In the United States, 30% of the population has some form of eczema, with 1 in 5 children suffering from it. We used to think this was more a disease of childhood, but actually up to 30% of children with eczema still battle eczema as an adult. Conventional medicine treats with topical steroids, and while this works, it causes issues long term. It can cause skin thinning and even more complications such as topical steroid withdrawal syndrome.
The causes of eczema are multifaceted, but one thing is for sure...it is NOT just a skin issue. It is an INTERNAL issue as well. Several medications increase the risk of eczema (or atopic dermatitis). A population based study in Minnesota from 2003-2011 found that infant exposure to antibiotics increased risk of eczema by 47% as well as increasing risk of food allergies by 33%. Another medication that increases risk of eczema is acetaminophen (or Tylenol). A study from 2010 showed that monthly uses of acetaminophen can more than double the risk of eczema, yearly use increases the risk by 50%. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is a big no-no in my book because it depletes glutathione levels (our body’s master antioxidant). NSAIDs like ibuprofen are also associated with an increased risk of eczema.
Do you see the progression here? As there is dysbiosis, the gut barrier breaks down and eventually causes more and more things to pass through to the GALT (gut associated lymphatic tissue), this will cause half digested foods, particles, toxins, etc to pass through to bloodstream and the immune system will see it and identify it as foreign. This causes more and more inflammation. Acute inflammation is a good thing, that help a cut on your hand heal! But chronic inflammation can cause a lot of issues long term. This eventually can lead to autoimmune disease. This can bubble up to the surface and be a factor in eczema development.
The National Eczema Association lists these things as irritants that can make eczema worse:
metals (especially nickel)
soaps and household cleaners
certain fabrics like wool and polyester
antibacterial ointment like neosporin and bacitracin (your skin microbiome is important!)
formaldehyde, which is found in household disinfectants, some vaccines, glues, and adhesives
isothiazolinone, an antibiotic that is found in personal care products like baby wipes
cocamidopropyl betaine, which is used to thicken shampoos and lotions
paraphenylene-diamine, which is used in leather dyes and temporary tattoos
Other ingredients to note: formaldehyde releasers like quaternium-15, 2 bromo 1-3 nitropropane diol, diazolidinyl urea, and imidazolidinyl urea; parabens like methylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben.
Chlorinated bath water and swimming in swimming pools are big triggers for eczema as well. Using a bath filter like this one from Crystal Quest or this one from Sprite is helpful. Bathing only needs to happen a couple times a week or once a week or when needed. Nightly baths especially during winter do more damage and dry out skin more. When you do bathe, make sure you pat dry then cover body with an emollient to keep the moisture in the skin.
One of the first steps when starting work on healing eczema is cleaning out the household and personal care products. This can be done slowly, not all at once, which is overwhelming and expensive. BUT it must be done. Many personal care and cleaning products contain fragrance which is irritating and makes eczema worse, as well as cleaning products. We might think these things do not impact our children’s skin but they do. I make many of the products we use with quality essential oils. See the above ingredients to find out what to watch out for when looking for products.
My approach to healing eczema focuses on root cause as well as topical solutions for symptom relief.
First off, we need to work to repair the gut. The 5R approach is a great way to go about doing this. (You can also check out my blog post, "5 Ways To Improve Your Gut" for more information!)
1 | Remove. Remove foods that can be triggering for eczema and can cause increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut). Gluten, conventional dairy, soy, eggs, peanuts and other nuts are common causes. It can be hard to do all of these in children but think about trying gluten and conventional dairy free. Raw dairy is tolerated better by most people. Try this for 6 weeks then add one item back in and see if there is a flare. There is nuance to this, and there are other food allergies that might be present, but we are talking about a starting point here.
2 | Replace. You NEED stomach acid and enzymes to break down food. Many people do not have enough enzymes and acid to break down their food, thus it becomes more inflammatory to the gut. For children, doing this with foods that are considered bitters (dandelion greens, broccoli rabe, apple cider vinegar, arugula, kale, bitter melon, brussel sprouts, ginger, etc). Children can take digestive enzymes but they should be indicated for children and for the age of your child. These are things that can be used as needed, but I would focus first on food based support. For adults, I love to put a teaspoon of organic with the mother apple cider vinegar in at least 8 oz of water, add some fresh lemon and it tastes wonderful. As well, adults can take digestive enzymes that are helpful.
3 | Reinoculate. The good bacteria. Fermented foods should be a mainstay, but start small. A spoonful of sauerkraut juice for children, for adults a couple spoonfuls of sauerkraut, kimchi, etc. Pre and probiotics are also helpful.
4 | Repair. Bone broth contains glutamine, an amino acid that is great for repairing the gut lining, aloe, magnesium, collagen are all wonderful for this step. Many times nutrients are depleted that are necessary for gut function. For children I stick with food based. Zinc rich foods include oysters, crab and lobster, chicken, beef liver (we add to meals or I give my girls a tiny bit of the loose powder), hemp seeds, cashews. For adults, magnesium, zinc (with copper), glutamine, aloe, etc can be helpful. For everyone, using bone broth in place of regular broth for meals, epsom salt baths and magnesium lotion are all helpful. If magnesium lotion causes itching, can try magnesium oil or add coconut oil to it to ease the itching. This can be a sign of cellular magnesium deficiency. I start with a very small amount on a test area when I introduce any new product to my children’s skin. If skin is still itchy, I use coconut oil + a drop of lavender to ease the itching. You can start magnesium topically with magnesium flake baths. I get all three from Ancient Minerals.
5 | Rebalance. This is the part where lifestyle and day to day choices make such a difference. Stress, lack of sleep, these can be big factors for the gut and subsequent eczema development. Make sure sleep is a priority, if trouble falling asleep, no screen time in the evening might be recommended. Prioritize same evening bedtime routine until quality sleep is achieved. Oils are helpful for sleep too! Other techniques that are helpful for BALANCING the body.. deep breathing, grounding outside (this means walking around barefoot outside). This is so helpful for the mind and body to recharge and rebalance!
Constipation can be a problem while healing the gut, especially while identifying food allergens. Constipation will just make the eczema worse. If you or your child is not pooping, you are not getting rid of toxic waste. For babies and children, using castor oil abdominal massage can be helpful. Keep in mind you only need a tiny amount for this to be effective, I would start with a few drops of it and move from there. Start in right lower quadrant and then move up and to the right, similar to the I love you massage. This is also helpful for the liver, which is a big culprit with eczema. The liver is tasked with filtering out toxins which in today’s toxic world can leave it struggling to keep up. With children, it is important to start supporting them with a GENTLE approach. Castor oil massage can be a fine first step. As always, I start these things slowly with children and move forward from there.
A couple more tidbits…
Ginger. I peel and chop organic ginger. Add pot of filtered water and heat over medium heat to a boil for a few minutes. Turn off heat and let steep for 20 minutes or so. Add some to a cup, add more water, lemon, local honey to taste. Ginger is a pro-kinetic and contains enzymes that are necessary for digestion. This would apply to children and adults, not infants. No honey before the age of 1.
The liver is an important part of digestion and filtering toxins. Eating beef liver is helpful for the liver and contains many nutrients. I love adding Perfect Supplements desiccated beef liver to our meals for extra nutrition.
Apple cider vinegar (organic ACV with the mother). Healthy skin has a pH under 5, taking showers and baths raise skin pH levels. As well, using bath soap, lotions, etc that contain toxic ingredients raise skin pH too. People with eczema tend to have higher pH skin. What to do? Try apple cider vinegar baths. Add 1-2 cups to warm bath water (not hot) and soak for 15-20 minutes as tolerated. As soon as get out, pat dry and apply unscented clean moisturizer, diy eczema cream (recipe below), or coconut oil.
Chamomile is a great source of anti-oxidants and is an anti-inflammatory. You can make a toner spray with german chamomile essential oil or make a pot of chamomile tea and allow to cool to room temperature. Pour into a bowl and put cloths in the bowl to soak in refrigerator. When ready, wrap around affected skin as tolerated.
This is similar to wet wrap therapy that many have found helpful for eczema. One study found that wet wrap therapy reduced eczema symptoms by over 70%, reducing the need for topical steroids which can be harmful especially when used long term. *Wet wrap info from eczemamom.com
1 | Take a quick bath, only a few minutes, no scrubbing, just gentle pats on the affected areas.
2 | Do not dry when they get out of the bath, this is important. The water from the bath needs to be retained.
3 | Apply an emollient, homemade or premade ointment (I like Rose Ointment from Young Living).
4 | Apply another layer of lotion all over body, making sure to not go against the hair follicle as this can lead to hair folliculitis. I make my own with shea butter and coconut oil.
5 | Dress in a wet layer. These need to be clothes that are fitting, pajamas would be a good option. Wet them in filtered warm water (not hot), wring out excess water. Dress in wet clothes.
6 | Next, put on another layer that is dry. These might be loose fitting pajamas or clothes. This is necessary because it keeps in the moisture of the other layer.
7 | Keep these layers on for at least two hours or overnight.
8 | May repeat as often as you need. The study mentioned did the wet wraps twice daily, but even daily would be helpful.
This wet wrap clothing has been found to be helpful for wet wraps or you can use what you have at home.
Here is a recipe that has been helpful for many families dealing with eczema.
DIY Eczema Cream Recipe
½ cup coconut oil (or ¼ cup coconut oil + ¼ cup shea butter)
20 drops of Lavender
20 drops of Melrose. (for infants, start using on back or bottom of feet to see if they tolerate it, then move forward)
(NOTE: use separately from wet wraps)
Toxic skincare, laundry, and cleaning products are a big part of skin issues and disrupted gut microbiome. This should be an important step in anyone’s eczema journey. Don't forget other steps include working on the gut using the 5R approach, reevaluating often, and of course working with a trusted practitioner throughout the process. Eczema is multifactorial and will not be fixed with one thing BUT if you start with one thing then move to the next thing, it can and will make such a difference!
Here are some products I have mentioned in this post. There are several topical products, several items for digestive support, as well as several items to support the liver.
PLEASE NOTE: This information is not meant to be medical advice, this is educational and how I would approach in my home. Please see your healthcare provider before changing anything or adding any supplements to your routine.