help prevent eczema in children and adolescents. Ideally, during a flare you will get 2,000-5,000 IU daily; if your sun exposure is low, consider boosting your intake with a high-quality supplement. Preliminary research shows that low vitamin D levels during pregnancy and during childhood may increase the risk for developing eczema. (5)
Because dry skin is both a cause and symptom, it is imperative to moisturize affected areas at least twice a day. Coconut oil is the perfect moisturizer for eczema sufferers. This eczema treatment is antibacterial and anti-fungal, with antimicrobial properties that provide soothing relief, and may speed healing.
4. Treat the Mind and Body
According to Harvard Medical School, some skin conditions, including eczema, have a psychological component. This is a dynamic is referred to as psychodermatology. Researchers have found that hypnosis, mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relation, focused breathing, cognitive behavior therapy and talk therapy may provide not only relief during a flare, but expedite healing and prevent future flares. (6)
5. Dead Sea Salt Baths
The Dead Sea is known for its healing powers, and researchers have found that taking a bath with salt from the Dead Sea water improves skin hydration, improved skin barrier function, reduced inflammation, and relieved redness and roughness. (7) As eczema flares can worsen when exposed to high and low temperatures, bath water should be just warm enough to prevent a chill. Do not rub the skin dry; pat gently with a soft towel.
6. Cool, Wet Compresses
Applying a cool, wet compress lessens the itching for some individuals with eczema. For young children, dampening snug night clothes may provide overnight relief from itching; however, if the eczema has evolved to oozing blisters, a wet compress may increase the risk of infection, and shouldn’t be used.
7. Apply Itch Cream
The intense itching is often the most miserable part of an eczema flare. Try using a natural homemade eczema cream that incorporates Shea butter, coconut oil, raw honey and essential oils to provide much-needed relief.
8. Licorice Extract
9. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Researchers from Norwegian University of Science and Technology have found that when fish is introduced into the diet of young children by the age of 9 months, and fish is eaten weekly, the risk for developing eczema reduces dramatically. (9) Including foods rich in Omega-3s to prevent eczema should be considered. During a flare, these foods are a great eczema treatment that will boost immune system function and speed healing.
Probiotics may help prevent eczema in infants and decrease the severity of flares, research shows. (10)(11) In fact, mothers who take probiotics during pregnancy and while breastfeeding may prevent eczema from developing in their children. During an eczema outbreak and to prevent future flares, taking a high-quality probiotic supplement of 24–100 billion organisms daily should be considered.
11. Lavender Essential Oil
In addition to the intense itching, eczema commonly causes anxiety, depression, frustration and poor sleep. Lavender essential oil is an eczema treatment proven to help reduce these common symptoms that can help heal dry skin. Add 10 drops to 1 tablespoon of coconut oil or almond oil, and gently rub into the skin. The aroma can help facilitate sleep, when itching is often at its worst.
12. Vitamin E
Taking 400IU of vitamin E daily can help to speed healing by reducing inflammation. In addition, topical application of vitamin E may help to relieve the itch and prevent against scarring.
13. Witch Hazel
If during a flare the rash starts to ooze, applying witch hazel can help promote healing due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Research has found that a cream containing witch hazel and phosphatidylcholine can be as effective as hydrocortisone in a double-blind trial. (12) During an outbreak, gently dab this eczema treatment directly onto the rash with a cotton pad. Be sure to use an alcohol-free witch hazel as you don’t want to cause more dryness.
Eczema Treatment: Eczema and Food
Foods to Eat to Treat Eczema:
- Essential fatty acids — Wild-caught fish and flaxseed oil can reduce eczema symptoms.
- Pumpkin or chia seeds — These seeds provide zinc, which is essential for wound healing and metabolizing fatty acids.
- Probiotic-rich foods — Consume goat’s milk kefir and amasai. These are the highest probiotic foods and can support gut and immune health improving the cause of eczema.
- High-fiber foods — Constipation can lead your body to look for other ways to expel toxins, and the skin can become one of the avenues in which toxins are expelled. Aim for at least 30 grams of fiber per day from vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, coconut and sprouted grains/legumes.
- Vitamin A-rich foods — Increase your intake of orange and yellow colored vegetables, which are high in vitamin A, necessary for skin health.
Foods to Avoid:
- Additives — Eliminate additives and processed foods, which can make eczema worse.
- Foods allergens — Avoid any potential allergens, and some common allergen foods include gluten, dairy, shellfish or peanuts.
- Margarine and other non-essential fats — These fats can interfere with the absorption of essential fats critical for healing.
- Sugar — Increases inflammation and reduces immune function.
- Fried foods — Can increase inflammation.
Eczema is a skin condition that can result is severe discomfort, disruption of sleep, cause anxiety and depression and skin infections. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, the majority of people that have eczema also have Staphylococcus aureus bacteria on their skin. (13) When the rash weeps, or excessive itching breaks the skin, severe infections from bacteria and viruses can occur.
If an infection does occur, following natural impetigo treatments can help to prevent spreading the infection to others and speed healing.
Eczema may make people more prone to heart disease and stroke research highlighted by Harvard Medical School found. The study found that people with eczema smoke and drink more, and are less likely to exercise than those without eczema. All three of these factors are considered risk factors for heart disease and other chronic conditions. (14)
Anxiety, depression and poor sleep quality are real concerns for children and adults alike during an eczema flare. Using essential oils for eczema by diffusing or adding to lotions or creams, may help relieve the emotional toll this condition has on those it affects.
Children are particularly prone to ridicule at school during an outbreak, especially with eczema on the face. It is not uncommon for children with eczema to withdraw from their social circle and become isolated. Be sure to provide plenty of understanding and support.
If you’re struggling with eczema or another skin condition, you can visit a dermatologist for further help.
Final Thoughts on Eczema Treatment
- Over 30,000,000 Americans have eczema and there is no cure.
- There are seven skin conditions that fall under the eczema heading including contact dermatitis, dyshidrotic eczema, hand eczema, neurodermatitis, nummular eczema, eczema stasis dermatitis and the most common offender, atopic dermatitis.
- 90 percent of those affected experience their first eczema outbreak before they turn 5 years old.
- Eczema patches can appear anywhere, but in children it typically develops first on the cheeks, chin and scalp.
- In adolescents and adults, eczema patches appear in areas that bend, like elbows, knees, ankles, wrists and the neck.
- Understanding what triggers it and how to get rid of eczema flares requires careful tracking of allergens and all flares as they occur.
- To prevent future flares, avoid common triggers and allergens including eggs, soy, gluten, dairy, shellfish, fried foods, sugar, peanuts, trans-fats, common food preservatives and artificial sweeteners.
- Treat the mind and body for best results as increased anxiety and depression can worsen the symptoms and stress is believed to cause a flare in many adults.
- Moisturize affected areas at least twice a day to help soothe dry skin, relieve itching and speed healing.
- Mothers who take probiotics daily during pregnancy and while breastfeeding may help prevent eczema in their children.
- Introducing fish to young children may help prevent eczema.
- Having a dog may prevent children from developing eczema.