Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that can present itself in many guises. Eczema can be so mild as to be virtually unnoticeable – such as an inoffensive pink patch – or it can affect you so severely with burning, crusting and intolerable itching as to make your life a torment.
Part of a family of conditions known as atopic, eczema is often an inherited complaint alongside hayfever and asthma. For those affected, many tread the ‘atopic march’, starting with eczema as a baby, moving on to asthma as a child and hayfever as an adult, with sporadic outbreaks of each condition throughout life. Eczema caused by an allergy to external agents is called dermatitis, although the terms are often used interchangeably.
- Itching. Where there is itching, there is scratching. Where there is scratching (particularly with grubby fingernails), there is often also infection. Although not an infectious condition, there is often bacterial or fungal infection alongside eczema, and any treatment ought to attend to this also.
- Dry skin.
- Swollen patches.
- Bleeding. Although eczema can appear anywhere on the body, the most common places are the:
- Hands and feet.
- Insides of elbows.
- Backs of knees.
- Behind the ears.
What causes it?
- Two-thirds of eczema patients have a family history of the condition. It may help to blame your parents.
- Stress and worry are major triggers for eczema.
- The skin is an organ of elimination. Skin eruptions, including eczema, may occur when the other organs of elimination such as the liver, bowel, lungs and kidneys are overworked or under-functioning. This is why many traditional remedies for skin problems also assist these other organs. If you suffer from eczema in addition to constipation, treat the constipation and see if your skin clears. Very often, if the bowel is not processing waste products efficiently, they will be absorbed into the bloodstream and come out on the skin.
- Food sensitivities to milk, gluten, wheat, yeast, benzoates, the food additive tartrazine, oranges, eggs, peanuts, and soy foods can commonly cause eczema.
- Dysbiosis is the clunky name given to a microbial imbalance within the gut. The number of microbes (mostly bacteria) outnumber cells in the body. When this microbial population, collectively referred to as the microbiome, is out of kilter, many health problems can ensue, including eczema.
- Contact dermatitis is a localised eczematous rash that occurs when the skin comes in contact with an irritant. Common substances include detergent, rubber or latex (such as rubber gloves and condoms), nickel in jewellery, perfume, lanolin, dust mites and some plants.
- Certain cosmetics, even ‘natural’ ones, can cause dermatitis.
What to do
Although it appears on the skin, in line with naturopathic principles eczema needs to be treated from within as well as attending to the external symptoms. That is, internally by dietary change and or taking herbs and supplements, and externally by applying soothing lotions and healing potions.
- Avoid sugar like the plague. This measure alone is enough for most eczema sufferers to notice a miraculous improvement.
- Avoid possible food sensitivities to such things as milk, gluten, wheat, yeast, benzoates, the food additive tartrazine, oranges, eggs, peanuts, and soy foods. If you are unsure as to what food is your trigger, it is likely to be a food frequently consumed in your diet. Choose one suspect at a time and remove it from your diet for at least 2 weeks, writing a journal of your symptoms to track improvements. First suspects are gluten and dairy.
- Alcohol often exacerbates eczema. Avoid it.
- Eczema can be a symptom of an overgrowth of Candida albicans. Check out page 00 to see if you fit the profile.
- Drink at least 2 litres of pure water daily.
- Fish contains the anti-inflammatory omega 3 essential fatty acids. Eat at least 3 servings of fish weekly. Fish with the highest source of omega 3 fatty acids include tuna, salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring and pilchards.
- Other essential fatty acids are also good for skin health. These are found in avocados, seeds (linseeds, pumpkin, sunflower, sesame), tahini and tree nuts.
- Avoid artificial preservatives, colourings and flavourings.
- Evening primrose oil is excellent for eczema. You need to take a fair whack (6–10 g daily) and be prepared to wait 3–4 weeks for results as it needs to be incorporated into each and every cell wall. Once your eczema has cleared, keep taking 1–3 grams daily to keep it in check. Similar results may be achieved with the same dosages of fish oil.
- Although eczema is not an infectious skin condition, when scratching breaks the skin’s surface it provides an open invitation for germs to enter, further extending the inflammatory cycle. Calendula, echinacea, golden seal, tea tree and lavender are antimicrobial and also help the skin to heal. The easiest way to use them is to buy a cream or lotion that already contains one or more of these herbs and apply it several times a day.
- Traditional skin purifying herbs used for eczema include burdock, red clover, calendula, sarsaparilla and nettles. Drink them in tea form or take as tablets or tincture. Skin complaints often do well with water-based remedies, especially tea. A tea made from these herbs, when cooled, also makes a wonderful hand bath or can be applied as a compress (see Making Remedies page 00).
- Probiotics can be very effective in treating eczema. The bugs in your bowel have a lot to do with the health of your skin. A mixture of probiotics that include in their number bifidus and Lactobacillus GG will be most helpful.
- If stress is a factor, as it often is, think about using kava, St. John’s wort, zizyphus, withania or passionflower.
- Vitamins A, D, C and zinc are excellent for all skin problems. Take daily.
- Herbs to help stop itching include heartsease, aloe vera, nettle and chickweed. These can be used in a cream or brewed up (alone or together) as a strong tea, added to bath water when cooled or saturate a washcloth and apply to the affected part.
- Eczema is an itchy condition that causes crankiness in the calmest of people. The Bach flower Impatiens will help if your eczema is driving you to distraction.
- If you are prone to eczema, it is essential to keep your skin supple and in good nick at all times. A change in skin quality may be all that is needed to set the eczema ball rolling. Choose any low-allergen body lotion or cream or try jojoba oil as this closely resembles the body’s natural sebum. Rub in after bathing. If your hands are affected by eczema, make sure you use a hand cream often throughout the day. The addition of calendula, tea tree, golden seal, lavender, oats or gotu kola to any body or hand lotion is a bonus when treating and preventing any outbreak of eczema.
- Avoid soap. Use a stocking filled with a couple of handfuls of rolled oats in the bath or shower instead to calm redness and relieve itching. When saturated with water, the stocking will ooze a silky, milky substance that is magic for inflamed and itchy skin.
- Sweat can aggravate eczema. Shower as soon as possible after exertion.
- Wear cotton gloves to bed in order to stop scratching at night. For babies, put on little mittens or socks.
- As stress is often a major factor, stress management is a key treatment.
- A form of meditation such as creative visualisation may assist your recovery. Each day for a few minutes, visualise your skin as rash free. Think swimming in a cool lake under moonlight.
- Avoid synthetic as well as rough-textured or woollen clothing. Cotton and silk are best.
- Wash clothing with low-allergen washing detergents.
- Avoid using strong household chemicals for cleaning and if you wear gloves, be cautious that rubber or latex is not part of the problem.
- To keep the moisture in, apply a thin layer of barrier cream over the affected area after bathing.
This blend will be anti-inflammatory, astringent, analgesic and antiseptic while still being calming, regenerative and restorative to the affected skin. It may be blended into 20 g of a light, unscented base cream to which 10 ml of calendula oil has been added. The drops in this blend may also be halved and used as a cold compress.
- 3 drops of myrrh oil – anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antiseptic, healing,
- 6 drops of lavender oil – analgesic, antimicrobial, antiseptic, calming, nervine, tonic, vulnerary
- 2 drops of everlasting oil – anti-allergenic, anit-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antiseptic, astringent, cicatrisant
- 3 drops of German chamomile oil – analgesic, anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory, anti-phlogistic, calming, fungicidal, nerve sedative, vulnerary
At a glance
- Sugar is one of the main offenders for eczema. Stop eating it now and within days your skin will improve.
- Food sensitivities may be the cause of your eczema. Common offenders include milk, gluten, wheat, yeast oranges, eggs, peanuts and soy foods.
- A Candida albicans overgrowth might be the trigger for your eczema. Check out page 00 to see if you fit the profile.
- Drink at least 2 litres of pure water daily.
- Omega 3 fatty acids and other essential fatty acids are anti-inflammatory, just what you need for this skin condition.
- Take 6–10 g of evening primrose oil daily. Evening primrose oil contains anti-inflammatory fatty acids that are particularly good for the skin.
- Although not an infection, skin is often broken with eczema, leaving it open for germs to enter, causing further inflammation. Calendula, echinacea and tea-tree oils are antimicrobial and help skin to heal. Great additions to any skin cream or lotion.
- Probiotics are important for your bowel and your skin. Take a strong probiotic supplement daily that contains bifidus and Lactobacillus GG.
- Stress is often a big factor in eczema. Herbs such as kava, zizyphus, withania and passionflower can be helpful.
- Keeping your skin well moisturised is important if you are prone to eczema.
- Avoid soap. Use an oat stocking instead (see above).
- Visualise your skin feeling smooth and clear.
- Wear cotton, silk and natural fabrics, avoiding anything synthetic or harsh on the skin.