It is possible to treat eczema naturally! Let’s take a look at what eczema is, how it’s traditionally treated, and what we can do to soothe eczema symptoms without the prescription pad.
Reviewed by Sheila Kilbane, MD.
Nine-year-old boys are a little oblivious to life sometimes.
They could probably have a frog stuck in their ear and not notice for a few weeks.
If they hadn’t had a shower in a month, I doubt they’d remind the parents they’d been forgotten.
And if a 4×4-inch spot on their leg is supremely itchy, bleeding, and crusty, they might not say a word for weeks.
Weeks, I’m telling you. Ask me how I know…. #facepalm.
I realized after some time and a few failed treatments for poison ivy and/or injury that my little boy was dealing with eczema.
What is Eczema?
In the simplest terms, eczema is an extremely common condition characterized by an itchy inflammation of the skin.
Eczema patches are red, itchy, and scaly and can occur over any part of the body, but many times appear behind the knees or on the arms. While many times the rashes are dry and/or bumpy, the rashes can also blister and weep.
Eczema typically, but not always, develops in early childhood and is more common in people who have a family history of eczema.
What Causes Eczema?
The exact cause of eczema isn’t clear.
Many researchers believe there is a genetic component to the development of eczema as well as environmental triggers that may activate the immune system, producing inflammation which causes the symptoms that appear on the skin.
This is why I say that eczema acts more like an autoimmune disease…not a disorder of the skin.
The genetic component isn’t fully known, but it may have something to do with how our bodies create the protein that helps our bodies maintain the protective layer on the very top layer of our skin.
General knowledge points to external environmental triggers for eczema such as laundry detergent, chemicals in common household cleaners, antibacterial ointments, certain fabrics, or even cigarette smoke.
Stress is another commonly acknowledged eczema trigger.
However, many in the natural health community believe food allergens can play a significant role in triggering eczema symptoms as well.
I can’t tell you how many doctors have told me that a skin issue likely isn’t related to food, even eczema. Dr Shiela Kilbane is convinced otherwise. In this interview I talked to her about how she became convinced, and how eliminating one food can make a HUGE difference for eczema.
Traditional Treatments for Eczema
Traditional eczema treatments start, first and foremost, with avoiding external triggers and a daily bathing and moisturizing routine.
Keeping nails short or using cotton gloves is recommended to eliminate scratching and irritating the skin. Often times an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream is suggested to calm the itch.
If additional relief is needed prescriptions can be given for anti-histamines, immunosuppressants, antidepressants, topical anesthetics, or even oral antibiotics.
How to Treat Eczema Naturally
Natural eczema treatments can be divided into two main categories – soothing the symptoms and identifying the triggers – both internal and external.
Naturally Soothing Eczema Symptoms (Externally)
Similar to the traditional treatments for eczema, natural treatments focus on keeping the skin moisturized and the skin’s natural barrier protected.
These treatments will often times be most helpful if used in conjunction with one another, but be careful when introducing new treatments. The last thing we want is to irritate the skin even further.
Some of the most common natural eczema treatments are –
- Colloidal Oatmeal baths followed by a natural moisturizer. I use MadeOn Hard Lotion and I find the beeswax base has enough staying power to keep the skin moisturized for longer than some other natural moisturizers.
- Consistently applying a natural herbal salve with high levels of moisturizing base oils like coconut oil, olive oil, or sunflower oil. Earthley’s soothing skin balm is a welcome relief all day long.
- A daily application of Redmond clay for the best results. Use the code kitchenstewardship for 15% off of your first purchase! This may be drying, but could provide relief after the clay is removed. Be sure to moisturize extra diligently when using clay.
- 3rd Rock Itch Blocker is like “calamine on steroids” according to the formulator, Guerry Grune, Ph.D. Of course, he doesn’t mean steroids, per se, just very effective! 😉 Use the code KITCHENSTEW for 20% off!
- Earth Mama Organics has an Eczema Cream that contains colloidal oatmeal and skin-soothing oils and herbs.
- Essential oil blends made for relieving skin irritation. I really like the Skin Soother blend from Plant Therapy (part of their KidSafe line – go for the pre-diluted roll-on to keep it quick to apply) and Rocky Mountain Oils Baby Skin blend.
- Applying witch hazel, evening primrose oil, or other moisturizing oils like those mentioned above to the inflamed skin.
- Propolis has many skin benefits and is often used for warts, scratches, and more, and it’s soothing on any skin inflammation. (source) We use a spray from Beekeeper’s Naturals that you can try for 10% off with the code Katie15.
- For eczema triggered by stress, relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing, or visualization can be very helpful.
- Homeopathy (see this great post for more information)
We have used many of these natural treatments, but had the most success with consistent moisturizing with MadeOn Hard Lotion after we identified our environmental triggers.
RELATED: Learn some stress mastery techniques to heal the skin from the breath out.
Identifying External Eczema Triggers
We are all different and what may be an eczema trigger for one person may not be for another.
There is no debate that external environmental factors like cigarette smoke, chemicals in household cleaners, laundry detergents, and other things our skin comes into contact with can trigger eczema symptoms.
Identifying those factors that are a trigger for you (or for your family member) can take a fair amount of trial and error.
In my family, I finally determined that using straight vinegar to clean our toilet seat might be triggering eczema symptoms in three of my children.
A great place to start is ‘cleaning up’ your cleaning supplies. Look for green cleaners and avoid products with dyes and fragrances…or too much straight vinegar! #facepalm
This is particularly important when it comes to laundry detergents, which can be very harsh and are on the skin all day, all night. Soap nuts are my most natural, truly from-the-earth, solution for non-toxic laundry.
RELATED: Check out all of our Natural Cleaning resources!
Using Diet to Treat Eczema Naturally from the Inside Out
If you have already been through this step and still cannot get any relief from the itching it may be time to look inwards. Yep, I’m talking about diet.
Many doctors disavow any connection between skin issues and diet, but there is too much anecdotal evidence available for me to completely dismiss diet and food allergies as a possible eczema trigger.
The first step in determining if food allergies may be causing eczema rashes is to follow an elimination diet.
Elimination diets help you identify the source of the allergy by eliminating common allergens and then adding them back in slowly to identify the trigger food or food group.
Often times a total clearing of eczema symptoms is reported from eliminating dairy or gluten, but we are all individuals and your triggers may be more nuanced than that.
KS Site Editor Helen Thomas shares her eczema experience:
It started on our daughter’s cheek. Just one dry patch that wouldn’t go away and yet we couldn’t pinpoint anything that caused it to flare up. The worst was at 18 months when it was even open and weeping. Talk about breaking my heart!
We took her along to our son’s annual allergist appointment in the hopes that they would perform the skin prick testing. My son’s horrible, thick, scaly cradle cap didn’t disappear completely until we removed dairy from his diet at 18 months. In the hopes that it was the same for her she had already been dairy-free for five months to no avail.
However – our allergist said he didn’t feel a need to put her through the testing since “food allergies rarely cause skin issues.” I nearly had to pick my jaw up off the floor. We had seen a clear correlation with my son so we knew there was definitely a connection. I also have friends who have seen skin clearing when dairy, soy or gluten are removed. Nearly 1/3 of eczema cases have been shown to be caused by food allergies. (sources: 1, 2)
We already only use “free and clear” in almost all our store-bought detergents and soaps, and DIY plenty of things as well. I haven’t used fabric softener for many years and most of her clothing is cotton. I just couldn’t find the cause.
Trying EVERY Eczema Remedy We Could
I did a lot of internet searching and asked in my mommy groups. Some remedies we were given:
- Aquaphor Healing Ointment – our allergist, dermatologist and GP all swear by it. It did seem to help a bit but it’s just so darn greasy!
- Inflamed and the Lotion Stick from Crunchy Mamas. These worked well for Katie; however they actually seemed to irritate my daughter’s skin more.
- Steroid cream and Hydrocortisone. We were given prescriptions for these and did fill them, but they worry me with all the possible side effects in the drug literature.
- Oatmeal baths made her skin so soft for about five minutes, but didn’t seem to have a lasting effect.
- I made some Beesilk Jr. (pictured above) since I had all the ingredients on hand. We enjoyed the scent and the feel of it (and love “regular” Beesilk from MadeON for our own hands) and while it did help, it didn’t totally remove the dryness. Katie has had luck with hard lotion bars helping mild eczema.
- Bleach baths are highly recommended. One of my self-proclaimed “crunchy” mom friends said she was hesitant but it completely cleared her son’s skin up after a few sessions. It’s essentially like being in a swimming pool but I never worked up the courage to try it. (sources: 1, 2, 3)
- Hazelwood Jewelry. I had seen firsthand how baltic amber had helped my daughter with her teething (though I admit I had always thought it was a fad to see all the babies wearing those necklaces!) so I figured we had nothing to lose!
REVIEW: Hazelaid Hazelwood Jewelry
The great folks at Hazelaid offered to send me a necklace of my choosing to see how it could help my daughter’s eczema issues. Hazelaid was started when Brian and Severine were introduced to hazelwood for their own daughter’s eczema. You have to read her remarkable recovery on their site.
I selected the Pure Hazelwood Pink Flower Necklace because it was quite pretty besides having healing properties.
- The team at Hazelaid was great to work with. Emails were prompt and polite.
- When the safety mechanism activated, they did send me a replacement. They replace broken (accidental or safety release) items at a 40% discount.
- Shipping from Canada was faster than I expected.
- Many styles and sizes to choose from, including mixing amber and hazelwood in single items to get both healing benefits.
- Safety mechanism – I was grateful to order from a company that cares enough to have items that are safe for children. When I was first looking into hazelwood there were sellers that didn’t have this and I wouldn’t consider ordering children’s jewelry without safety clasps.
- The safety mechanism – within the first 10 days we somehow activated it. I was undressing her for bed one night and it fell off. She’s good with keeping necklaces on as she has worn them for almost all of her two years so I don’t think she pulled on it.
- Unfortunately, it just didn’t seem to help my daughter. I didn’t see any changes in her skin even combined with tons of lotion application.
Here’s a little from the company about the purpose of hazelwood jewelry:
Hazelwood appears to work by creating a more alkaline environment in your body through direct contact with your skin, which may help to prevent and remedy many of the symptoms caused by acidosis (being too acidic) and by reducing free-radicals by having a high antioxidant effect through your pores. It is believed that the wood absorbs excess acidity from your body until a balanced PH is reached. This has the potential to improve conditions caused by excess acidity, which can include skin issues such as eczema, as well as internal issues such as ulcers, acid reflux, heartburn, and teething pain.
We’ve used it to successfully treat eczema, heartburn, and ulcers in our own family, and seen it change the lives of several of our close friends who were suffering from severe acid reflux. More and more the research on this starting to point to the antioxidant effects as being the primary mechanism in hazelwood’s actions on the body.
The wood itself that’s used in making the beads is harvested sustainably, just the end of the twig is taken and it grows back good as new to be harvested again! No sprays or pesticides are used in the care of these plants, and many of them simply are wild-growing and 100% natural.
The Eczema Battle Continues
Would I try hazelwood again for another family member? Absolutely. I don’t doubt that it works – it just didn’t work for my daughter. I love that it is non-invasive and affordable and also attractive. Amber works for us (I purchased an amber bracelet from Hazelaid and it definitely helps my aching hand and wrist!) yet I’m sure there are people that have tried it and not felt relief.
I pray that when this horribly dry winter ends the change in season will bring her some much-needed relief. We continue to moisturize and hope to see an improvement soon.
Hazelaid is offering KS readers 10% off with the coupon code kitchenstewardship10 at checkout. You’ll be sure to find an attractive, healing option that fits your style.
Using Natural Treatments for Eczema is an Art, Not a Science
Remember, eczema is an autoimmune disorder that manifests itself through the skin, not a skin disorder.
Topical treatments can certainly improve it or in some cases make it go away altogether, but sometimes the gut needs major healing before things truly clear up all the way.
It can be complicated to sort out the triggers, particularly internal triggers, so there’s no harm in soothing your child’s symptoms externally while you figure out the root cause triggers.
Just do your best to stick to zero-side-effect options and avoid the steroids whenever possible.
If you feel a little overwhelmed, my friend Dr. Ana-Maria Temple has a class specifically on eczema here. You can also learn a lot more from Dr. Sheila Kilbane in this full-length inflammation and eczema interview, and check out her Healthy Kids, Happy Moms class for great overall health support for your family.
Essential Oils for Eczema
You’ll notice some of the eczema solutions here and elsewhere online may utilize essential oils.
As you work to perhaps avoid co-pays, steroid creams, and medical advice that treats the symptom, not the problem, you’ll run into “EOs” often.
I want to strongly encourage you to make sure you’re doing some education about essential oils beyond just reading a recipe for a DIY beauty product or a recommendation to treat something with an EO.
I’ve made all sorts of essential oil mistakes – from not diluting oils when they should have been to using oils on my kids that really aren’t recommended for that age group, from using too many drops in a beauty product and stinging faces of my friends to ingesting oils without nearly enough knowledge to be messing around with that.
Essential Oils and the Brain
Watch this quick video for info on the vagus nerve, how essential oils can be a “backdoor” entry to health, and the importance to your whole family of getting into a parasympathetic state more often:
Can’t see the video? Watch Essential Oils and the Brain here on YouTube.
And the oil she held up in the video is one of her own special blends, appropriately called Parasympathetic. You can get your own hands on some here.
Luckily, no one in my family has any burns, inside or out, to show for it, but not everyone is so lucky. I wrote a post about careful use of EOs that I’d encourage you to read.
There’s also a wonderful masterclass available, Essential Oils for Abundant Living, that you may want to look into. The course is completely NON-BRANDED, which is really important to me.
Other Natural Eczema Relief Options
The KS community always comes through with amazing ideas whenever I ask for help on Facebook, and this question was no exception:
Let’s talk eczema. My son had it mildly as a youngster, and suddenly it’s back with a vengeance, worse than I’ve *ever* seen, at age 9. I know two middle aged ladies who never had eczema in their lives and suddenly have it spreading and itching and driving them up the wall. What gives?
If you know your trigger or what might cause a flare up, let’s share so others can troubleshoot. This is driving me nuts lately!
Here are some of the ideas shared:
Vitamins or Supplements for Eczema:
Test to find out if you’re deficient in:
- Vitamin D (try fish oil)
- try probiotics
- try inositol vitamin
- simply hydrate more (from within)
Potential Eczema Triggers:
- seasonal allergies
- unbalanced hormones
- chemical cleaners, air fresheners – switch to green cleaners
- stress, fear
- change in weather, location in the world/climate
- nickel from canned food linings, fillings, or jewelry
- adrenal fatigue
- mold or environmental allergens/older homes
- parasites (do a parasite cleanse)
- dental work
- antibiotic use or even overuse of decongestants/chronic colds
- misdiagnosis – for example, some have ringworm or dermatitis or a staph infection and docs say “eczema”
Possible Dietary Triggers for Eczema:
- chocolate (related to blood sugar)
- acidic fruits (pineapple, oranges)
- dairy or processed dairy (some have great success switching to raw milk or only fermented dairy)
- artificial food dyes
- any elimination diet meal plan – but sometimes the gut needs major healing before things truly clear up
- testing for food sensitivities (not allergies) can help: ALCAT and Alletess tests
Topical Treatments for Eczema:
- Aveno Eczema Therapy
- hard lotion bars (like these ones from MadeOn)
- weekly soak in dead sea salts
- Cetaphil’s soap and lotion for eczema
- fragrance-free lotions only
- BabyGanics Eczema cream
- UNDA 270 ointment
- here’s a homemade eczema cream
- rubbing half water-half apple cider vinegar over the area and letting it sit, then rinsing. Then coconut oil mixed with lavender essential oil.
- avoiding harsh soaps or even touching acidic foods: raw meat, avocado, tomatoes, etc. (use gloves)
Eczema could get an award, I think, for being the most popular ailment of our time. Boooooooo!
Too bad it’s not a fad like skinny jeans and side parts, right? (Don’t judge me, Gen Z!)
We’ve just got to keep working on finding the cause (or causes!) and using good stuff on the outside in the meantime to find relief.