If you have eczema, you’ve likely been dealing with it since childhood. The redness, swelling, itching, dryness, crusting, flaking, blistering, cracking, oozing, and/or bleeding that accompanies eczema typically crops up in childhood or infancy and can be a life long struggle.
I’ve had several clients with eczema, some so severe that the itching interferes with sleep and even social engagements. Conventional medicine may tell you there is no “cure” for eczema, but it is possible to heal eczema or improve your symptoms, beginning by healing from the inside out. Topical creams and steroids may provide temporary relief, but they don’t address the underlying cause.
What Causes Eczema?
Scientists are fairly sure the primary cause is a genetic issue, but we’re largely unsure what exactly causes eczema. The important point to understand is that it’s an autoimmune condition, (source) meaning the immune system is overactive and misfiring, mistaking its own tissue for perceived pathogens and attacking itself. It can be worsened with exposure to environmental factors such as pollen or pet dander/fur, and/or internal factors such as irregular stress hormone (cortisol) levels.
This excellent article by the Paleo Mom explains that eczema results from structural defects in the epidermis, causing “impaired barrier function”. Essentially, abnormalities in the skin make it more permeable to toxins and antigens, which then causes an exaggerated immune response. This sounds a lot like leaky gut. Once the barrier function of the skin is disrupted, various substances (like toxins, allergens, antigens; basically anything that the immune system views as a foreign invader) can “leak” in from the outside and this is what activates the immune response.
Not surprisingly, the program I recommend for addressing eczema is a lot like the program to heal leaky gut, because both calm an overactive immune system. The goal in treating autoimmune disease is to determine what’s causing the immune overactivity and reducing systemic inflammation (another driving factor in auto immune disease). Because the majority of the immune system resides in the gut, addressing inflammation in the digestive tract is the place to begin.
Additionally. the health of the gut mirrors the health of the skin, so gut healing and rebalancing the microbiome are priorities in reversing eczema.
Healing Eczema Naturally
Addressing Eczema with Diet
First off, the following foods may exacerbate eczema because many people cannot properly digest the proteins, causing an allergy reaction and an immune response:
- Milk (cow’s)
- Wheat, gluten
- Corn and other grains
Step 1 is to remove these foods from the diet for 30-60 days (follow an autoimmune paleo type plan) and then add them back in, one at a time, to determine if they cause a reaction or flare-up. This is an allergy elimination diet. During this healing phase, clean up your environment: get rid of toxic cleaning products (I use essential oils to make my own!) and cosmetics. If you’re unsure about your food triggers, you can do a simple at-home fingerprick food allergy kit which is useful to identify intolerances other than the most common foods mentioned above.
Make sure you get plenty of good fats: besides coconut oil (both internally and externally), use olive oil, ghee, avocado, and omega 3 rich foods like salmon and sardines.
Step 2 is to begin taking the following supplements to reduce inflammation during your food elimination period:
- Vitamin D, 5,000 – 10,000 IUs. I like Vitamin D from Designs for Health
- Fish or krill oil to reduce inflammation and provide omega 3s to nourish the skin.
- Take a probiotic and consider a glutamine-based leaky gut product to heal the gut lining, especially if you have digestive issues like gas, bloating, or heartburn. Take a digestive enzyme to help break down food.
- Work with a practitioner to do stool testing to check for parasites, pathogens, candida, or SIBO. Eliminating pathogens and rebuilding gut bacteria is a crucial step, as these bugs trigger the immune system (which you are wanting to calm). You can order your own GI MAP, the stool test I use, but have a qualified practitioner interpret your results for you.
- Drink licorice tea. It’s soothing and healing for the digestive tract.
- Drink plenty of bone broth, good for gut and skin health.
- Curcumin is also an excellent anti-inflammatory.
Step 3 is to try topical remedies. Many find relief applying coconut oil to the skin (it may help). My clients have also found relief with this borage oil lotion. Essential oils such as lavender, tea tree, frankincense, and helichrysum may help too; all are nourishing, soothing, and anti-inflammatory.
Sounds strange, but there is evidence that a bleach bath can offer significant relief. It is perfectly safe (source) and kills the bacteria, viruses, or fungi that may be exacerbating eczema. Read all about it here.
Most importantly, address your stress levels. High cortisol exacerbates inflammation both in the digestive tract and throughout the body. Consider an adrenal stress index saliva test to measure cortisol irregularities.
Finally, address your environment. Are there allergens present? Be aware that mold allergy is a common eczema trigger. Your home environment can harbor so many reactive agents, from pets to household materials, indoor air quality, and poor water. Consider a HEPA filter, and ditch the chemicals in your home.
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.
I have been using a new product from Vegan Faces, which is completely natural and it has worked wonders for my skin.
Great, thanks for the recommendation!
I have a 6yr old who has spontaeously developed eczema after being very ill with a gastro bug and high temps. Would you recommend the same treatment for her? I have already eliminated grain from her diet, although it’s only been a week, and tomatoes as they seem to exacerbate the condition. She will eat coconut oil (as much as she can get fortunately, and we do have a low carb high fat diet), but it tends to irritate the eczema and make it extremely itchy. Any other recommendations for rubbing directly on affected skin?
Yes! Many have had great luck using Dr. Kang’s formula–http://www.drkangformulas.com/EACHFORMULA/49.htm
Hope it helps.
A friend shared this article with me. So glad she did! My five year old is experiencing a pretty bad flare up right now. The areas around her ankles got infected. This is the worst it’s ever been. In the past extra moisturizer and concentrated diligence have always worked.
Would you happen to know of someone with a practice like yours in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area?
I have a daughter that is almost 5 and she has been dealing with eczema since she was a baby. She is allergic to gluten, eggs, soy, and nuts. She stays away from those things. The only thing that I have not eliminated yet is rice cakes, potato chips (from trader joes made with olive oil) and gluten free noodles. Is it possible that those could be still causing her to have eczema.?
Any potential food allergen can cause eczema. You might try having ALCAT food allergy testing.
I believe everything you say is true. However, my eczema came about four or five years ago in my late fifties. No one, to my knowledge, who is a blood relative has eczema thought my dad got some terrible problem to the skin on his legs in his fifties which may have been the eczema. It was finally resolved when one of his clients brought him some terribly smelly home remedy made from sulphur and lambs fat. The sulphur was got from a huge pile of the yellow stuff refined from natural gas, I believe. The lamb may have been a pet, not!
I suspect another cause of such illnesses is an attack or susceptibility to MBC/TMS (Tension Myoneural/Myositis Syndrome; Mind Body Connexion)—as explained by Dr John E Sarno in his book “Healing Back Pain” and other works. It is this practice I am now applying to rid myself of this plague—I’ve used it for years to clear up a myriad of muscle and other acute aches. It is still a struggle; the mind can be terribly powerful in its need to protect us. But the conversations that I and my parts are having have become some heated as I am determined to be the mastermind of this body. Seriously, I have a picture in my mind of when I was still a crawler and I talk to the little guy urging him to rest now as I want to take care of him. Crazy stuff, I know, but I am working myself through the teen years and those guys are very obstinate.
I have gone truly ketogenic-paleo in diet. nixing all grains, legumes, sugars, starch vegetables and any foods nixed for O bloods; and have been learning to do all this over the past year or longer as I learn to use new part of my nutritional approach appropriately; although Miss Ice Cream is a tasty little flirt and it’s hard to turn down her wiles. A final blessing was discovered, the power of natural probiotics found in homemade Sauerkraut supported with starters of yoghourt whey, kombucha and kefir nectars. Within three days I was on to olympian improvements to movements, that no one wants to hear about, surprisingly? We males always find details interesting. 🙂
I just finished a five day water fast which I was sure would alleviate most of my symptoms but that has not worked out as well as I had thought it should, though improvements were made. I had a sudden outbreak on other parts of my body and the usual area inflammations that precipitated the idea of the fast. Strangely, my upper back broke out terribly yet I had not been scratching it at all.
I am now commencing another fast and I wish to go at least two weeks. I did a forty-four day water at age 20 with no problems. My five day fast was a struggle and on the sixth day I did not feel well at all and broke the fast. I will see how this next one goes and if I need to have breaks between fasts, that should be find.
I am determined to overcome this skin aliment using diet, meditation, Dr Sarno’s understandings and natural skin care using light body brushing, use of Borax and baking soda washes as my soap, a structured water unit in the shower and for drinking that does hydrate my skin and body along with skin oiling (coconut and almond—though the much maligned Vaseline seems to work best), copious amounts of bovine fat and home rendered lard in my diet, increased iodine intake and application (I make my own Lugol’s) and supplementation. The only other thing I can think of trying is dancing naked under the full moon but that would be a final act of desperation. 🙂
The only other event that I can think that might be my problems, besides ageing, is the number of root canals I have that probably have mercury in them. My last doctor had replaced my fillings that were mercury based but I don’t know about the root canals. One is exposed and if metal comes in contact there is a noticeable electric sensation so I suspect there is still some mines in my mouth. All this will be fixed in the next three years.
We have also not used any chemicals in the house in ten years. We make use of vinegar, ammonia, Borax, baking soda, salt, epsom salts, calcium from dried egg shells (as a natural abrasive), herbal oils, sunlight and air, and the two outdated reliables, time and ‘grease of the elbow’.
I am very impressed with this article, especially it’s succinctness (a skill sadly lacking in my skill set) and shall enjoy many a good cuppa whilst wandering through your site.
Namaste and care,
Thank you for sharing this article. I read it and told one of my friend who is suffering from eczema. Your article and others comments in which some people have discussed the another ways to treat eczema are really helpful.