Although I’ve never personally struggled with eczema, I’ve seen the negative effects it can have on friends and loved ones. Not only does it affect skin’s appearance, but it can be painful and even interfere with life. Fortunately, there is hope for those with eczema, and this article will explain some successful ways to get to the root cause of it.
What Is Eczema?
Also known as atopic dermatitis, eczema is when the skin becomes itchy, red, inflamed and uncomfortable. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and in really bad cases can cause dark patches, rough or leathery scales and oozing or crusting on the skin (Bartlett, n.d.).
Eczema can be a consistent problem, or it can disappear for a time only to flare up again.
What Causes Eczema?
There can be multiple causes of eczema, and it’s a good idea to have all of your bases covered when searching for the root cause.
Eczema stems from a “malfunctioning immune system” (Myers, 2016). Because of this, chronic inflammation and gut dysfunction are common. This makes diet a crucial piece of the puzzle to overcoming eczema (Myers, 2016). Certain foods and environmental triggers, like conventional personal care products, can also cause eczema to flare.
The holistic approach is to help the body get back in balance by addressing the root cause of a disease while managing the discomfort of symptoms. You also want to eliminate things that irritate and worsen eczema.
Common Causes of Eczema
These common causes of eczema should all be addressed as part of a comprehensive holistic eczema plan:
Food Allergies and Sensitivities: Gluten and dairy are the most common culprits and should be eliminated from the diet (Eczema causes, n.d.). You can also have an allergy test done to see which specific foods you’re allergic or sensitive to. Elimination diets, blood tests, and skin tests are all valid options, but working with a natural health practitioner can help you identify which testing options are best for your situation.
Toxic Overload in the Body: It’s a good idea to use homemade or simple, non-toxic body care products to reduce skin sensitivity and reduce the toxic load on your body. Conventional skin care products, even if they’re labeled as “natural” or safe for sensitive skin, should not be used. Yes, they’re an improvement, but they’re still full of synthetic chemicals that will stress out the skin and body.
Gut Flora Imbalance and Leaky Gut: Hippocrates had it right when he said that all disease begins in the gut. The body doesn’t digest foods and utilize nutrients properly when there’s leaky gut. Supplementing with probiotics and fermented foods like water kefir and sauerkraut can help improve the health of the gut lining. Diets like the Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) or the Autoimmune Paleo (AIP) diets are also beneficial at reducing or eliminating eczema and restoring proper gut function.
Immune Deficiencies: Conventional eczema and psoriasis treatments work by suppressing the immune system which is attacking your own body. Instead of crippling your body’s own defense, why not work to support the immune system as part of treating eczema?
However, while you’re working on addressing the root cause of eczema, the symptoms can drive you crazy in the meantime. By using herbs and essential oils, you can manage symptoms and promote restoration as part of a long-term plan.
An Herbal Approach To Eczema
An Herbal Multivitamin
Since those with eczema also have leaky gut and don’t utilize nutrients as well, it’s helpful to boost your daily vitamin and mineral intake. I like Garden of Life brand for multi-vitamin supplements for both adults and kids, but any high-quality multivitamin will do. We also use their children’s and adult probiotics daily for immune support and optimal gut function.
Immunomodulators work by supporting and strengthening normal immune system function. Certain herbs like echinacea are great when used at the first sign of a cold as well as for short-term issues. For long-term immune support, however, you need to choose herbs that are safe to use every single day for months or even years on end. Here are some immunomodulators that are good choices for eczema support.
Stress Reduction and Liver Support
Reducing stress is a vital step to lessen the effects of eczema. Stress affects the whole body, but it is believed that stress is particularly linked to liver and adrenal problems (Vere, Streba, Streba, Ionescu, & Sima, 2009). Since the liver is your main detox organ, when it’s overloaded, it will show up in the form of skin irritations and blemishes. You can see how to do a liver cleanse that’s even safe for kids here. Daily doses of dandelion tea, long-term, is also beneficial for the liver, as are dark leafy greens.
Aromatherapy is a great addition to your stress reduction plan. Calming essential oils like lavender and chamomile can be used to reduce stress and calm the mind. Uplifting essential oils like lime, lemon, and sweet orange are also great to improve the mood and reduce stress. These can be diffused, put into a personal inhaler, or worn on some aromatherapy jewelry. All of these oils are safe to use for kids (Price, 2005).
You can also take a relaxing bath by making some really strong lavender and chamomile tea and putting it into the bath water. While you’re in the bath, go ahead and sip on a hot cup of chamomile and lavender tea too, like this sleepytime tea. If you don’t have time for a full bath, then do a footbath. I have a few cheap, plastic dishpans from Dollar General that we use for relaxing foot baths.
Skin Soothing Essential Oils
Essential oils are helpful for more than just inhalation. You can add them to a soothing balm base or dilute them in a liquid carrier oil and apply to the skin. Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens), lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), and chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) essential oils are all beneficial for soothing eczema. For adults, a 1-2% dilution is good to rub over the entire skin, but the dilution can be increased if using it as a patch treatment. For children, you can use 6 drops of essential oil for every 50 ml of balm or carrier oil (Price, 2005).
Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) focuses on acupuncture and liver cleansing herbs to cleanse the skin when eczema is present. It also recommends avoiding lots of cold foods like salad and smoothies. Instead, opt for more warm, nourishing foods like bone broth and cooked veggies with a healthy fat like coconut oil or ghee (Bartlett, n.d.).
Adaptogens help to regulate the body as a whole, reduce stress and bring the systems back into balance. Some helpful herbal adaptogens are listed below, and these come from the book Adaptogens, by David Winston and Maimes.
Astragalus root is an adaptogen that promotes tissue regeneration, eases inflammation, protects the liver and modulates and supports the immune system, making it useful for eczema. The dosage for a regular adult is 10-60 drops of tincture in water 1-4x daily.
The berries from the Schisandra plant help to relieve allergy-induced skin conditions, like eczema. It helps to strengthen and protect the liver, our body’s main detox organ. When the liver is overburdened our skin also suffers, exhibiting blemishes and conditions like eczema. The dosage is 40-80 drops of Schisandra tincture 3-4 times daily. For a tea, use 1-2 tsp of dried berries decocted in 10 ounces of water for 10 minutes, then allow it to steep for 20-30 minutes. You would then drink 4 ounces of this tea 3 times a day.
Licorice root is useful for sore throats and the adrenal glands, but when used topically as a poultice, it’s great for eczema. It helps by boosting the body’s natural steroid hormones to soothe skin inflammation. Use it both internally and externally to address the root cause and alleviate the symptoms of eczema.
For internal use, the dosage is 10-20 drops of tincture, 3 times daily, or ½ tsp of dried root decocted in 8 ounces water for 15 minutes. Licorice shouldn’t be used by those on prescription drugs, those with hypertension, or pregnant women unless working with a qualified natural health practitioner.
Soothing Herbs That Can Be Helpful For Eczema
The following herbal information is sourced from Sharol Tilgner’s book, Herbal Medicine.
Calendula is absolutely amazing and is a potent yet gentle anti-inflammatory herb. It’s one of the herbs in my homemade healing salve that we use around the house for any skin condition. You can get a recipe for homemade calendula infused salve here. Calendula not only reduces inflammation, but it soothes and calms the skin as well. This herb can help soothe irritated skin and helps to stimulate lymphatic flow.
A cold infusion of marshmallow root can help soothe an irritated digestive tract and promote gut healing. This herb, however, shouldn’t be taken at the same time as other herbs or medications, since it can slow down or decrease their absorption. Other herbs are best taken 1 hour before using marshmallow root or several hours afterward. Marshmallow root infusion with rose syrup is a delicious way to consume this herb.
Yes, the same herb that causes that unpleasant stinging feeling when you run into it outside is good for eczema. Stinging nettle has antihistamine properties which make it useful for allergies and reducing the itching associated with eczema. It can be used both internally and externally. Nettle can be taken as a tea, tincture, or used topically in a cream to help control itching. The dosage is 1 tablespoon of nettle leaf infused in water and drank as needed. For a tincture, the dose is 10-60 drops 1-4 times daily.
Both the herb and essential oil help to control itching and inflammation, reduce redness, and soothe dry, cracked skin. Since the primary constituent for skin restoration is found in the essential oil, I prefer to use the essential oil for skin care. Lavender is anti-inflammatory, calms nerves, promotes skin regeneration, and relieves itching. Lavender can be added to Epsom salts and used in a bath or diluted in a carrier oil to 1-2% strength and applied to the skin.
Oregon Grape Root Bark
When used externally, Oregon grape root can assist with psoriasis (Gulliver & Donsky, 2005), but when used internally it can help cleanse the skin from the inside out. It’s a liver cleanser, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulator, and it’s specifically helpful for eczema that’s dry and scaly. A tincture is the best way to take Oregon grape root if you’re focused on cleansing the liver since the alcohol will deliver the herbal properties straight to the liver. The regular adult dosage is 10-60 drops, 1-4 times daily.
Other Herbs For Eczema
Naturopathic doctor Sharol Tilgner has some really great herbal formulas in her book, Herbal Medicine. One of these formulas is for a skin cleansing tincture that features Oregon grape root bark, yellow dock, sarsaparilla, burdock, nettle, and horsetail. This book is one that I reference often for herbal information and is a great addition to your herbal library, especially if you’re looking for herbal recipes for different conditions.
Eczema is a multifaceted issue that is best resolved by approaching it both internally and externally. You don’t have to use every single one of the herbs mentioned above to see eczema relief, however, it gives you a good idea of what herbs and solutions may work for you. Cleaning up the diet, reducing toxin exposure, restoring digestion, and supporting the immune system all work together to target the root cause of eczema and bring soothing relief.
Have you found relief from eczema by taking a natural approach? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. Your story may be just the thing someone else needs to hear!
- Bartlett, E. (n.d.). How chinese medicine can help you heal eczema. [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://holisticsquid.com/chinese-medicine-can-help-heal-eczema/.
- Eczema causes. (n.d.). [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/eczema/eczema-causes#1
- Gulliver, W., & Donsky, H. (2005). A report on three recent clinical trials using Mahonia aquifolium 10% topical cream and a review of the worldwide clinical experience with Mahonia aquifolium for the treatment of plaque psoriasis. American Journal of Therapeutics. 12(5): 398-400.
- Myers, A. (2016). How to treat eczema from the inside out. [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.amymyersmd.com/2016/04/treat-eczema-inside/.
- Price, P. (2005). Aromatherapy for babies and children. Stratford-upon-Avon: Riverside.
- Tilgner, S. (2009). Herbal medicine: from the heart of the earth. Creswell, OR: Wise Acres.
- Vere, C. C., Streba, C. T., Streba, L. M., Ionescu, A. G., & Sima, F. (2009). Psychosocial stress and liver disease status. World Journal of Gastroenterology : WJG, 15(24), 2980–2986. http://doi.org/10.3748/wjg.15.2980
- Winston, D., & Maimes, S. (2007). Adaptogens: herbs for strength, stamina, and stress relief. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.