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Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic disease of the skin that causes itchiness, redness and inflammation. It is estimated that seven percent of the population suffers from eczema. Eczema often begins in early childhood and can last a lifetime. Given some of the causative factors, it is easy to see why. Eczema is usually a symptom of an underlying body disorder, so the secret to your success will be to discover what is triggering the skin eruptions. It often affects people who also suffer from other diseases such as asthma and hay fever, or who have family members who do.
The skin affected by eczema appears red, dry and scaly, and is extremely itchy, and may sting and burn. If scratched too much, it can crack, ooze, and crust over, and can even become infected. Eczema may also be moist and weeping, with watery blisters.
Although eczema can affect the entire body, it is usually found in specific body areas. For children, the most commonly affected areas are the scalp, cheeks, chin, back, legs, elbows and arms. Adults are often affected on the eyelids and the skin around the eyes and mouth. High perspiration areas such as the creases of the elbows, knees, hands, and feet are also commonly affected. If you have splits and cracks on your hands or blisters along the edges of your fingers, you may have hand eczema.
Eczema first appears in early childhood, often by the age of four months. The face, scalp, neck, and diaper areas are most frequently involved. These sites, especially the cheeks, become red and scaly. Itching is quite severe, and the infant may literally tear apart his or her skin, leading to bleeding sores and secondary infection. In most cases itching actually precedes the appearance of the rash; thus eczema is commonly referred to as “the itch that rashes.” As the child ages, the disorder tends to localize to the back of the neck, behind the elbows and knees, and on the wrists and ankles. The involved sites are dry and thickened, and demonstrate accentuation of the normal skin creases.
In the adult, atopic dermatitis may be manifested by scaling of the hands and feet, and by the appearance of circular, dry, scaling patches (called nummular eczema) anywhere on the body. Eczema at any age is characterized by moderate to severe itching. Most persons with atopic dermatitis experience clearing of the disorder in their late twenties, and by age thirty a large number are free of disease. About 15 percent of persons with atopic dermatitis develop chronic localization to their hands (hand dermatitis).
The cause of atopic dermatitis is not fully understood. Hay fever and asthma are associated with this condition. Heredity certainly plays an important role as nearly 70 percent of atopic dermatitis patients have at least one other family member with eczema, hay fever, or asthma. Diet (food allergy) was thought to cause and/or aggravate the disorder, but this is unlikely except perhaps in the very early, infantile stage.
Although the exact cause of eczema is unknown, traditional medicine believes it’s caused by an abnormal allergic response of the body’s immune system. This, however, is quite a limited view. One must look at eczema sufferer’s whole body, parents, diet and environment to discover the real causative factors. As the saying goes, the skin is the window of balance (or imbalance) within the body. Unfortunately most traditional treatments use steroids, prescription drugs or creams that do not address the underlying cause/s of eczema and have long-term side effects. These traditional treatments suppress the underlying causes by addressing only the symptoms. In many cases of eczema the body is trying to rid itself of toxins. By addressing these causes you should have very significant results within a few months.
Since babies often get eczema, called cradlecap, it is obvious that the problem starts early in life, even before birth, unlike many other health conditions. In 2002 the Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology reported that mothers who took probiotics (the good bacteria) during pregnancy and lactation improved their anti-inflammatory transforming growth factor (TGF) in their milk. Because there has been such an increase in allergic diseases, especially among children, one of the best ways to enhance a child’s immune system is through mother’s milk. Breast-feeding leads to a greatly reduced incidence of developing eczema during the baby’s first two years of life.
While we are talking about babies it is important to point out that there is a direct relationship between excessive hygiene and the development of eczema and asthma in children between 30 and 42 months. Children who washed their hands more than five times a day or were bathed more than two times a day were more likely to develop these diseases. The theory behind this is that a lower exposure to germs affects the immune system’s development in such a way that it is more prone to allergic reactions.
Doctors practicing natural medicine believe there are several main causes of eczema:
Chronic skin disorders directly reflect the health of the digestive and eliminatory systems. Gently treating the liver, kidneys and bowel over time with mild herbal remedies can positively affect the skin and should be the foundation of your back-to-health protocol. The skin is the largest organ of elimination and is a means of exit of sweat, toxic wastes, gases and oils from the body. These toxins, perhaps coupled with nutritional deficiencies mentioned below, may be the primary underlying cause of eczema. A clogged liver or kidneys, lung malfunction, as well as constipation, may lead to excess toxins circulating in the blood and exiting through the skin. If one or more of these conditions exists, it will be necessary to correct it in order to minimize the skin problem. We suggest working with your health practitioner in developing a complete body detoxification program so that all organs of elimination are functioning well. If your kidneys are overloaded, your skin will take over elimination of toxins and metabolic wastes from the body. Depending on the severity of your body’s toxicity, you will need to do anywhere from a several day cleanse to one that may take as long as two to three weeks. In addition to causing eczema, a clogged or sluggish liver may lead to itching due to a malfunction in its ability to digest fats. If you are chronically constipated, see our constipation section for more ideas. The goal will be to have 2-3 bowel movements daily in order to flush out the toxic wastes.
Bad digestion can lead to another skin problem – one that you might not see the connection – itching. Inadequate stomach acid leads to poor metabolism of calcium, and its symptom – itching. Chronic indigestion will need to be corrected if you want to see your skin problems subside. Good metabolism of calcium is vital for skin health. The Omega-3 fatty acids found in flaxseed oil aid calcium metabolism and should relieve the itching.
Another cause of itching is a clogged liver and gallbladder. When this is the case fats of any kind cannot be properly digested, and the result is itching. A complete liver/gallbladder flush will probably be in order to get these organs functioning normally. The itching should go away.
The first thing you need to do is to try to identify what is causing the eczema and avoid that substance. Here are some things to look out for:
Traditional allopathic treatment has been to prescribe hydrocortisone (steroid) creams and ointments and Benadryl to stop the itching. While the creams are often effective, they have side effects which make them less than ideal for long term use. In children these effects are growth retardation, obesity, and muscle weakness. Scratching opens the skin and makes it vulnerable to staph infections. We believe that natural remedies, coupled with dietary changes and avoidance of certain chemicals will be more effective without the side effects.
Atopic dermatitis is as yet without cure; the condition simply must burn itself out. However, the annoying manifestations can be controlled. Treatment of atopic dermatitis centers on control of the rash and, just as important, control of the itching. The more one scratches, the worse the disorder becomes and the longer it takes to heal.
People with atopic dermatitis should avoid any factors that aggravate sensitive skin. Fingernails, especially those of infants, must be trimmed as short as possible to avoid digging and tearing. Clothing should be soft, loose-fitting, and preferably made of cotton; wools and irritating synthetics are best not worn. Excess humidity and lack of it both promote itching and should be avoided. Over bathing and the use of harsh soaps contribute to skin dryness. One should use a mild, moisturizing soap and lubricating bath oil. Moisturizers should be applied to the skin on a regular and frequent basis.
Individuals with moderate to severe eczema warrant medical care by a dermatologist. Control of itching usually entails the use of steroid ointments and creams. Topical steroids are safe for long-term administration but should be used at a lowered potency if needed on a chronic basis. Oral antihistamines are commonly used, but of questionable value. Flare-ups may require oral or intramuscular steroids, and chronic, refractory cases in adults may need methotrexate or cyclosporine for adequate control.
Topical immunomodulators are the most recent advance in the treatment of atopic dermatitis. Elidel cream (pimecrolimus) and Protopic ointment (tacrolimus) are nonsteroid compounds useful in chronic management of mild to moderate eczema. These may be used about the eyes and in the groin, problematic areas for steroids. To date, adverse effects from extended use of these agents have not been reported.
In general, control of eczema begins with the use of more potent topical steroids, which are then tapered to less potent forms for maintenance, or to either Elidel or Protopic, both of which are steroid-free.
TOPICAL STEROID POTENCY EXAMPLES
Clobetasol propionate: Clobex/Cormax/Olux/Temovate
Betamethasone dipropionate: Diprolene
Halobetasol propionate: Ultravate
Diflorasone diacetate: Psorcon
Fluocinonide 1 percent: Vanos
Triamcinolone acetonide: Aristocort/Kenalog
Fluocinonide 0.05 percent: Lidex
Hydrocortisone probutate: Pandel
Hydrocortisone butyrate: Locoid
Betamethasone valerate: Luxiq
Mometasone furoate: Elocon
An Unusual Treatment
Dr. Michael Woodruff, in his autobiography Nothing Venture Nothing Win, describes the use of hypnosis to alleviate the underlying emotional state that may cause eczema. Since stress and emotions may play a significant role in some eczema cases, the use of hypnosis may be quite effective.
Diet & Nutrition
Diet is the foundation of health, and skin problems are no exception. The foods you eat and the beverages you drink must be eliminated from the body. Your metabolic process breaks them down, but all organs of elimination must be functioning well in order to avoid problems. Eating or drinking the wrong things for your body type can cause problems to occur. Switching to a simple, natural diet of whole grains, beans, and cooked vegetables, and avoiding meats, milk products, refined sugar and grains, may provide beneficial results.
Since we have seen in the Causes section above that a deficiency in essential fatty acids is one of the primary causes for eczema, you need to understand that eating the wrong kind of fats may be causing the problem, too. The Standard American Diet is very heavy in hydrogenated oils and trans-fats, and short on the essential fatty acids. In most cases skin problems are caused by a fat deficiency or an imbalance between the “good” and “bad” fats. To overcome this problem you will need to cut out or greatly reduce the latter and increase the former. Follow this program for 90 days, and you should have a good probability of success:
The idea behind this program is to rebalance the “good” and “bad” oils in your body. Most skin problems are caused by eating the wrong kind of fats, so making the switch is critical to eliminating eczema. Depending on the severity of the problem it may take awhile for this process to show noticeable results. While you are doing this rebalancing you will want to take other supplements to nourish your body from within.
Nutritional deficiencies certainly play a part in skin problems. Skin is your largest organ and needs to get “fed” just like the rest of your body. With today’s overload of toxins in the air, our food, and personal care products, the skin needs all the help it can get. In recent years people have tried to cut out fat in their diet for over-all heath concerns. However, many people cut out all fat and don’t realize that fat is an essential part of the body’s nutritional needs. Essential fats are necessary for nearly all of the body’s functions! Your body desperately requires fats for ultimate skin health. If your eczema is caused by a nutritional deficiency, your skin should quickly return to normal once the deficiency is corrected.
B-vitamins are crucial, as these vitamins aid digestion, boost the immune system and are vital for healthy skin. Deficiencies of B6 and biotin are sometimes linked to dermatitis. However, taking a complete B-complex will be most beneficial because the B-vitamins work in concert, and taking individual ones will not produce the necessary relief. We recommend a high-potency B-complex multi-vitamin, such as Solgar’s VM-75.
Black current seed oil will supply the essential fatty acids needed to alleviate eczema. Take three to six perles daily. See information on essential fatty acids (EFAs) below.
Borage oil is the richest source of one of the essential fatty acids, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). GLA is required for the formation and maintenance of healthy skin cell membranes. Many people are deficient in this essential fatty acid and consequently experience chronic skin problems. For more information, see EFAs below.
Chlorophyll-rich foods, such as spirulina, blue-green algae, chlorella and wheat grass, purify the blood and support healthy skin.
Cod liver oil is one of the age-old standbys for eczema.
Enzymes may be at low levels in people with eczema. One study showed that lipase and trypsin levels in pancreatic juice were low, as well as blood levels of amylase. Supplementing with these enzymes will help eliminate the imbalance.
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are beneficial fats needed for many functions of the body, and are needed to repair damaged skin cells and keep the skin lubricated. They occur in high concentrations in flaxseed, evening primrose and fish oils, and in smaller concentrations in other oils. These fatty acids help regulate prostaglandins, which govern many processes, including inflammation. Prostaglandins strongly influence skin health. They are not stored in the body but must be synthesized from essential fatty acids that come from one’s diet. A deficiency in EFAs can be devastating to the skin. A deficiency in one of the EFAs, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) can lead to an imbalance of prostaglandins, which in turn can lead to skin dryness, itching and eczema. GLA is found in evening primrose oil (9%), black currant oil (17%), and borage oil (24%). People with eczema have trouble with their digestion of essential fatty acids, so taking these EFAs will be very important in overcoming your eczema.
Evening primrose oil (EPO) provides a beneficial balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids and can relieve the symptoms of eczema and help normalize the digestion of essential fatty acids. EPO also is a rich source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an essential fatty acid that is critical to skin health, and helps to moderate inflammation. GLA has been approved in England for treating eczema. Aging, diet and stress reduce enzymes that can convert other essential fatty acids to GLA, so using supplements will supply the body’s needs. It has been reported that over half of eczema sufferers improve after taking EPO supplementation and topically. 1,000 mg 3 times a day for two weeks, then reduce the dose to 500 mg 3 times a day. In addition, apply topically twice a day. See our product.
Fish provide many essential fatty acids. Many people with eczema may not be able to metabolize other forms of essential fatty acids properly, so taking fish oil supplements (1.8 gr EPA daily) or eating cold-water fish may be the best way to obtain these nutrients. MaxEPA is a good product.
Flaxseed oil provides the body with Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids which will help nourish the skin from within. We recommend Barlean’s or Omega Flo brands. You may also buy whole flaxseeds and grind them up and sprinkle them on cereal or salads. Do not use capsules for two reasons: they may have sat on a shelf, unrefrigerated, and you will have to take a lot of them to equal the same amount of flaxseed oil from a can, thereby pushing the cost way up. Begin by taking one tablespoon daily for two weeks and see if there is any change. If no change has taken place, increase dosage by one tablespoon for the next two to three weeks, and keep increasing the dose one tablespoon at a time until the desired result occurs. Using flaxseed oil in conjunction with EPO, the body is far more likely to convert GLA to beneficial prostaglandins, thereby reducing inflammation. The Omega-3 fatty acids also inhibit the body’s production of inflammation-causing arachidonic acid found in saturated fat. The Essential Woman brand from Barlean’s combines both evening primrose and flaxseed oils. You can also take flaxseed oil in conjunction with black current seed oil or sesame oil.
Herbs can be helpful in restoring and maintaining skin health, but you must remember that the healing process is slow and may take many months. Be patient. Use some of the recommended herbs listed below.
Oiling of the skin has proven to be very helpful in maintaining healthy skin. Ayurvedic medicine recommends a whole body oiling with sesame, sunflower or coconut oil once a week. Don’t do this if you are pregnant or have broken skin.
Sesame seed oil will provide the essential fatty acids to alleviate eczema. Take three to six perles daily, or one teaspoon of raw oil.
Vitamin C and bioflavonoids are extremely helpful in controlling eczema. At least 1,000 mg of each daily.
Vitamins A, D and E are also essential for healthy, well-nourished skin that heals rapidly. Vitamins A and E are fat-soluble antioxidants which are essential for clear skin. Take 10,000 IU of vitamin A daily.
Water Many people are dehydrated and don’t even know it. You need to drink eight 8- ounce glasses of water for proper hydration. The skin needs water to maintain proper elasticity, and, since it is exposed to the elements, is the first organ to be affected by a lack of water. In addition, water will help flush out allergens that may be causing the skin irritation.
Zinc Many people with eczema have been shown to be deficient in this mineral. Take 50 mg daily. Zinc is also important in fatty acid metabolism, so a lack of zinc may be why many eczema sufferers have trouble digesting the fatty acids.
Aloe is very soothing and helps promote healing of the skin. Use a cream, gel or pure aloe juice at least twice a day. Drink an ounce of juice after each meal. This will aid digestion and strengthen the lining of your intestines, thereby preventing toxins from re-entering the bloodstream.
Alum Make a wash of alum and dab on the affected area with a cotton ball or clean cloth.
Amaranth Make a tea by adding 2 teaspoons of seeds to three cups of boiling water; cover and simmer for five minutes; steep for 30 minutes. Use as a wash and/or drink two cups daily.
Apis Use to treat rashes and inflammation.
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) Drink 1-2 tablespoons of ACV with each meal. In addition, dilute some ACV and dab on the skin. As we mentioned in the Causes section above, a deficiency in chloride of potassium is a possible cause, and that mineral is contained in apples.
Avocado oil, used over a long period of time, has proven quite beneficial for treating eczema. This may be because avocado oil is rich in vitamins A, D and E, all of which help maintain healthy skin. Use this oil either topically, internally or on salads.
Blackstrap molasses Eat one tablespoon daily.
Borage oil/frankincense Make a balm by mixing several drops of the essential oil of frankincense with some borage oil. This mixture is especially good for dry, hardened skin. You may have to experiment with the mixture to get the formula right for you.
Brewer’s yeast Eat 2 tablespoons daily.
Burdock root stimulates the liver and gall bladder to increase bile flow and is indicated for chronic skin diseases with inflammation. Burdock root is probably the most widely used blood purifier, and therefore is beneficial in various skin conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine uses the seeds of burdock root extensively for dry, itchy, and scaly skin conditions. To make a tea, add 4 teaspoons of the root to one quart of boiling water, simmer for 7 minutes, then steep for two hours. Drink at least two cups a day on an empty stomach. Can also be used as a skin wash. Four capsules daily may also be taken instead of the tea.
Burdock/Chamomile decoction Put 1 oz. of dried burdock seed and 1 oz. of dried chamomile flowers into one pint of boiling water; simmer for 10-15 minutes; strain through cheesecloth or other fine cloth. Use cool. Drink two ounces, four times daily, for two weeks,
Calendula is antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and anti-inflammatory and is ideal for all types of skin problems. It helps speed wound healing. Buy a calendula cream or make a balm by combining equal parts of calendula and vegetable oils.
Cat’s claw helps promote healing of the skin. See our product.
Chamomile is anti-inflammatory. Make a tea and use as a compress. Some people get a reaction to chamomile because it is a member of the ragweed family.
German chamomile essential oil. Make sure you get this product without impurities, as the impurities in cheap products may actually cause dermatitis. This is one product not to shop for based on price! German chamomile oil is an anti-allergic remedy used in aromatherapy, and is especially good on allergic patches of eczema. It may also be diluted to skin tolerance (use one drop of chamomile essential oil in one teaspoon of cold pressed almond or olive oil). If you cannot tolerate oil, use one teaspoon of an unscented moisturizing gel or cream.
Chickweed ointment may be applied to the inflamed area.
Chaparral This herb has been used successfully by Native American Indians for many conditions. Put the contents of two capsules into a pint of just boiled water; let cool and strain very fine cloth. Soak a clean cloth in the tea and apply to the eczema for 15 minutes twice daily.
Cucumber has a long history of soothing skin irritations. Put some cucumber in a blender along with a carrier oil, such as avocado or sesame, and gently apply to the affected area and leave it there for up to an hour. You can also rub cucumber juice on the skin to soothe the inflammation.
Emu oil diminishes irritation and inflammation. May be used as the oil of choice for any of our remedies. Emu oil is high in both linoleic and linolenic essential fatty acids. See our product.
Feverfew This herb has an anti-inflammatory effect by curbing inflammatory agents called leukotrienes. See our product.
Figwort has an alterative effect on the lymph, blood and skin.
Fish oil Apply to skin, cover with flannel and tape on.
Garlic Make a skin salve by mixing equal parts of zinc-oxide ointment and lanolin until thoroughly blended; add an equal amount of garlic powder a little at a time to keep from clumping. Blend til smooth. Store in a covered jar.
Glycerine/borax Make a mixture of two ounces of glycerine with a teaspoon of boric acid.
Goat’s milk Drink daily.
Goldenseal helps promote healing of the skin.
Gotu kola, an Ayurvedic herb, stimulates the regeneration of skin cells, and in clinical trials has proven beneficial in treating eczema.
Horsetail This herb promotes healing of the skin.
Jewelweed Also known as impatiens and touch-me-nots, jewelweed can be used to stop the itch and dry the blisters. Rub the affected area with the leaves from this plant. Clinical studies have shown that this method works as well as cortisone creams. The juice from the stems can also be used; rub it on gently several times a day and let dry. Excessive rubbing, however, will irritate the area. A third variation is to boil the leaves, stems and flowers until the water turns a deep orange, and swab the affected area or apply as a compress. This method may be easier for large areas.
Lavender oil Apply pure essential lavender oil to the eczema nightly for a month in order to see results. Lavender is a skin-healing aromatherapy oil. Eczema is aggravated by stress and the lavender helps relieve the stress and reduces the itching. Mix a few drops of lavender oil with either almond or olive oil.
Lemon juice Dab the affected area with freshly squeezed lemon juice. Although this will sting at first, it will help the skin heal quickly.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) Lemon balm has antihistimine action that helps allergic skin conditions.
Lemon oil Mix 8 drops of the essential oil of lemon with a tablespoon of honey and add the mixture to a cup of warm water. Soak a clean cloth in the mixture, wring out the excess, and wrap the affected area. Leave on for 20 minutes. Repeat 2-3 times a day. The lemon wrap will help prevent infection and will cut down on the urge to scratch. Honey is anti-inflammatory. Follow each treatment by gently rubbing some evening primrose oil on the eczema. This will help regenerate the skin.
Marigold This herb has anti-inflammatory properties. Can be taken internally, or you can make a strong infusion and bathe the affected area. Make a tea by adding 1 oz. of flowers to 1 pint of boiling water; steep, strain and take as required.
Neem oil, used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, moisturizes and protects the skin while it helps heal the lesions, scaling and irritation. It also has a cooling effect, and is an effective analgesic and anti-inflammatory agent. Neem is probably one of the most beneficial treatments for eczema.
Nettle Take some leaves and make a decoction; boil it down until it is a paste.
Oatmeal Use an oatmeal soap daily instead of regular soap. Oatmeal is good for all kinds of skin irritations as it contains soothing substances that help relieve the itch. You can also put a cup of oatmeal in your bath. Another way to use oatmeal is to make a thin paste and put it on the affected area; let dry and gently wipe off. Put a big handful of oatmeal in a cloth, thoroughly wet it, and use it to scrub yourself clean.
Oregon grape Take one dropper three times daily until relieved.
Plantain Crush the leaves and rub on the skin.
Potatoes, raw Eating two a day for several weeks has been very successful in many cases. Be careful, however, if you are allergic to nightshades.
Potato/camphor Make a poultice of fresh potato and a small amount of camphor.
Red clover is an alterative for the lymphatic system and is helpful for eczema. Can be used both orally and topically. It has anti-inflammatory properties.
Roman chamomile Add this aromatherapy essential oil to your bath water.
Tea, oolong This partially fermented tea has a high concentration of polyphenols that may be the reason for its success in healing eczema. It also has tannins which soothe inflammation. Drinking 4-5 cups a day for a month should produce marked improvement in your condition. The benefits of drinking oolong tea were reported in the Archives of Dermatology in 2001.
Turmeric is good for any inflammatory skin condition. Can be used as a dry powder, or made into a paste with water or a carrier oil. Turmeric may also be combined with DMSO, which helps carry the healing properties into the skin.
Vitamin E oil Apply to affected area.
Watercress Eat a few teaspoons daily. Watercress helps purify the blood. The juice of watercress may also be applied to the skin.
Witch hazel contains generous amounts of tannins, astringents that are helpful with skin problems. It also promotes blood flow to the damaged area. The German Commission E has endorsed the use of witch hazel in treating dermatitis. You can dab some on with a cotton ball or put the witch hazel in a spray bottle and use as needed.
Yellowdock root is used specifically for chronic skin conditions that are wet, oozing or oily, often accompanied by constipation. Take 4 capsules three times a day.
Calcarea carbonica 30C for itchy patches on your face and scalp that are slow to get better, but improve in dry weather and worsen when the temperature drops.
Graphites 12C for mild to moderate problems behind your ears or on your scalp.
Psorinum 12C for knees and elbows that are irritated.
Healing Psoriasis: The Natural Alternative, by Dr. John O. A. Pagano. This book addresses eczema as wel