I once heard a doctor refer to eczema as “the itch that rashes.”
Eczema – the name given to a handful of dermatological medical conditions that affects far more infants and children than it does adults. The condition is fairly easy to identify. Generally appearing on the hands, feet, face, legs, or the inner creases of knees and elbows, symptoms typically include extremely dry or thickened skin, redness, swelling, and almost always an extremely unbearable itching, which, if scratched, causes the rash to appear.
The rash consists of oozing blisters which burst at the slightest disturbance, take around a week to heal, then turn back into a bigger patch of red, itchy, leathery skin. Eczema is often a chronic condition and hereditary, though for many it disappears before adulthood. Those who have had any form of eczema know that finding relief from its symptoms is paramount when they crop up.
While no one is quite certain of what causes this disorder, it is thought to be an overactive immune response to irritants coming into contact with the skin. Soaps, detergents, certain types of fabric, animal dander, excessive exposure to hot or cold, and other allergens may cause a flare-up. Stress can also be a contributing factor.
Treatments for eczema generally include steroid creams or orally administered steroids, antihistamines, UV light therapy, drugs that affect the immune system, and antibiotics if open blisters become infected. If all else fails, doctors may prescribe one of two topical creams – pimecrolimus (immunodepressant) or tacrolimus (immunosuppressant) – with a long list of possible side-effects. Some of which are pretty frightening, not only do they include things like nausea, fever, warts, hives and nose bleeds, but difficult breathing, swelling of the face, lymphoma, and even cancer.
Sounds like fun, right?
Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom as there are plenty of natural alternatives to combat eczema, including these.
1. First Treat the Root Cause
The majority of eczema cases can be traced to the digestive tract of which there are two main culprits.
Some food allergies can develop over time, so even if you don’t believe that you are or if you had not previously been allergic to certain foods, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t have an allergy. Try cutting out soy, dairy, peanuts, wheat, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, and eggs, as well as any artificial food colorings or additives (MSG is a big one) from your diet. You can eliminate them one at a time to see which one is causing the irritation. Take notes on how you feel after meals during this process. It should be fairly obvious if you are allergic to one or more of these foods.
If you’ve recently taken antibiotics, had food poisoning, or if you have chronic digestive problems (characterized by irregular stool, frequent gassiness, and/or stomach aches); it’s more than likely that your intestinal microflora has been compromised. There are literally hundreds of species of bacteria living inside your gastrointestinal tract. When they become unbalanced, harmful bacteria may colonize in their place, impairing your ability to digest food and absorb nutrients. What many people don’t realize is that this imbalance of microflora, called dysbiosis can also lead to skin problems such as eczema. Add more probiotic foods to your diet or start taking fermented cod liver oil on a daily schedule. Both are highly effective for reversing this common internal cause of eczema.
Of course, these treatments won’t heal your damaged skin overnight. While you wait for the internal solution to take effect, you will definitely want to turn your focus to the external symptoms of eczema. Soothing the dry, itchy, and painful rashes can be tricky. Apply the wrong thing, such as hot water, soaps, lotions with fragrance, etc., and you’ll only make it worse.
2. Dry It Up With Salt
While this advice may seem counterintuitive, treating the oozing blisters with sea salt spray may help to ease the terrible itching. Simply add a teaspoon of sea salt to a cup of warm water and stir to dissolve the salt. Add to a spray bottle and spray on affected skin. Or, if you’re within range of a beach, try taking a dip in the ocean. Many eczema sufferers have reported that being immersed in the surf gave them temporary relief from their symptoms.
3. Soak in a Salt/Essential Oil Bath
Assuming that you can physically tolerate being submerged in water during a flare-up, there are a couple of herbs and minerals that you can add to your bath to help clear up and reduce the irritation of eczema rashes. Try a salt bath to relax and soak up some minerals. Add Epsom salts to your water to give your skin a boost of magnesium. Himalayan salt mixed into warm bath water offers a powerful mix of trace elements that will absorb through and improve the health of your skin.
Here is a good recipe for an awesome detoxifying salt bath:
- 1/4 cup sea salt or Himalayan salt
- 1/4 cup Epsom salt
- 1/4 cup baking soda
- 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
- 10 drops of your favorite essential oil like lavender, bergamot or chamomile, which also offer soothing properties for the skin. You can purchase all of these oils from Plant Therapy here.
How to make it:
- Dissolve salt, Epsom salt, and baking soda in boiling water in a quart size jar and set it aside.
- Fill a tub with warm water (don’t get it too hot or it could irritate the skin further) and add apple cider vinegar.
- Pour salt mixture in, and then add essential oils.
- Soak for 20 to 30 minutes.
4. Take a Chamomile Bath
As we mentioned, chamomile offers soothing properties to the skin, and chamomile tea is not only relaxing to drink, it can be used as a bath additive to create a healing chamomile bath.
How to make it:
- Bring a quart of water to just before boiling and then allow it to cool slightly.
- Pour the water over 5 chamomile tea bags, or 4 to 5 heaping teaspoons of loose leaf chamomile.
- Steep and cool the tea for at least 15 minutes and then remove the tea bags or strain the tisane.
- Pour the tea into a warm bath, swirling it around to blend it evenly.
- Now, sit back and enjoy soaking for as long as you’d like – you can even sip a cup of chamomile tea while you soak for added relaxation and health benefits
Horsetail is an amazing herb when it comes to eczema as it offers anti-inflammatory properties that can ease the pain and itching of the rash. Plus, no other herb in the entire plant kingdom is as rich in silicon as this ancient herb. Silicon is the material of which collagen is made. Collagen is like a “body glue” that gives the skin its muscular tone and elasticity and is needed by your skin for the normal regeneration of healthy skin tissues. Horsetail has been used to improve the strength, tone, and texture of the skin, and is also known to relieve itching, irritation, and inflammation associated with skin conditions like eczema, and at the same time, it helps improve circulation while rejuvenating connective tissue.
The best way to use horsetail is to make a compress:
- Bring some water to a boil in a pot and then place some dried horsetail in the water and let it boil for about 15 minutes.
- Allow the water to cool and then place a towel in the water.
- Wring the towel so that it’s not dripping wet.
- Cover the affected area of your skin with the towel, and leave it on for 10 minutes.
- Repeat the process two to three times each day until the eczema has healed.
6. Make a Poultice
This is another great option if you don’t want to or are unable to submerge yourself in water during an eczema flare-up. A poultice is basically a paste made of herbs, clays, activated charcoal, salts or other beneficial substances that is wrapped in a piece of cloth and placed on the skin. A waterproof layer of plastic or waterproof cloth can also be added, and the poultice is left on for several hours at a time and changed several times a day.
For this purpose, an ideal poultice can be made from healing herbs and vegetables. You can use horsetail, chamomile and plantain, or you might also try calendula, cucumber, carrot paste, juniper berries, sage, and thyme.
You’ll need the following:
- 2 to 3 tbsp of fresh or dried herbs, as mentioned above
- Enough hot water to form a thick paste
- Organic cheesecloth or cloth for covering
- Waterproof covering to keep poultice on
Here’s how you do it:
- Make a thick paste with your desired herbs and water.
- Apply the paste directly to the affected area of your skin, or place it between two layers of cloth and apply the cloth to the problem area.
- Leave it on for at least 20 minutes, and up to 3 hours as needed.
7. Apply Healing Salve
Eczema blisters can leave scars if not properly treated. Topical healing salves available in most drug stores can be used for this purpose, though many may contain unwanted chemicals. If you’d rather have control over what goes into your salve – as those chemicals can seep into the skin and into your bloodstream, try this recipe that is naturally antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and has astringent properties too.
To make it, you’ll need:
- 2 cups extra-virgin olive oil or almond oil
- 1/4 cup beeswax pastilles
- 2 Tbsp dried comfrey leaf
- 2 Tbsp dried plantain leaf, the herb, not the banana-like plant
- 1 Tbsp dried calendula flowers, optional
- 1 tsp dried rosemary leaf, optional
Here’s how you do it:
- First infuse the herbs into the olive oil by heating the herbs and oil over low heat in a double boiler for 3 hours, until the oil turns very green.
- Strain the herbs out of the oil by pouring through a cheesecloth. Allow all of the oil to drip out and then squeeze the herbs to get the remaining oil out.
- Discard the herbs.
- Heat the infused oil in a double boiler with the beeswax until melted and mixed.
- Pour the mixture into glass jars or small tins and then gently rub it on eczema as needed. It can also be used to help heal a diaper rash, poison ivy, bites or stings, and other wounds.
Alternative Recipe: Homemade Plantain Salve For Eczema, Bug Bites Burns & More
8. Take Probiotics
Eczema is considered an inflammatory skin condition, and as probiotics introduce healthy bacteria to the gut and create a barrier to reduce inflammation, it’s known to respond well to probiotics. Finnish researchers focused on pregnant women who took probiotic supplements that contained the strain Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG for two to four weeks before giving birth, and also after delivery if they were breastfeeding, or added the bacteria to infant formula for at least six months. The researchers noted that the probiotics managed to decrease the odds of eczema in babies who had strong family histories of the itchy skin condition until at least age 2, and possibly longer. Other research has shown that infants who developed eczema before the age of one had a less diverse collection of gut bacteria when they were 7 days old, as compared to infants without eczema, which researchers say suggests a link between gut bacteria early in life and the development of the skin condition. The bottom line? Improving an imbalance of gut bacteria can help heal eczema.
9. Apply Vitamin E Oil
Applying vitamin E oil, especially natural D-alpha tocopherol with mixed natural tocopherols, can help relieve eczema symptoms. It’s important to avoid synthetic vitamin E oil, so be sure to read those labels closely or do your research beforehand.
10. Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil contains antiseptic properties that help to soothe the itch and heal the skin while preventing further damage, while its anti-inflammatory properties reduce inflammation too. If an infection develops, the oil’s antibacterial compounds can fight off the infection and prevent spreading.
To use it to heal eczema, all you have to do is combine 20 drops of 100% pure tea tree oil with a half-cup of coconut oil. Gently rub the mixture onto affected areas twice each day. If you’re suffering from eczema in various places throughout your body, you may also want to take a tea tree oil bath for relief. Add 15 drops of tea tree oil and 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or almond oil to the water and soak for about 20 minutes.
Read More: How To Heal Eczema With Essential Oils
11. Hempseed Oil
Hempseed oil has been shown in studies to help heal skin conditions, including eczema, as well as rashes and psoriasis. It’s believed to work because it contains a high level all fatty acids which affect immune responses in the body that can help promote healing, which is also likely to do with its ideal balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. For relief, it’s a good idea to use it both internally and externally. Studies have shown that consuming it helps improve blood levels of essential fatty acids which can help heal from within, while applying it to the skin can relieve dryness and itchiness, reducing the need for medications.
If you’re concerned about it being processed from the seeds of the cannabis Sativa plant, no worries as the end product does not contain THC, which is the psychoactive compound of the plant.
12. Consume Foods Known to Fight Eczema
Certain foods are known to help heal eczema from the inside out, which means you may want to add more of these foods to your diet on a regular basis:
- Cold water fish such as wild-caught salmon, halibut, and cod are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which like hempseed oil, can help reduce the symptoms of eczema.
- Nuts and seeds, particularly flax seeds, also contain a significant amount of omega-3s.
- Bananas are rich in histamine-lowering magnesium and vitamin C in addition to offering lots of potassium.
- Buckwheat is packed with quercetin, with is considered to be a key ingredient for battling eczema as it’s a powerful anti-inflammatory and antihistamine agent. Other foods high in quercetin include citrus fruits, apples, broccoli, and berries.
- Eggs and oatmeal are both high in zinc, a mineral known to fight eczema.
- Green onions also contain that anti-inflammatory, histamine-lowering compound quercetin, along with lots of vitamin K which is important for healthy skin.
13. Eliminating Eczema Triggers
It’s also important to eliminate foods that may be triggering your eczema flare-ups. Some of the worst are known to be very inflammatory, which primarily includes fast foods, processed foods, alcohol, sugary foods and soda. The more you can stay away from these the better.
With the proper, and continuous use of these methods, finding the internal solution while using natural healing for the external symptoms, most people will have better luck controlling and ultimately healing their eczema than with Western medicinal practices.
Of course, as always, consult your doctor before starting or stopping any medication. Remember that healing eczema takes time. Even if you don’t see results right away, stick to your all-natural regime and eventually, you should achieve healthier, clear skin.