Eczema was first identified as a diagnosable skin condition in 1813. Over two hundred years later, we still have no cure — a frustrating reality for those who suffer from it.
Eczema is not just one condition, but a group of chronic skin diseases, the most common of which is atopic dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis, also known as atoptic eczema, is characterized by red, itchy, and inflamed patches of skin that result from an overactive immune system.
While there are many conventional treatments available to relieve the effects of eczema, if you have the condition, you may want to avoid the potential side effects of prescription medications and manage your eczema symptoms without the use of harsh steroids (though this may be unavoidable– make sure you speak with your dermatologist about all treatment plans).
In this article, we explore the various natural ways to cope with eczema, reduce itching and pain, and improve your quality of life.
Keep in mind that eczema can be a serious condition, and it's crucial to seek medical advice before trying any new treatments.
Understand and Manage Your Triggers
We don’t yet know the exact cause of eczema. Different types of eczema may have different causes. However, researchers agree that the skin condition is the result of a combination of genetics and environmental factors.REF#758
If you suffer from eczema, your first step toward relief is to identify and avoid the factors most likely to to cause flare-ups. These factors include but are not limited to:
- Environmental allergens
- Exposure to dry air
- Stress and anxiety
- Food allergies
- Laundry detergents and softeners with chemical additives
- Certain fabrics
- Personal care products
It’s hard to control the climate you live in, unless you’re willing to move. But you can control your exposure to the elements you suspect are triggers and adopt lifestyle and personal care routines that minimize the frequency and severity of breakouts.
Minimize Exposure to Environmental Pollutants
Various scientific studies have shown a relationship between the number of people affected by eczema and proximity to air pollution from automobile traffic, power plants, biomass burning, wildfires, wood smoke, dust storms, gas stoves, tobacco smoke, and construction materials.REF#758
It’s a good strategy, therefore, to limit your exposure to hazardous air pollutants. Consider taking the following precautions:
- Check AQI: Always check the local air quality index (AQI) on your weather app or airnow.gov before going outside. If the air quality is hazardous, stay indoors.
- No smoking: Avoid sitting in areas where others are smoking and make it a policy to forbid smoking in or around your home.
- No wood fires: If you have a wood-burning fireplace, decorate it with fake logs or candles instead of using it to burn wood.
- Use natural remodeling materials: When remodeling, select only natural materials that won’t release toxic fumes. Use hardwood, tile or wool or cotton carpet instead of vinyl flooring or synthetic fiber carpeting and rugs. If refinishing hardwood floors or cabinets, use water-based rather than oil based sealers and stains. Select zero-VOC and non-toxic paints for indoor walls and use only eco-friendly wallpaper adhesive.
- Air Purifier: Use a good air purifier with a HEPA filter that filters out dust, pollen, smoke, bacteria, viruses, and other harmful air particles in every room where you spend extended amounts of time. Any purifier that says it is “HEPA-style” or “HEPA-type” does not meet the EPA’s HEPA standards and is not worth investing in. Higher end air purifiers will include an activated carbon filter that also traps odors and toxic gasses. The EPA recommends that an air purifier should be processed through the filter five times per hour. Make sure the one you buy is designed for the size of the room or space it will be used in.
- Use a humidifier: If you live in a dry climate or have a furnace that sucks the moisture out of the air during the cold winter months, you can add moisture to the interior of your home with a humidifier. You may want to invest in two so you have your main living area and bedroom covered.
Manage Stress in Your Life
Stress is a known cause of inflammareactionsction in the body.REF#759 While stress doesn’t directly cause eczema, it may provoke an inflammatory response on your skin.
If you are dealing with stress in your life, you may minimize the number and severity of eczema flare ups by practicing one of the following techniques regularly.
- Meditation: A study at Emory University showed a correlation between mindfulness meditation and a decrease in the severity of itching due to eczema.REF#760 Study subjects found they were able to resist the urge to itch more quickly than they were before meditation. They slept better, felt less stress, and improved their quality of life. It may require practicing meditation over time to sustain these effects and improve overall quality of life. If you’re new to meditation and want an introduction, you can access free guided meditations through UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center.
- Exercise: Exercising, especially in nature, is a proven way to reduce stress and clear your mind. A brisk walk, bike ride, or aerobics workout can help reduce the stress that may trigger eczema flare-ups. Because sweat can provoke or aggravate breakouts, make sure you shower with lukewarm water after exercising, apply a moisturizer to avoid dry skin, and put on clean clothes afterward.
- Good sleep hygiene: Your stress levels increase when you don’t get enough sleep. If you are not sleeping at least seven hours a night or more, you may need to improve your sleep hygiene — the behaviors, environmental conditions, and other sleep-related factors that affect your sleep.
- Hypnotherapy: Mind body therapies including hypnosis have been shown to improve some of the harmful effects that stress has on the body. Clinical studies suggest that hypnosis can have a positive effect on itching and the severity of skin outbreaks when done in combination with other treatments.REF#761 Hypnosis should be done by a licensed and professional experienced in stress management. It can be expensive if not covered by insurance, so it’s not an option for many people.
- Herbal supplementation: There are several herbs that can help relieve stress and occasional anxiety.* Taking a Passionflower supplement can induce a state of calm. Both Passionflower and Ashwagandha may help you cope with occasional anxiety.* Gaia Herbs’ award-winning formula, Emotional Balance, blends St. John’s Wort with Passionflower, Vervain, and Oats to support a balanced mood.*
Eat an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
The food you eat doesn’t cause eczema. However, since food allergies can activate inflammation in your body, certain foods might be associated with an eczema outbreak.
Since it can be hard to identify which foods may trigger your flare-ups, and because allergy testing hasn’t proved successful in identifying an association, your best action is to commit to a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet, which eliminates processed foods, high glycemic foods (those that cause a rapid increase in blood glucose), and foods high in saturated fats.
An anti-inflammatory diet is not only good for your skin, but also good for your overall health and may help you avoid other chronic diseases, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease.REF#762
An anti-inflammatory diet gives you the perfect balance of micro and macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fiber, healthy fats, minerals, and vitamins) and focuses on fresh food that is low in sugars:
- Lean protein (chicken and fish)
- Whole grains
- Fresh vegetables
- Fresh fruits
A 2018 study found that eating foods high in vitamin C plays a significant role in maintaining healthy skin and may reduce the risk and severity of atopic dermatitis.*REF#763 Vitamin A and Omega-3 fatty acids also contribute to skin health.*
Citrus fruits, strawberries, and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts) are all great sources of vitamin C. Leafy greens, orange and yellow vegetables such as sweet potatoes and carrots, cantaloupe, mango, eggs, and milk provide vitamin A. Tomatoes and bell peppers are great sources of both vitamins C and A. Salmon, anchovies, sardines, black cod, and shellfish are great sources of Omega-3 fats. All these foods should be included in your anti-inflammatory diet.
Some people have found relief following a 30- to 60-day diet called the Auto-Immune Protocol (AIP), which eliminates grains, eggs, dairy, nightshades, and possibly nuts and seeds from your diet. These are foods many people are sensitive to and may cause intestinal inflammation. After the 30- to 60-day period on the diet, you add each of these foods back into your diet one at a time to determine if it causes a flare-up. There is no scientific research to prove this diet is effective, but many people report success with it
While diet alone will not cure your eczema, it may reduce your symptoms and give you the best chance of enjoying good health throughout your life.
Invest in Natural Cleansers & Personal Care Products
What you put on your skin is as critical as what you put in your body. Most commercial laundry detergents, soaps, shampoos, conditioners, moisturizers, cosmetics, and sunscreens contain perfumes, dyes, and other ingredients that coat your laundry and skin with synthetic ingredients. While these products are generally cheaper than natural ones, they can come with the cost of triggering or aggravating your eczema.
Many products that claim to be “natural” actually contain harmful ingredients. (In the U.S., only New York and California have disclosure laws that require companies to list everything in their products.)
Fortunately, there are products on the market that clean, moisturize, and protect your skin from UV rays and use only natural ingredients. The best way to find them is to search online for reviews of natural and non-toxic detergents, soaps, shampoos, and personal care products. You can learn more about what ingredients to avoid on the Environmental Working Group’s website, EWG Skin Deep. It lists over 86,000 personal care products from over 2,900 brands and rates their hazard levels. Then be vigilant about checking ingredients on labels before buying anything that claims to be natural.
Use Natural Herbal Oils or Supplements to Reduce Inflammation
Many herbs have properties that reduce inflammation and provide relief from itching and pain.* You can purchase them as essential oils or take them, as directed, as a supplement.
Essential oils made from single herbs should be diluted with a carrier oil before applying them to the affected area of your skin. As with any new treatment, you should consult your healthcare professional before trying a new regime.
Some of the most effective herbs or plant-based oils known for their anti-inflammatory effects include:
- Coconut oil: This natural oil can help manage the symptoms of eczema by penetrating the skin quickly, hydrating it, increasing its elasticity, and reducing the chances of infection, thanks to its antimicrobial properties. To get the most effect from it, use virgin coconut oil without any additives.REF#764
- Oregano: This herb has anti-inflammatory properties that have been found to calm the swelling and itching caused by eczema.* Oregano oil can be purchased in capsule or extract form or as an essential oil or cream. It is also easy to make this oil yourself using herbs you buy or grow in your garden.
- Ashwagandha Root: This root has been studied extensively, with positive results that suggest it can be used to protect against skin inflammation.*REF#765 It is widely used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat eczema because of its ability to induce calm and relaxation.* It is generally available as a supplement in capsule, powder, or gummy form.
- Colloidal oatmeal: A form of oat flour, colloidal oatmeal is an emollient that, when added to a lukewarm bath or used as a skin cream creates a protective layer over the skin, holding in moisture and relieving itching.REF#766
- Aloe vera and olive oil: This combination, when applied to affected areas, was found to be effective in reducing the severity of symptoms in a randomized double-blind clinical trial.REF#767 You can make your own moisturizer by mixing twice the amount of aloe vera gel to olive oil.
No matter what steps you take to relieve your symptoms naturally, eczema can be challenging to control. You may get relief without resorting to harsh products or medications by managing your environment, changing your diet, developing gentle skincare routines, reducing your stress level, and trying alternative therapies.
However, it's important to remember that eczema can be a serious condition that should be monitored by a healthcare provider who can determine the best treatment options for your individual needs
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