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!
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
Babies and children tend to develop eczema on their face (cheeks and chin especially), and in their elbow and knee creases, but it can occur anywhere on the body.
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.
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).
Whatever you put on your skin, ask yourself, would you eat it? Things you put on your skin get 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: If baby is bottle fed, you may have tried broken down hydrolyzed cow's milk protein formulas, however know that some studies show that using this type of formula is NOT better for preventing eczema and allergic conditions. If your infant already has a cow’s milk allergy that you know about, extensively hydrolyzed formula might be helpful, but using this type of formula isn’t going to help prevent eczema and allergy symptoms from happening in the first place. Soy is an alternative, but soy can also trigger eczema and allergy symptoms. Alternative options are protein hydrolysate formulas, which are made for babies that can’t tolerate soy or milk. These formulas are hypoallergenic, and contain all the essential nutrients baby needs, and they are easy to digest.
Food sensitivities and eczema go hand in hand for many people. Lactating mothers with infants at high risk of developing eczema should avoid common food triggers such as peanuts and tree nuts, and should consider eliminating eggs, cow’s milk, and fish from their diets. Therefore, for infants that are breastfed, step one is for mom to remove common trigger foods from her diet including:
Cow’s milk (goat’s milk is better tolerated in many people that can’t do cow’s milk), and dairy products
Gluten and wheat
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 out there 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 (breastfeeding moms can consume more of these foods to give baby the benefits), 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:
There are also quercetin supplements (do not take them while pregnant or breastfeeding/talk to your doctor) 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.
There are quercetin supplement formulations available for children.
A maternal diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, and vitamin D is associated with a lower risk of eczema in children, and therefore eating a whole, real foods diet, that is anti-inflammatory and rich in antioxidants is recommended (for mom and baby [once baby starts eating solids]). This diet style 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
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.
Probiotics: Pregnant moms that take a probiotic supplement, in particular Lactobacillus rhamnosus, may significantly reduce the chances that their child will develop eczema for the first 11 years of their life.
Probiotic supplements taken later in pregnancy by mom, while breast feeding, and given to babies from birth until age 2 years may reduce the child’s rate of developing eczema in half.
Lactobacillus rhamnosus provides protection against children developing asthma, hay fever and allergies.
Probiotics support the gut microbiome (the bacteria in our guts that lives symbiotically with us and keeps us healthy when it’s balanced). Not only can this be helpful for eczema, it also can help with food allergies (lessen the risk for their development as the infant grows into childhood), and asthma. Children can benefit from taking probiotics too. 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:
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
Probiotics for the skin can be helpful, because we have a skin microbiome just like we have a gut microbiome
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:
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.
Eczema and Infant Eczema Facebook Live Interview With Jenni June, Sleep Hygiene Expert
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 baby'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.