How To Address Eczema Naturally

Photo credit: Brad Helmink

Photo credit: Brad Helmink

WHAT IS ECZEMA

Eczema is the name for a group of conditions that cause the skin to become red, itchy and inflamed.

There are different types including atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, dyshidrotic eczema, and seborrheic dermatitis. 

Eczema is common, it’s manageable, and you can beat it, naturally!

Over 30 million Americans have some form of eczema. Symptoms can be mild, moderate or severe, can fluctuate in intensity, and may include:

  • Dry, sensitive skin

  • Red, inflamed skin

  • Very bad itching

  • Dark colored patches of skin

  • Rough, leathery, scaly patches of skin

  • Oozing or crusting

  • Areas of swelling

WHO GETS ECZEMA

 Most kids tend to outgrow eczema, but it does continue in some people into adulthood. Adults can develop eczema even if they never had it as a child. Eczema rashes can occur on any part of the body.

WHAT CAUSES ECZEMA

The exact cause of eczema is unknown. In those that do develop it there is a combination of genetics and environmental triggers involved. When a trigger (which could be environmental, or food related for example) switches on the immune system, and especially when that trigger is chronic or ongoing although it doesn’t have to be, the body reacts and in some people the reaction effects the skin and causes symptoms of eczema.

ADDRESSING ECZEMA

Root cause: We can look for the root causes of conditions like eczema and address them naturally with diet, supplements and lifestyle interventions. Addressing the root cause of the problem rather than covering it up with medications that mask symptoms is important. Root causes left to persist can result in additional problems down the line.

Over the counter and prescription medications: Common treatments for eczema include over the counter and prescription topical medications. These do not come risk free. Topical steroids can cause what’s called red skin syndrome, topical steroid addiction, or topical steroid withdrawal. This can be debilitating, even worse than the eczema itself, and is due to the use of topical steroids. Sometimes it’s even mistaken for worsening of eczema. The longer you use steroid creams the worse the problem can get. Your skin can literally become addicted to the steroids, which also are endocrine disruptors (meaning they can cause imbalances in your hormones, including your adrenals and this can be even worse in kids because their systems are still developing).

Diluting a topical corticosteroid does not reduce the risk of adverse effects, and a diluted topical steroid can lead to overuse, increasing the risk of adverse effects (yikes!).

Whatever you put on your skin, ask yourself, would you eat it? What you put on your skin gets absorbed into you bloodstream, just as if you had eaten whatever it is.

There can be a rebound effect when stopping long term use of topical steroid medications, where symptoms flare (this is topical steroid withdrawal syndrome). While some folks stop cold turkey and suffer through the symptoms, others wean from use of these medications, and it can take months or longer for the issue to resolve, everyone is different. Interventions to help with weaning and withdrawal symptoms are limited and involve strategies to improve sleep and reduce anxiety for example.

Diet: For many people food sensitivities and eczema go hand in hand. Therefore from a nutritional standpoint, we can remove common eczema trigger foods from the diet. These include:

  • Cow’s milk (goat’s milk is better tolerated in many people that can’t do cow’s milk), and dairy products

  • Eggs

  • Soy

  • Gluten and wheat

  • Corn

  • Nuts

  • Fish

  • Shellfish

  • Processed foods (additives, preservatives, artificial ingredients)

Start small, with one or two eliminations. The most common are gluten, dairy, and eggs. If removing these 3 common trigger foods doesn’t help with symptoms, undertaking a more formal elimination diet with the guidance of a professional can help because we need to be strategic since eliminating too much can lead to nutrient deficiency.

There is a wide range of eczema trigger foods and everyone may be affected differently. To learn more about food triggers for eczema, download my free Skin Rash Food Triggers Cheat Sheet, and for a more comprehensive listing of these triggers, you can purchase my eBook, Skin Rash Food Triggers.

Consuming foods containing quercetin, which is a natural antihistamine and powerful antioxidant found in plant foods can help. Quercetin stabilizes mast cells, and this is important because unstable mast cells release histamine causing itching, rashes, and leaky gut. Foods rich in quercetin include:

  • Apples

  • Blueberries

  • Cherries

  • Broccoli

  • Spinach

  • Kale

There are also quercetin supplements that can be helpful in place of medications like Benadryl, Claritin and Zyrtec. These medications block histamine rather than simply help stabilize mast cells, and the problem with this long term is histamine is needed for stomach acid production, it’s a neurotransmitter (excitatory), and it helps regulate sleep-wake cycles.

Remember that without enough stomach acid we can develop problems digesting and absorbing foods and nutrients leading to nutrient deficiency. There are a variety of nutrients important for skin health and deficiency of them can lead to skin rashes. 

Without enough stomach acid we can also develop impaired gut health, which leads to food sensitivities. What happens is that undigested food particles serve as food for gut bacteria rather than you, and this can cause dysbiosis (infections in the gut or gut bacterial imbalances), which leads to inflammation, and leaky gut.

The intestinal lining is one cell layer thick. These cells are held together by tight junctions. Inflammation causes the tight junctions to loosen, the gut lining becomes permeable (leaky) and food particles that are too large escape into the bloodstream. Because the food particles aren’t supposed to be there, the body mounts an immune response. This is how food sensitivities develop, and this over time leads to autoimmune disease. In fact eczema is an autoimmune disease, so exploring what’s happening with your gut health is an important piece of the puzzle to beat your symptoms.

Keep in mind that food sensitivities are not the root cause of your symptoms. They are in fact a symptom themselves, a symptom of impaired gut health and leaky gut, and are a trigger for your symptoms.

Digestive enzymes can help break down foods to improve digestion and absorption, however it is best to work with a professional here to help determine if you need them.

Omega 3 fish oil supplements can reduce inflammation.

Eating a whole, real foods diet, that is anti-inflammatory and rich in antioxidants is recommended. This includes:

  • Vegetables and fruits

  • Quality sources of protein from grass fed, free range, pastured, wild caught and organic animals

  • Healthy fats like omega 3s from fish and flaxseed, olive oil, avocados and avocado oil, coconut oil, ghee and grass fed butter

  • No/low sugar

If we're talking about kids, toddlers are often picky eaters! There are some strategies that may help. Keep in mind that it can take anywhere from 10-20+ tries of a food before a toddler (or even an adult) takes to it, so be patient. Modeling the behavior can help, so make sure you’re eating what you’d like your toddler to develop a taste for. This is a tricky age, toddlers are beginning to express their own free will so “no” becomes a favorite word. A way for them to express this is with refusing foods.

If you keep healthy snacks in the house instead of processed treats, kids will be more likely to eat what is available, and learn to develop a taste for it.

Intermittent fasting/fasting can help with eczema, acne, psoriasis, and other skin rashes (in adults). When the body is in a fasting state with no food to digest, it can focus energy elsewhere, like on healing. Fasting also helps rebalance the gut flora. Skin conditions tend to be the result of an unhealthy gut (dysbiosis) and once the microbiome is balanced again, the skin gets better.

Probiotics: Taking probiotics to support your gut health is helpful, and research shows not only can this help with eczema, but it also may help with food allergies and asthma. Taking the right probiotic is important, not all are created equal. Different strains are indicated for different health problems and symptoms.

Fermented foods are natural probiotic sources, however they are high histamine, and this can cause eczema flares in some people.

Topical interventions: We also want to address the skin barrier, and there are natural ways to do this. Petroleum jellies are not helpful! The skin is a living, breathing organ, and petroleum jelly clogs the system essentially. Keep in mind everyone is different, and what works for one person may cause symptoms in another. Here are some options:

  • Soothing baths

    • Gluten free colloidal oats (finely ground oats boiled to extract the colloidal material) may help because oats have cleansing, moisturizing, soothing and anti-inflammatory properties

    • Rice starch can be helpful for repairing a damaged skin barrier

    • Chamomile oil can be soothing and anti-inflammatory, however patch test with the diluted oil first to check for allergies

    • Apple cider vinegar can balance your skin’s pH levels, and manage infection and inflammation

    • Epsom salt

    • Baking soda

  • Probiotics for the skin can be helpful, because we have a skin microbiome just like we have a gut microbiome

    • Mother Dirt products are fantastic for topical use.

    • MegaSporeBiotic probiotics, taken orally and used topically

      • To get MegaSporeBiotic probiotic, click the button, and use my personal access code, JCBN

Let kids get dirty! This is how they develop their microbiome (gut and skin)

  • Steer clear of dyes, fragrances and chemicals like those found in:

    • Soaps

    • Shampoos

    • Commercial skin care products/cosmetics

    • Laundry detergent and fabric softeners

  • Remedy for super dry skin, including the dryness that comes along with eczema

  • Topical application of zinc can help heal damaged skin

  • Topical application of Emu oil is hydrating, and has emollient, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory activity

Remember that supplement dosing is very different for kids, contact me to learn more.

WRAPPING IT UP

Keep in mind that everyone is different. There is no one size fits all approach, and if you’ve tried everything and still have problems, working with a professional that can help guide you through these various interventions, and making sure they are customized for your (and your baby's) unique needs is important.

There are non-invasive diet, lifestyle and supplement recommendations that are more effective than many conventional treatments because they address root causes of the problem rather than masking symptoms with medications that will only make the problem worse long-term.

As you can see, eczema is way more than skin deep!

For assistance with identifying root causes and developing a customized protocol for your and your toddler's unique needs, contact me today.

Your skin is your largest organ. It protects your body, makes vitamin D, is important for detoxification, and much more.

Your gut microbiome is your second largest organ, and gut dysfunction can cause skin problems.

Food can play a role in skin (and gut) health too.

Learn what foods and what natural chemicals found in healthy foods can trigger skin problems and rashes like eczema, rosacea, acne, dermatitis, and psoriasis among others, why this happens, and what you can do about it in the Skin Rash Food Triggers e-Book.