Eczema (Atopic dermatitis) is an inflammation of the skin. It can show up anywhere on the skin. Most commonly it’s on the arms but I’ve seen it on legs and face almost as often. If you've been in a mothering group, there's a huge chance that the topic has come up.
Signs of eczema include
- Red to brownish-gray colored patches
- Itching, which may be severe, especially at night
- Small, raised bumps, which may leak fluid and crust over when scratched
- Thickened, cracked or scaly skin
- Raw, sensitive skin from scratching
Eczema goes deeper than what is happening at the skin.
While most doctors will prescribe a steroid cream for eczema, a more holistic approach to eczema is examining the cause from inside-out. Eczema is the symptom to something else happening inside. For eczema, I often recommend visitng a holistic minded pediatrician or a naturopathic doctor.
Dr. Sears states that eczema has two main components – dry, easily irritated skin and allergies. With dry and easily irritated skin, a child is genetically more prone to have less moisture in the skin which makes the skin more likely to then develop eczema. And when it’s caused by allergies, there are triggers which flare up eczema. When it’s allergy related, eczema will go away when the triggers are removed.
So what are ways to care for eczema?
Think holistically. Think integrative.
- Omega 3s are an essential part of healthy skin (among so many other functions). Adding more Omega 3s to your diet will help in preventing dry skin and also in reducing eczema flare ups.
- Probiotics increases the immune system which will help the body fight off allergies and decrease inflammations.
- Vitamin C in non-citrus forms such as Rosehips has antihistamine components and will reduce allergy flare ups.
- Nettle contains quercetin which also acts as an antihistamine.
- Avoid sugar and overly processed foods which can cause inflammation.
Consider an elimination diet.
Common allergy food triggers include dairy, soy, citrus, peanuts, gluten, fish, eggs, corn, and tomatoes. If you suspect the eczema is a reaction to a food allergy then begin an elimination diet to find which foods are causing the eczema.
How to do an elimination diet
- Eliminate the common triggers for at least 3 weeks to remove these from your system.
- Keep a journal of any improvements as you do the elimination diet.
- Read labels carefully – there are trigger foods in many many processed foods, including foods at restaurants. For example sliced bread has dairy. Granola bars have gluten. Look for foods that do not contain the common triggers in any way.
- Avoid cross contamination while doing the elimination diet. For example when eating out, even if there’s a gluten-free option such as gluten-free pasta, it may have been prepared in the same pots that also just finished cooking pasta with gluten.
- After three weeks you may begin adding one potential trigger food at a time. Wait a few days before adding the next one being sure to keep track in your journal of any skin and behavior reactions as you introduce each trigger food.
- Eliminate entirely any foods that cause a rash or negatively effect behavior.
Herbs that are known for reducing inflammation and reducing eczema include –
Oils of these herbs can be purchased but to make your own (which I prefer to do), fill a glass jar with 3/4 of the dried herbs and add olive oil (which is nourishing to the skin) to the top of the jar. Remove any air bubbles by stirring the jar and then add more oil if needed. Tightly close the jar with a lid, label your jar and place it in direct sunlight (could be a sunny window sill or outside in the sun when weather permits). Every day shake the jar to distribute the herbs in the oil. It takes about 6 weeks to fully infuse the oil with the herb but if needed you can start using it after 3 weeks. Strain well before using and store in a glass jar and properly labeled. The infused oil is then used as body oil on the eczema and will work to reduce the inflammation and skin irritation.
If you can’t make your own, then buying quality oils in these herbs or blends of herbs can be used instead.
Other ways to use the herbs are infusions, teas and tinctures.
Essential oils that are calming and reduce eczema include –
- Roman Chamomile
- German Chamomile
- Tea Tree
- Australian sandalwood
One way to use these are with blends by properly diluting them with a carrier oil such as coconut oil, jojoba oil, evening primrose or olive oil. For children under 6 mos essential oils should be used in a very diluted form (such as 1 oz carrier oil to 2 drops of essential oil) and limited to oils such as lavender and roman chamomile. Essential oils should be diluted for children 6 mos and older to 1% (example is 1 oz carrier oil to 5 drops of total essential oils). Here’s more about properly diluting essential oils.
Lavender essential oil can also be added to baths by first mixing 1-2 drops of the essential oil in vegetable oil and adding to bath water. By using vegetable oil such as jojoba or olive oil you’ll also be adding moisture to the water which will help in preventing dry skin.
- Change detergents and soaps to natural and gentle options
- Clothing ~ use natural fibers (but also be aware of wool which may be an allergen for some children)
- Add an extra rinse when washing clothes to make sure detergent residues are fully removed
- Use natural lotions (you can make sure own for example – see aromatherapy section above)
- Avoid fragrance, perfumes and artificial scents
By caring for eczema holistically you’ll find the cause and be able to prevent it from occurring.
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