What Everyone Gets Wrong About Eczema & 7 Tips To Heal Naturally
As a holistic practitioner specializing in dermatology, I see a lot of people at their wits' end looking for a natural way to heal their eczema. They're often frustrated with treatments from their dermatologist and have tried dozens of creams and ointments at home.
The truth is, eczema can be such a rapidly changing condition, with natural periods of flares and remissions—it can drive you crazy to try to figure out what's helping and what's hurting. Here are my top tips to holistically manage and heal eczema:
1. Moisten the skin with emollient oils.
Botanical oils are natural emollients. They provide insulation against water loss, an important aspect of preventing itch. I recommend a thin layer of botanical oils applied frequently throughout the day. These oils can also be added to bathwater.
Some of my favorite oils for eczema patients include sunflower oil, evening primrose oil, and virgin coconut oil.
Sunflower oil stimulates the body's natural production of ceramides. These fats benefit the skin barrier to hold in moisture and prevent irritants from penetrating the skin. Sunflower oil also has an anti-inflammatory effect. Reducing inflammation and enhancing the skin barrier function are two important goals of managing eczema.
Evening primrose oil benefits eczema with its high concentration of gamma-linolenic acids (GLAs). GLAs are essential fatty acids that are important in keeping the skin moist, smooth, and supple.
Clinical research has shown that virgin coconut oil reduces staph infections, which are common infections secondary to eczema.
All these oils are generally mild and nonirritating and make a good starting point for managing eczema at home. That said, before applying anything to your skin, be sure to spot-test each oil individually on a small area of healthy skin.
2. Use herbal teas as a wash or compress.
For eczema that is oozing, weeping, or damp, it's best to apply a tea compress or wash topically, rather than using a thick ointment.
Steep 5 to 7 bags of calendula tea in 2 cups of boiling water for 5 minutes to make a strong tea. Apply with a washcloth one to two times per day.
Another effective tea option is chamomile tea, which can be prepared in the same way. Chamomile is in the same plant family as ragweed, so do not use if you're allergic to ragweed.
Make sure to spot-test the teas before applying to broad areas. After the compress or wash, follow up by applying a bland cream.
3. Consider taking herbal medicine or dietary supplements.
For moderate to severe cases of eczema, it's best to seek out professional help. Holistic practitioners will prescribe herbal medicine or dietary supplements and give nutritional guidance rather than prescribing topical steroids or other pharmaceutical medications.
The foundation of my practice is Chinese medicine, which focuses on treating both internally and topically. I prescribe customized herbal formulas together with topical washes, compresses, creams, and ointments made from herbs and botanical ingredients.
Keep in mind that many naturopaths, homeopaths, and Chinese medicine specialists have never taken even a single class in dermatology, let alone seen many patients with complicated skin conditions. So whether you seek out a Western medical doctor or a holistic specialist, make sure to find a practitioner who specializes in dermatology and has a lot of experience in the specific treatment of eczema.
4. Avoid long-term use of topical steroids.
Topical steroids successfully bring down inflammation. Sometimes that's enough to put an end to an acute, short-term flare of eczema. But when eczema is chronic, recurring, or long term, topical steroids are ineffective at healing or restoring healthy skin.
Conditions like topical steroid withdrawal and addiction are becoming more widely recognized—where steroid treatment meant to cure or manage eczema actually creates a more complicated syndrome. Although such cases are extreme, they do illustrate the potential of steroids to seriously damage the skin.
Even over-the-counter hydrocortisone should be used with caution, not exceeding the labeled dosage and on a short-term basis only. One danger of hydrocortisone is that because it is so widely available, people think it's totally safe to use on their children whenever they’re itchy. Keep in mind, treatment guidelines warn that daily use of topical steroids should be for no more than two to four weeks. Be informed about the risks involved. And if topical steroids are prescribed by a doctor, ask educated questions about safe dosages, expectations, and a reasonable course of treatment.
5. Steer clear of mineral oil or petroleum products.
Just like the gut, the skin has a microbiome of millions of cells of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and other microorganisms that need to coexist in harmony to be healthy.
Products with mineral oil or petroleum can damage the skin's microbiome. For skin to heal and its microbiome to be healthy, it needs to be able to breathe and absorb oxygen. Many people with very dry skin feel that they need these products in order to moisturize the skin. I work with patients to replace them over time with natural creams and ointments instead.
6. Adopt a healthy eating routine.
When it comes to diet, I recommend keeping it simple with a clear, bland, hypoallergenic diet. Incorporate plenty of fruits and vegetables that encompass all colors of the rainbow.
Avoid common allergens like shrimp and other shellfish, peanuts, strawberries, eggs, and milk. Stay away from inflammatory food like sugar and sweets, wheat, dairy, and anything that molds.
Many eczema flares are not caused by foods, so it can be difficult to determine the specific foods you're sensitive to. That said, an elimination diet is still one of the best ways to discover specific foods that trigger eczema flares.
7. Stay positive!
One of the most frustrating aspects of eczema is that it constantly changes day to day and week to week. It can be difficult to pin down precisely what causes flares, and of course these triggers will vary from person to person. But holistic methods can be highly effective at offering relief and managing eczema, sending it into remission for the long term.
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