Maintaining healthy skin is an ongoing struggle for eczema sufferers. Also called dermatitis, the chronic condition ranges from mild skin dryness to large, painful scaly patches that can be maddeningly itchy. Between 10 percent and 20 percent of children have eczema, which can continue into adulthood, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Here’s how to prevent and treat outbreaks.
Naturopathic Doctor Katherine Lik, ND, Raby Institute for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern, Chicago
Although eczema is not an allergy, it’s closely tied to asthma and upper-respiratory reactions stemming from dairy consumption. Avoid butter, milk, cheese, and yogurt, as well as dairy proteins casein and whey. Replace cow’s milk with almond, rice, or organic soy milk. Swap cheese with hummus or avocado, and use olive oil or coconut oil in place of butter.
Pump up probiotics.
Your stomach is coated with immune cells and is one of the first lines of defense against foreign substances. When irritated, these cells release an inflammatory response, which can manifest as eczema. Probiotics in the GI tract calm this response. Take a probiotic supplement containing at least 20 billion colony-forming units (CFU) and various bacteria strains such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium longum, twice per day. Also eat fermented, probiotic-rich foods, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, and kombucha.
Take fish oil.
Anti-inflammatory fish oil supports healthy skin by moisturizing it from the inside out. Take up to 3 grams fish oil containing EPA and DHA essential fatty acids per day. Because fish store pollutants in their fat, choose a high-quality product that tests every batch for mercury and PCB toxins.
Ayurvedic practitioner Kristen Ma, author, Beauty: Pure + Simple (McArthur & Company, 2010)
Know your dosha.
Ayurveda is a holistic approach to health, based on the belief that each person has a specific emotional, physical, and mental energy called a dosha. Because skin is the body’s largest organ, it expresses this energy. Vata (air) doshas experience dry, flaky eczema; pitta (fire) have red, burning eczema; and kapha (earth) often have wet, oozing eczema.
For vata eczema, moisturizing is key. Apply lotion with sesame, avocado, and olive oils liberally. Those with pitta eczema should moisturize with anti-inflammatory olive oil and coconut formulations. For kapha eczema, disinfect the area with natural ingredients like witch hazel and peppermint water.
When there are no eczema symptoms, all dosha types should moisturize daily with calming jojoba or coconut oils. Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water—at least eight to ten glasses per day—especially in dry climates.
Dermatologist Jeffrey M. Weinberg, MD, St. Luke’s-Roosevelt and Beth Israel, New York
Recognize the causes.
Eczema is genetic, but the skin losing water also can cause it. Maintain your skin’s natural oils by moisturizing regularly. Allergies to foods like yeast and dairy also can, in rare cases, activate eczema. Note which foods you ate before a flare-up.
Make lifestyle changes.
Stress worsens eczema, so decrease tension by exercising, practicing deep breathing, and lightening your workload. Long, hot showers can trigger outbreaks, so keep showers short—around five minutes—and use lukewarm water. Children who are more susceptible to eczema should bathe every other day at most.
Disinfect and soothe skin.
Keep the affected area bacteria free. Add a cup each of apple cider vinegar and oatmeal to a lukewarm bath to sanitize and soothe skin. Soak for 15 minutes three times per week. Immediately afterward, cover skin in a thick lotion to lock in moisture; avoid wool and synthetic, chemically derived fragrances.