Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a dry, itchy skin condition that is characterized by inflammation, redness and can sometimes become crusty and ooze. It is not fun and the more you itch the more likely you will be to scratch…. which can lead to more severe conditions such as infection. Below are a few natural, home remedies that can help alleviate the itch and other symptoms of eczema.
It is important that you don’t scratch that itch; however, the itching associated with eczema can be relentless. Try soaking in a lukewarm bath with 3-4 cups of vinegar. You can also use Epsom salts for the itch; both vinegar and Epsom salts seem to help dry out the infection associated with eczema in my experience. If you are going to use Epsom salts, add 1 cup for a more enjoyable soak. Soak for 12-15 minutes for maximum results. I personally like vinegar baths the best because they help to bring the pH of the skin down to the appropriate acidic range where it is supposed to be in order for it to heal. One of my patients recently did an experiment for me; he checked the pH of the tap water here in Utah; about 7.8. Then he added enough vinegar to get the pH down to about 4.6. It took 3-4 cups. Then, he tested the pH with 1/8cup of bleach in a half full tub; it was about 8.9. Logic would say, that vinegar is better due to the pH optimization required for the skin barrier to heal itself. (The enzymes that make skin lipids only work when the pH is between 4.6 and 5.6).
Given that I was one of the first dermatologists in the world to start advocating the use of bleach baths, I am not going to completely bow out; I have seen benefits from bleach baths too. Bathing in bleach has proven to be effective in controlling eczema flares and itching. Use regular strength bleach (NO FRAGRANCE!) or 6% hypochlorite. Do not use concentrated bleach. Add 1/4 cup of bleach to a half full bath tub of lukewarm water and soak for 5-10 minutes. Always measure bleach with precision and do not apply bleach directly to your skin. Bleach baths are especially helpful with children, who while told not to scratch at their condition, are more likely to obey that itch.
Another way to keep itching at bay is with the use of ice. Use an ice pack or bag of frozen vegetables to soothe the skin. Do not apply ice or ice packs directly to the skin, as this can result in freezer burn. Wrap them in a thin washcloth or towel before applying them to the affected area of the skin. Leave on for 10-15 minutes.
Get Your Omega-3’s
Eating foods rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids will help reduce inflammation and allergic reactions. Because eczema is plagued with inflammation, incorporating these foods may help alleviate the symptoms. Some great sources of omega-3’s include: albacore white tuna, salmon, mackerel, sardines and lake trout. In addition, avocados, walnuts, hemp hearts(from Costco) and flaxseed contain rich amounts of these fatty acids. Flaxseed can be consumed in oil form or in a natural form, but its probably best to grind it fresh each day. Try adding it to yogurt and get a dose of probiotics to go with it.
Keeping your skin moisturized with only the best skin care products is your best defense in guarding against eczema flare ups and itching. When your skin becomes extremely dry, it causes excessive itching. While there are many lotions, creams and ointments that claim to be helpful in clearing symptoms of atopic dermatitis, many of them have ingredients that can actually worsen flares.
Be aware of the skin care products that are commonly targeted for eczema that include: gluten, sulfates, sunflower/olive oils and oatmeal. While some patients may have experienced benefits from using products containing these ingredients, there is newer research indicating contact allergen reactions to some of these ingredients. Remember the science of medicine and treatment evolves and what may have been recognized as valid yesterday may no longer be beneficial today, as we continue to research and understand it.
When you have been diagnosed with a skin ailment such as eczema, it is important you acknowledge you have sensitive skin. Look for products that are 100% hypoallergenic and free of known allergens. Utilize products that are formulated for skin barrier optimization (SBO), to ensure the skin is healing itself rather than masking the symptoms. Sufferers of atopic dermatitis have a ceramide deficiency, a cholesterol esther deficiency and a very long chain fatty acid deficiency in their skin, so it is important to replace these essential skin lipids by using products that are formulated with these lipids including ceramides.