Eczema is a common inflammatory skin disease characterized by rough and inflamed areas of skin that cause itching and bleeding.
It normally has no obvious external trigger, but appears to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Of course we cannot change our genes, but we can control what goes into our bodies and onto our skin.
Here are 7 natural treatments for eczema that have scientific basis:
1. Salt Water or Sea Spray
For treating eczema that is weeping/wet, drying the skin with salt appears to be very effective.
Salt water is perfect for this, so either heading to the beach or using a sea spray can help.
Many people with eczema in the Middle East actually visit the Dead Sea in Israel, which is 29 percent salt as opposed to 4 percent in the ocean. One study following over 1,500 people found that 95 percent of skin was cleared in those who had stayed at the Dead Sea longer than 4 weeks (1).
2. Fish Oil
Many experts believe fish oil can help with inflammatory skin conditions. This is because they are rich in omega-3 fats, which have strong anti-inflammatory properties.
One study found those taking fish oil (a dose of 1.8 g of EPA per day) experienced a dramatic improvement in eczema symptoms after 12 weeks. Studies looking at other conditions, such as acne, found no improvements though (2).
For fish oil to be effective, supplements are required, because whole food sources of fish oil would not provide the necessary dosage.
3. Avoid Pro-Inflammatory Foods
Contrary to fish oil (an anti-inflammatory), pro-inflammatory foods actually accelerate inflammation.
This means they could (theoretically) drive flare-ups of eczema and related skin conditions, and should definitely be avoided where possible.
Pro-inflammatory foods include products with added sugar and refined starch, as well as omega-6 cooking oils.
4. Several Topical Creams and Salves
Certain natural creams and salves may help relieve itching and burning when applied applied directly to the skin (topically).
Varieties that contain one or more of the following herbs have the best supporting evidence:
- St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum)
- Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)
- Chamomile(Matricaria recutita)
- Chickweed (Stellaria media)
- Marigold (Calendula officinalis)
- Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra).
5. Avoid Known Food Allergens
People with eczema typically have food allergies too. It goes without saying that known food allergens should be strictly avoided.
Common foods that cause allergic reactions are:
- wheat (sometimes all gluten-containing grains)
Some people only experience subtle reactions, so a particular allergen may be triggering your eczema without you making the connection. Aside from allergy testing at the doctor, keeping a food diary can help you to identify the trigger food.
6. Essential Oils
While the effectiveness of essential oils for treating health conditions is extremely overrated, there is preliminary and anecdotal evidence some types may help with skin conditions like eczema.
Both borage oil and evening primrose oil (EPO) have been shown to help reduce itching within 8 weeks in several small trial studies. But the overall evidence is actually quite mixed, with some studies finding no beneficial effects (3).
5 percent tea tree oil has been shown to help with acne, so in theory it may also help with eczema (4).
Certain probiotic strains (namely bifidobacteria and lactobacillus strains) may help restore the balance of your gut bacteria, in turn boosting your immune system and minimizing the severity of allergic reactions.
They can be taken in supplement form or you can make probiotic foods at home yourself.
As always you should speak with your doctor before trying any new treatments.