Natural strategies for eczema
Eczema is a complex, inflammatory condition with many possible underlying triggers, including genetics, food allergies and intolerances, digestive imbalance, nutrient deficiencies and stress. Once eczema is established, it can be hard to manage thanks to the almost uncontrollable itching, skin damage and possible infection that can spiral into a severe condition.
At this stage eczema can become very hard to control without resorting to visits to the GP and prescribed medication. Skin can also become increasingly sensitised to external irritants too, like soaps, shampoos, creams and the elements, so it feels like everything and anything will set it off.
I have a personal relationship with this condition, having suffered from it for many years as a child and on and off throughout early adulthood. I am lucky to be completely eczema-free these days, and managed to nip my daughter's emerging eczema in the bud when she was very young. There's nothing worse than watching a child suffer from this uncomfortable and unsightly condition, many parents feel desperate and helpless when their child develops persistent eczema.
Thankfully there is a lot that can be done to help relieve and overcome eczema, although it can take time, patience and perseverance. Below you'll find my top tips for resolving eczema, but every case is unique, so in order to really get to the bottom of why it's happening it may be necessary to work with a qualified nutritional therapy or functional medicine practitioner who can guide you through the process.
The list of the most common foods that can trigger eczema and allergies include dairy, wheat and gluten, eggs, soya products, citrus and sugary foods. Following an exclusion diet can be challenging for children, especially because it needs to be done very strictly in order to see if there are benefits. I recommend starting with the most likely culprits first – gluten and dairy products, and then if there is no improvement, move on to avoiding the other foods one by one if needs be. Low histamine diets can also be helpful for calming the inflammatory response, you can find out more here.
· Dairy products - this means milk, cream, cheese, yoghurt, and butter. Replace them with dairy free milk like almond milk or coconut milk, dairy free cheese, coconut yoghurt, non-hydrogenated spreads. Avoid rice milks, they are not suitable for young children.
· Gluten – this means wheat (including spelt and kamut), rye, barley, couscous, and regular oats. Gluten free oats are widely available, as are gluten free alternatives to many foods like bread, pasta and breakfast cereals.
Probiotics – there is so often a link with eczema and the digestive system, because eczema is an inflammatory condition, and inflammation tends to stem from problems within the digestive tract. Probiotics help to rebalance the digestive system and immune system, especially after antibiotics are taken. Studies have shown that babies who take antibiotics in their first year of life have a 40% increased risk of atopic eczema, and also that probiotics help to both reduce the risk of eczema and also alleviate eczema in babies and children by helping to control the overgrowth of unfriendly bacteria and yeasts in the bowel, by helping to keep the lining of the gut healthy and by boosting immunity.
Omega 3 - this type of fatty acid helps to reduce inflammation and benefits skin. Modern diets tend to be low in omega 3 fats and too high in the more inflammatory omega 6 fats. Research suggests that those suffering from an atopic condition like eczema can be deficient in omega 3 fats, or have problems metabolising them properly and so correcting the fatty acid balance can be beneficial.
Vitamin D - this vitamin is crucial for reducing inflammation and boosting immunity. In winter months this is especially relevant as the cold weather means we can’t make vitamin D from the sun and many of us are deficient. It's good to get your levels tested before you supplement with vitamin D, to make sure you're getting enough but not too much. Your GP can test you or there are many vitamin D testing services available online.
Skincare, laundry and household chemicals
Steroid and emollient creams contain many ingredients, some of which can be quite irritating to sensitive skin, and I have found, both myself and professionally, that steroid creams don’t cure eczema and that unless the root cause of the eczema is dealt with, it will always come back again once you stop using the cream.
I therefore recommend seeking out natural skincare products for the bath and to moisturise the skin, reduce itching and discomfort and promote healing naturally. I also strongly recommend avoiding chemical perfumes and cleaning agents by washing clothes, bedding and towels in a natural, un-perfumed laundry liquid; and using more naturally derived household cleaners.