The “itch-scratch cycle” is about as vicious as they come, and anything that induces it has the full capability to bring almost unbearable discomfort, as those suffering with eczema know well. Eczema is a general term used to describe varying skin conditions that result in inflamed and discolored skin. Typically the skin is red, dry, inflamed, and occasionally blisters or crusts form. The term eczema is often times used interchangeably with the term dermatitis, which literally translates to “inflamed skin.” There are many types of eczema, but the most common type is atopic eczema. Thought to be hereditary and triggered by allergens, atopic eczema is most common in children, but can reappear during adult years. There is no cure, but figuring out what causes it to flare up and treating the symptoms is usually the course of action to take.
Skin is our body’s first line of defense. Take that away and (let’s pretend we don’t just fall apart) we’re exposed to all sorts of wicked pathogens that would surely take us down-not to mention all the elements. Skin is composed of the epidermis (outer layer) and the dermis (deeper layer.) Remember that old joke “your epidermis is showing?” Anyways, healthy skin and an epidermis you want to flaunt is made up cells that are plump full of water, and full of fats and oils in the skin that help enhance the water-retaining capabilities.
If you have eczema, your skin is most likely producing less fats and oils than it should be, and the ability to retain water is diminished. The space between cells widens since they aren’t plump with moisture, you begin to lose water from the dermis, and irritants and bacteria can enter easier. This is why things like soaps and detergents can worsen eczema, as they strip away what lipids your skin is producing, and it will breakdown faster than healthy skin would to become dry, inflamed, and sometimes cracked or blistered.
These home remedies for eczema will focus on strengthening your skins barrier, filling in those gaps, and retaining moisture, as well as focusing on addressing specific troubles like itching and inflammation.
1. Bring on the coconut oil
Let’s start with the most straightforward and simple eh? Coconut oil does a great job of sinking into the skin and filling in that intercellular space that’s opened up and caused you to lose moisture. It’s a lipid, of course, and fats and oils are what you need to prevent your skin from drying out and becoming more irritated.
You will need…
Rinse your hands with water and pat them dry. Rub the coconut oil onto the affected areas, and let it dry. Apply throughout the day as needed.
2. Go with jojoba
While coconut oil is really fantastic, eczema is a highly individual condition, and not everybody finds success with it. If this is the case, or even if it isn’t, try jojoba oil. It isn’t actually an oil, but a liquid wax. It penetrates the skin deeply, and its molecular structure is the most similar of all the oils to that of our skins natural sebum (oil.) It is composed of long chain fatty acids and fatty alcohols and is incredibly rich and moisturizing. Don’t let the word alcohol scare you away-fatty alcohols are not the least bit harmful to the skin, unlike the drying artificial types such as methanol, isopropyl alcohol, and benzyl alcohol.
You will need…
Rinse your hands with water and pat them dry. Apply jojoba oil to the affected area, gently massaging it into your skin until it is at least partially absorbed. It is extremely rich and you don’t need a whole lot of it. Apply 3 times daily as needed.
3. Make a soothing butter
When it comes to soothing those dry, itchy, painful patches of skin, nothing can really take the place of a good body butter when it’s needed. This combines 4 fantastic healing ingredients that make a spectacular healing butter-jojoba oil, shea butter, coconut oil, and beeswax. Shea has a high content of non-saponifiable fatty acids, namely stearic and oleic. Non-saponifiable just means it cannot be saponified, or hydrolyzed, and converted to soap. Many of its healing benefits come from these fatty acids and their wonderful ability to repair, heal, and soften damaged skin. It can also help reduce inflammation, which is huge when it comes to eczema. Beeswax is mainly just the medium used to thicken this butter, but it also helps protect and soften skin. Jojoba and coconut oil are good additions for all the reasons listed in the two remedies above!
You will need…
-2 tablespoons shea butter
-2 tablespoons beeswax
-6 tablespoons of coconut oil
-4 tablespoons of jojoba oil
-Lavender essential oil (optional)
-Airtight tins or glass jars
In a double boiler melt down the beeswax and jojoba completely. Once they are melted add in the coconut oil and stir until it is fully melted. Finally lower the heat a tad and add the shea butter, stirring it as it melts. Shea butter gets added last as it is a little more heat sensitive, and can get grainy further along its shelf life if it’s been over-exposed. Pour the mixture into airtight glass jars and, if using, add a drop or two of lavender essential oil and give it a little stir. Place the cover on and allow it to cool. Apply liberally to affected areas as needed.
4. Oils not working!
Many home remedies for eczema involve oils, and while many people find great success with them, some do not. Vegetable glycerin sounds scary, but it has a sadly poor reputation because of its cousin, “regular” glycerin. Glycerin, or glycerol, is the backbone of lipids (oils and fats) and is usually a by-product in the soap making industry. What separates vegetable glycerin from regular glycerin is that vegetable glycerin is plant based. It comes from the oils and fats found in things like coconut or palm oil. Regular glycerin comes from animal fats, and is not food-grade quality, as vegetable glycerin can be. Food-grade vegetable glycerin is 99.7% pure, with the remaining 0.3% being water. It is actually a fine thing to work with, and can help restore moisture to dried, itchy, inflamed skin. It is a humectant, which means that it draws water to it and helps seal in the moisture. It is so effective, in fact, if you leave a bottle of pure glycerin out and open, it will eventually become 20% water. When used for eczema it can help fill in the gaps in dry, dehydrated skin, and draw up water from the deeper layers of the dermis. It dissolves easily in water, making it ideal for a moisturizing spritz.
You will need…
-Food-grade vegetable glycerin
-A spray or mister bottle
Use a 1-1 ratio of glycerin and water. Pour it into a spray bottle, and give it a shake to get everything blended. Spritz on skin as needed. You can play around with the ratios and try 1-2 or even 1-3, but it is generally wise to start with the lower ratios until you know how your skin will react.
5. Make some long-term changes
For long term relief, you’ll most likely have to make some long-term changes. Keep a little log book that tracks what you’re doing or what you are consuming when you have flare-ups or you notice the most discomfort. Track the date, as well as your diet at the time and any foreign products that you may have used (e.g. detergent, new hand soap, medication etc.) Eventually you may see a pattern begin to emerge that allows you to get a better sense of what to avoid to manage it on a daily basis. Avoiding triggers and allergens is a solid approach that many folks find help their eczema.
6. Soak the Oats
When everything else is failing you and managing your eczema is getting so complicated your head spins, go back to the basics. A plain old oatmeal bath (rarely) hurts anyone, and it noticeably moisturizes and soothes the skin. Chemical constituents in oatmeal have anti-inflammatory properties, which can help relieve discomfort brought on by inflammation associated with eczema. It also seems to work a treat when it comes to reducing itchiness.
You will need…
-Roughly 1 cup of oatmeal
-Cheesecloth, muslin, or something similar
Pour the oatmeal into some cheesecloth or muslin and tie it off securely into a little bundle. Tie an extra-long piece of material around the top. Fill the tub part way and then use the extra piece to hang the bag right below the faucet. Run the bath until it’s full and the water is milky and smooth. Soak for 10-15 minutes before getting out, patting gently dry with a lean towel, and applying your usual moisturizer. Feel free to just let the bag float in the water after the tub is filled-you can give it a squeeze now and then to get even more of the good stuff out.
7. Tea Time
Chamomile is incredible at soothing the skin. It reduces inflammation, tames itchiness, and heals spots that may have been overly-scratched at. Its benefits are, for the most part, from a natural alcohol known as a-bisabolol, or levomenol. Bisabolol has been shown to ease irritation, reduce inflammation, and has anti-microbial effects, which can help ward off any germs that decide to take advantage of your skin in its weakened state. There’s no better way to surround yourself with these benefits than to take a tea bath. It’s quite similar to the oatmeal bath above, but with chamomile instead of oats. If you’d like, you can even try combining the two sometime.
You will need…
-4 tablespoons of dried (German) chamomile flower
-Muslin or cheesecloth
Place the chamomile in cheesecloth or muslin and tie off. You can add more later if you want a stronger bath, but I find 4 tablespoons is a good place to start. Fill the tub part way and then tie the bag to the faucet so the bath water runs directly over it. Once the tub is full you can drop the bag directly in the tub and give it a squeeze now and then to get even more healing benefits. Soak for 10-15 minutes or so and then gently pat yourself dry with a clean towel. Follow up with your regular moisturizer if you need to.
8. Supplement with fish oil
I know, I know, fish oil is everywhere and it will cure everything right? No. Of course not. But it has been shown to help lessen the severity of some people’s eczema, particularly the itching. Research has shown that those with atopic eczema seem to have a lower rate of essential fatty acids breaking down into their metabolites, and lower rates of getting those fatty acids up into the skin cell membranes closer to the surface of the skin. N-6 and n-3 fatty acids are particularly important in maintaining normal skin function and, surprise surprise, fish oil is rich in both. Taking a daily dose can help your body produce more of the stuff you need on the inside, so you don’t have to worry so much about the outside.
You will need…
-Orange juice (optional)
For both capsules and liquid, follow the dosing on the back of the bottle. If you are using liquid, mix it into some orange juice first. I find it takes away flavor, odor, and any lingering traces of fishiness that capsules can leave.
9. Dab some honey on it
Honey performs all the staple tasks needed to relieve symptoms of eczema. It’s anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, helps speed up the healing process of broken skin, and it’s a humectant (draws water to it.) The downside is that it can get sticky, so this is best when used over small areas, rather than slathered all up and down your legs and arms.
You will need…
-Organic, raw, honey
Rinse your hands and pat them dry. Apply a thin layer of honey over the affected area. You can cover it with a bandage to keep it from rubbing off on anything, but I personally prefer to “let it breathe.” Leave it on for 20-30 minutes then rinse off with cool water, pat dry, and reapply another thin layer of honey 3 times throughout the day.
10. Cornstarch and Oil
Harken back to your grade school days-do you remember playing with cornstarch and making it into a putty? Remember how cool (temperature wise and figuratively) it was? Cornstarch, just plain old cornstarch and water, can be a soothing paste all on its own. Made with just water though, the cornstarch can wick away moisture that your skin needs in the case of eczema. To balance this out and get a little extra moisturizing power, mix it with olive or grapeseed oil instead.
You will need…
-Olive or grapeseed oil
Mix cornstarch and enough oil to make a spreadable paste. It shouldn’t be so thick that it won’t spread but also not so thin that it’s watery. Apply to affected areas as needed, let sit for 20 minutes, and then rinse with warm water. Pat dry with a clean towel and apply your regular moisturizer as needed.
11. Bust out the clay
A lot of damage occurs when you are driven mad with the need to scratch and itch at eczema. Little sores can open, scab over, and are easily picked off again, which gives your skin no time to heal. Scratching will also only worsen inflammation, and while you may feel temporary relief, will continue a vicious cycle. French green clay, rich in magnesium as well as calcium, iron, potassium, and other minerals, makes the perfect paste that will stop the pain and itching in its tracks, and bring down heat and inflammation. The clay gets its green hues from decomposed plant matter-make sure that it is actually green, or it’s not the real stuff! You can make the paste with water or witch hazel. Witch hazel adds a little something extra in terms of relieving the itching and helping with eczema that may have weeping crusts or blisters.
You will need…
-1/2 cup of green clay
-Water or witch hazel extract
Mix enough water or witch hazel extract into the clay to form a creamy paste. Apply directly to the affected area and let it dry. Once it has dried, rinse it off under cool water and gently pat dry with a soft, clean, cloth. If you have any left over, store it in a glass jar with an airtight lid. If it dries out, add some water or witch hazel to reconstitute it.
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