According to the National Eczema Foundation, roughly 31.6 million people have some form of eczema. The symptoms of this condition include itchiness, discoloration, and dry skin. In the past, harsh steroidal creams were the gold standard for eczema treatment. But there's got to be a more effective way to heal the skin, right?
Thankfully, we're out of the dark ages and into an all-natural era of skin care. Today, alternative therapies abound, including clinically-tested cannabis ointments and DIY home remedies like oatmeal baths.
What Is Eczema?
Eczema is a group of skin conditions that's characterized by itching, scaling, discoloration, dryness, and most of all, inflammation. Although it's possible to get eczema for the first time as an adult, it most commonly starts in childhood. Unfortunately, once eczema starts, it can be hard to control.
What Causes Eczema?
Eczema occurs when chronic skin inflammation prevents the corneal layer from shedding and renewing. A general "eczema" diagnosis can describe any type of dermatitis or unknown "itchy rash." However, researchers have identified the following distinct types:
- Atopic dermatitis (related to allergies and autoimmunity)
- Contact dermatitis (the skin's reaction to an irritant)
- Stasis dermatitis (eczema on the lower extremities)
- Seborrheic dermatitis (dry scalp)
- Neurodermatitis (thick, scaly skin from long-term itching/scratching)
- Nummular eczema (round lesions that leak fluid; usually caused by allergens)
- Dyshidrotic eczema (itchy blisters on the feet and hands; usually caused by allergens)
Eczema is most likely to develop in people with a compromised immune system or who have dry, sensitive skin. Extreme weather, genetics, stress, diet, poor gut health, and bacteria can also play a role.
In most cases, patients go through periods of intense flare-ups followed by periods of remission. During a flare, patients can experience the following symptoms of skin inflammation:
- Crusty patches
- Hypersensitivity to certain soaps and shampoos
- Deep cracks/cuts from extreme dryness (especially on the hands and feet)
Atopic eczema can be accompanied by other symptoms like asthma, fever, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, stress, and depression.
5 Best Natural Remedies for Eczema
In the war against eczema, inflammation is enemy #1. Here are the top five natural remedies to soothe inflammation and heal the skin barrier:
1. Anti-inflammatory Diet
Reducing inflammation and reversing eczema starts with the food you eat, especially when it comes to atopic dermatitis, which is rooted in an overactive immune system.
Eat more anti-inflammatory foods like:
- Omega-3 foods: the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are powerful anti-inflammatory compounds that can reduce inflammation in the gut, joints, brain, and skin. The best natural sources of omega-3s are wild-caught salmon, sardines, and fish oil.
- High-fiber vegetables: produce like artichokes, raw garlic, broccoli, cauliflower, and dense leafy greens feed healthy gut bacteria and reduce intestinal inflammation.
- Probiotics: probiotics are living bacterial cultures that reinforce the gut lining and protect the bloodstream from inflammatory agents.
- Collagen: collagen supplements and bone broth can strengthen the skin matrix and rejuvenate damaged skin cells. It's also a powerful nutrient for healing the gut lining.
- Vitamin A-rich foods: yellow and orange vegetables like carrots are high in vitamin A and are great for skin health.
Avoid inflammatory foods like:
- Fried foods: canola and safflower oil from deep-fried foods promotes inflammation.
- Sugar: processed sugar feeds unhealthy gut bacteria and promotes inflammation throughout the body.
- Additives: additives in processed foods are known to exacerbate eczema.
- Dairy: products like cheese and milk are difficult to process and tend to promote inflammation, especially in people with autoimmune conditions.
- Gluten: removing gluten can improve autoimmune conditions like eczema.
2. Sun Exposure (Phototherapy)
Sun exposure and phototherapy are proven to calm inflammation and reduce itching. UVB spectrum light helps the skin fight bacteria, boosts vitamin D production, and may help prevent eczema flares.
Just 10-15 minutes of sunlight a day may be all it takes to mitigate symptoms and speed healing. One recent study found that 74.4% of patients had complete resolution of eczema symptoms during the sunny summer months.
3. Vitamin D
During winter in the Northern hemisphere, you might not have access to sunlight or phototherapy. That's unfortunate, because vitamin D3 deficiency can compromise the immune system and increase the risk of eczema. (5)
Luckily, you can still reduce the risk of eczema by supplementing with vitamin D.
Taking 2,000-5,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily can support the skin's natural ability to fight inflammation. Another option is to eat foods that contain vitamin D, like sardines, salmon, and cod liver oil, all of which are high in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.
4. CBD Ointments and Creams
As cannabis and cannabinoid use becomes more common, the broad medicinal benefits of non-psychoactive CBD (cannabidiol) have been gaining widespread attention. New research also shows that it may deliver eczema relief to some patients.
For example, a 2019 publication in the medical journal Molecules confirms that "… cutaneous cannabinoid signaling is deeply involved in the maintenance of skin homeostasis, barrier formation and regeneration, and its dysregulation was implicated to contribute to several highly prevalent diseases and disorders, e.g., atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, scleroderma, acne…"
In other words, the skin contains natural receptor sites for phytocannabinoids like CBD, which at least partially explains its therapeutic potential.
Another 2019 study found that topical CBD ointment, without THC, had therapeutic effects in inflammatory skin conditions and cutaneous scars.
5. Therapeutic Oils
Moisturizing oils like coconut oil and essential oils like lavender and primrose are proven to reduce symptoms associated with eczema and protect the skin.
Primrose in particular contains high levels of gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which may account for its benefits in treating atopic dermatitis.
At the same time, lavender essential oil may help reduce the mental health conditions associated with eczema. For example, Harvard Medical School found that people with eczema have higher rates of anxiety and insomnia. They also exercise less and drink more alcohol.
Final Thought on Natural Anti-Itch Treatments
It's always important to exercise caution with natural remedies for eczema, especially when blisters leak and ooze. Although many of the above treatments have antibacterial properties, the risk of infection is always present. Be wary of excessive bathing and cool compresses because too much moisture can promote bacterial growth. Always consult with your dermatologist before trying new natural treatments.