Soothe your eczema irritation. This common skin condition is characterized by dry, itchy skin. According to research or other evidence, the following self-care steps may be helpful.
Avoid allergens and irritants
Work with a qualified professional to identify airborne allergens, chemicals, foods, and irritants that make your condition worse
Take fatty acids
Supply anti-inflammatory fatty acids missing in many people with eczema by taking 500 to 1,000 mg a day of GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) from evening primrose oil or borage oil, or 1,800 mg a day of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) from fish oils; children should take amounts proportionately less according to body weight
Help children avoid allergies with beneficial bacteria
Pregnant women and newborns should get probiotic supplements that contain 10 billion colony-forming units a day of lactobacillus-type bacteria to reduce risk of eczema in early life
About This Condition
Eczema is a common inflammatory condition of the skin.
Many skin diseases cause symptoms similar to those of eczema, so it is important to have the disease
properly diagnosed before it is treated.
Eczema is characterized by scaling, thickened patches of skin that can become red and fissured. It may also appear as tiny blisters (called vesicles) that rupture, weep, and crust over. The most troublesome and prevalent symptom of eczema is itching, which may be constant.
Numerous trials have reported that hypnosis improves eczema in children and adults.1 A preliminary trial emphasizing relaxation, stress management, and direct suggestion in hypnosis showed reduced itching, scratching, and sleep disturbance, as well as reduced requirements for topical corticosteroids. All of the patients studied had been resistant to conventional treatment.2
The right diet is the key to managing many diseases and to improving general quality of life. For this condition, scientific research has found benefit in the following healthy eating tips.
Cut out coffee
Some people with eczema may be allergic to coffee. Avoiding coffee may lead to improvements in eczema symptoms.
It has been reported that when heavy coffee drinkers with eczema avoided coffee, eczema symptoms improved.3 In this study, the reaction was to coffee, not caffeine, indicating that some people with eczema may be allergic to coffee. People with eczema who are using a hypoallergenic diet to investigate food allergies should avoid coffee as part of this trial.
Eczema can be triggered by food allergies, an elimination diet can help identify your sensitivities.
Eczema can be triggered by allergies.4, 5 Most children with eczema have food allergies, according to data from double-blind research.6 A doctor should be consulted to determine whether allergies are a factor. Once the trigger for the allergy has been identified, avoidance of the allergen can lead to significant improvement.7However, “classical” food allergens (e.g., cows’ milk, egg, wheat, soy, and nuts) are often not the cause of eczema in adults. A variety of substances have been shown, in a controlled trial, to trigger eczema reactions in susceptible individuals; avoidance of these substances has similarly been shown to improve the eczema. Triggers included food additives, histamine, salicylates, benzoates, and other compounds (such as aromatic compounds) found in fruits, vegetables, and spices.8 These reactions do not represent true food allergies but are instead a type of food sensitivity reaction. The authors of this study did not identify which substances are the most common triggers.
Our proprietary “Star-Rating” system was developed to help you easily understand the amount of scientific support behind each supplement in relation to a specific health condition. While there is no way to predict whether a vitamin, mineral, or herb will successfully treat or prevent associated health conditions, our unique ratings tell you how well these supplements are understood by some in the medical community, and whether studies have found them to be effective for other people.
For over a decade, our team has combed through thousands of research articles published in reputable journals. To help you make educated decisions, and to better understand controversial or confusing supplements, our medical experts have digested the science into these three easy-to-follow ratings. We hope this provides you with a helpful resource to make informed decisions towards your health and well-being.
3 StarsReliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2 StarsContradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1 StarFor an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.
Calendula (Radiation-Induced Dermatitis)
Refer to label instructions
Radiation therapy for breast cancer frequently causes painful dermatitis at the radiation site. In a study of women undergoing radiation therapy for breast cancer, those who topically applied Calendula officinalis had significantly fewer cases of severe dermatitis, compared with those who used a standard medication.9 Calendula treatment was begun after the first radiation session and was applied twice a day or more, depending on whether dermatitis or pain occurred.
Apply 5 to 6% herbal extract several times per day
Topical applications of chamomile have been shown to be moderately effective in the treatment of eczema.10, 11 One trial found it to be about 60% as effective as 0.25% hydrocortisone cream.12
Evening Primrose Oil
Adults: 500 to 1,000 mg a day of GLA; children: proportionately less, according to body weight
Researchers have reported that people with eczema do not have the normal ability to process fatty acids, which can result in a deficiency of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA).13 GLA is found in evening primrose oil (EPO), borage oil, and black currant seed oil. Some,14, 15, 16 but not all,17, 18, 19, 20 double-blind trials have shown that EPO is useful in the treatment of eczema. An analysis of nine trials reported that the effects for reduced itching were most striking.21 Much of the research uses 12 pills per day; each pill contains 500 mg of EPO, of which 45 mg is GLA. Smaller amounts have been shown to lack efficacy.22
Adults: 1,800 mg a day of EPA; children: proportionately less, according to body weight
Ten grams of fish oil providing 1.8 grams of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) per day were given to a group of eczema sufferers in a double-blind trial. After 12 weeks, those using the fish oil experienced significant improvement.23, 24 According to the researchers, fish oil may be effective because it reduces levels of leukotriene B4, a substance that has been linked to eczema.25 The eczema-relieving effects of fish oil may require taking ten pills per day for at least 12 weeks. Smaller amounts of fish oil have been shown to lack efficacy.26
One trial using vegetable oil as the placebo reported that fish oil was barely more effective than the placebo (30% vs. 24% improvement).27 As vegetable oil had previously been reported to have potential therapeutic activity, the apparent negative outcome of this trial should not dissuade people with eczema from considering fish oil.
Galacto-oligosaccharides and Fructo-oligosaccharides
90% galacto-oligosaccharides and 10% fructo-oligosaccharides mixture added daily to infant formula
In a double-blind trial, the addition of a mixture of 90% galacto-oligosaccharides and 10% fructo-oligosaccharides to infant formula prevented the development of eczema in infants who were at high risk of developing eczema. The incidence of eczema in the first six months of life was 9.8% in the group receiving oligosaccharides, compared with 23.1% in the placebo group, a statistically significant difference. The product used in this study was designed to mimic the oligosaccharide content of human milk, and was added at a concentration of 0.8 grams per 100 ml.28
10 billion colony-forming units daily of lactobacillus-type bacteria
A double-blind trial reported that use of a hypoallergenic infant formula plus probiotics (500 million organisms of Lactobacillus GG bacteria per gram of formula, taken for one month) initially led to improvement in eczema symptoms in infants with suspected allergy to cow's milk.29 However, by the end of two months, both the group receiving Lactobacillus GG and the placebo group had improved approximately the same amount. In the same report, a preliminary trial giving 20 billion lactobacilli twice per day to breast-feeding mothers led to significant improvement of their allergic infants’ eczema after one month. However, another double-blind trial found that Lactobacillus GG was no more effective than a placebo in infants with mild to moderate eczema.30 In another double-blind trial, a different probiotic preparation (1 billion organisms of Lactobacillus fermentum VRI-033 PCC taken twice a day) reduced the severity of eczema in a group of young children with moderate or severe eczema.31Probiotics may reduce allergic reactions by improving digestion, by helping the intestinal tract control the absorption of food allergens, and/or by changing immune system responses.
St. John’s Wort
Apply a cream containing 5% of an herbal extract standardized to 1.5% hyperforin twice per day
Caution: It is likely that there are many drug interactions with St. John's wort that have not yet been identified. St. John's wort stimulates a drug-metabolizing enzyme (cytochrome P450 3A4) that metabolizes at least 50% of the drugs on the market.32 Therefore, it could potentially cause a number of drug interactions that have not yet been reported. People taking any medication should consult with a doctor or pharmacist before taking St. John's wort.
In a double-blind trial, people with eczema applied a cream containing an extract of St. John’s wort to the affected areas on one side of the body, and a placebo (the same cream without the St. John’s wort) to the other side. The treatment was administered twice a day for four weeks. The severity of the eczema improved to a significantly greater extent on the side treated with St. John’s wort than on the side treated with placebo.33 Although the mechanism by which St. John’s wort relieves eczema is not known, it might be due to the anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects of hyperforin, one of its constituents. The cream used in this study contained 5% of an extract of St. John’s wort (standardized to 1.5% hyperforin). As topical application of St. John’s wort can cause sensitivity to the sun, care should be taken to avoid excessive sun exposure when using this treatment.
Apply 10 to 20% herbal extract two to three times per day
A cream prepared with witch hazel and phosphatidylcholine has been reported to be as effective as 1% hydrocortisone in the topical management of eczema, according to one double-blind trial.34
Zemaphyte Chinese Herbal Formula
One or two packets mixed in hot water and taken once daily
Zemaphyte, a traditional Chinese herbal preparation that includes licorice as well as nine other herbs, has been successful in treating childhood and adult eczema in double-blind trials.35, 36, 37 One or two packets of the combination is mixed in hot water and taken once per day. Because one study included the same amount of licorice in both the placebo and the active medicine, it is unlikely that licorice is the main active component of Zemaphyte.38
Several Chinese herbal creams for eczema have been found to be adulterated with steroids. The authors of one study found that 8 of 11 Chinese herbal creams purchased without prescription in England contained a powerful steroid drug used to treat inflammatory skin conditions.39
Topical preparations containing calendula, chickweed, or oak bark41have been used traditionally to treat people with eczema but none of these has been studied in scientific research focusing on people with eczema.
Radiation therapy for breast cancer frequently causes painful dermatitis at the radiation site. In a study of women undergoing radiation therapy for breast cancer, those who topically applied Calendula officinalis had significantly fewer cases of severe dermatitis, compared with those who used a standard medication.42 Calendula treatment was begun after the first radiation session and was applied twice a day or more, depending on whether dermatitis or pain occurred.
Refer to label instructions
Topical preparations containing calendula, chickweed, or oak bark43have been used traditionally to treat people with eczema but none of these has been studied in scientific research focusing on people with eczema.
Refer to label instructions
Zemaphyte, a traditional Chinese herbal preparation that includes licorice as well as nine other herbs, has been successful in treating childhood and adult eczema in double-blind trials.44, 45, 46 One or two packets of the combination is mixed in hot water and taken once per day. Because one study included the same amount of licorice in both the placebo and the active medicine, it is unlikely that licorice is the main active component of Zemaphyte.47
Several Chinese herbal creams for eczema have been found to be adulterated with steroids. The authors of one study found that 8 of 11 Chinese herbal creams purchased without prescription in England contained a powerful steroid drug used to treat inflammatory skin conditions.48
Refer to label instructions
Topical preparations containing calendula, chickweed, or oak bark49have been used traditionally to treat people with eczema but none of these has been studied in scientific research focusing on people with eczema.
Onion injections into the skin and topical onion applications have been shown to inhibit skin inflammation in people with eczema, according to one double-blind trial.50 The quantity or form of onion that might be most effective is unknown.
Sea buckthorn oil contains large amounts of essential fatty acids that are important to skin health and control of inflammation,51, 52 and has constituents that, according to test tube and animal research, could influence the immune system abnormalities underlying skin conditions such as eczema.53 Double-blind studies have investigated a sea buckthorn extract taken by mouth and a topical application of sea buckthorn. In one study,54 people with eczema who took 5 grams per day of sea buckthorn pulp oil for four months had reduced symptoms of eczema, but their improvement was no better than in those taking a placebo. In another study,55 people with eczema applied daily to the affected area either a 10% sea buckthorn cream, a 20% sea buckthorn cream, or a placebo cream. After four weeks all groups had small reductions in the severity of eczema symptoms, but the sea buckthorn creams were no more helpful than the placebo cream.
Shelled Hemp Seed
Refer to label instructions
Though it has not been studied, theoretically shelled hemp seed or its oil may be useful for people with eczema due to its content of essential fatty acids.56
Refer to label instructions
A Japanese topical ointment called Shiunko has been reported to help improve symptoms of eczema, according to preliminary research.57 The ointment contains sesame oil and four herbs (Lithospermum radix, Angelica radix, Cera alba and Adeps suillus) and was applied twice daily along with petrolatum and 3.5% salt water for three weeks. Clinical improvement was seen in four of the seven people using Shiunko.
Refer to label instructions
In 1989, Medical World News reported that researchers from the University of Texas found that vitamin C, at 50–75 mg per 2.2 pounds of body weight, reduced symptoms of eczema in a double-blind trial.58 In theory, vitamin C might be beneficial in treating eczema by affecting the immune system, but further research has yet to investigate any role for this vitamin in people with eczema.
Refer to label instructions
In a preliminary trial, adults with eczema who had very low blood levels of vitamin D (measured as 25-hydroxyvitamin D) had a significant improvement in their eczema after supplementing with 2,000 IU of vitamin D per day for three months.59
Find Drug Interaction Information
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The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2014.
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