Natural & Herbal Approaches to Eczema - Herbal Health

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Saturday, 7 July 2012

Natural & Herbal Approaches to Eczema

I have had numerous requests for information on natural approaches to eczema. This stems mainly from the fact that conventional approaches require often harsh treatments and drugs that are steroid based (such as hydrocortisone cream) and if it is particularly bad especially in children, many parents worry about-the long-term use of steroid based drugs over the years. Although topical (applied externally), these drugs are absorbed into the body and often makes the skin thinner over time and may lead to systemic problems later on. Many people also don’t realise that eczema requires a holistic approach to treatment and management that involves nutrition, herbal treatments (both internal and topical) as well as stress-management, digestive and immune health.

Eczema is a dry skin condition characterised by patches of inflamed, red, itchy skin. There are small fluid-filled blisters which develop and subsequently burst giving the characteristic ‘weepy’ skin appearance. The patches then crust over. Recurrent attacks lead to scarring and thickening of theskin which changes the colour and appearance of the skin, affecting its integrity and purpose. Severe eczema is very distressing particularly if the face, neck and hands are affected. Many children outgrow this condition and in some it is also accompanied by hay fever and/or asthma as all 3 conditions fall in theband of allergic conditions called atopic allergy.

The herbal approach is to use a range of anti-inflammatories, demulcents and skin restoratives. In this respect, herbs such as calendula cream, chamomile cream or licorice cream are excellent. Skin restoratives such as centella fixed oil or comfrey cream are great choices. Anti-pruritic creams such as chickweed will prevent the intense itching and will also soothetheskin. Long-term use of topical creams combined in a mixture that includes all these actions will restore skin integrity so that it begins to resemble healthy skin again. Internal mixtures (either tinctures and/teas) that include chamomile, centella, licorice can also be considered. A good combination for most dry skin conditions is a mixture of sarsaparilla and mahonia. As eczema is an immune condition, a herb such as echinacea is invariably added in order to modify immune responses so that inflammation is kept to a minimum in predisposed individuals.

Owing to thegeneral dryness in the system and thelack of moisture, supplementation of hemp seed oil is highly recommended. This nutrient replenishes the fats that are essential to diet and general nutritional status. Most dry conditions occur in systems that are deficient in these essential fatty acids (notably theomega fatty acids). They are also found naturally occurring in fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, trout & sardines) as well as some nuts (eg. walnuts) and seeds (linseeds, hemp seed and others). It is vital for the skin to have these fats for its healthy state and function. It can be added to smoothies but choose those that are not yoghurt-based as dairy aggravates the condition and be careful about the sugar content in these drinks.

Other supplements such as vitamin C (for wound healing and for general health and vitality of the skin), as well as zinc are also highly recommended. The mineral zinc is an essential part of our immune system and is required to modulate theimmune responses in the body. Inflammatory conditions can often result from a deficiency of zinc in the diet and studies have shown it to have a beneficial effect in eczema.

General dietary & lifestyle recommendations in eczema:

  • Increase fatty fish intake (good examples are listed above)
  • Increase flaxseeds/linseeds. These can be bought from most supermarkets and can be easily sprinkled on top of cereals for a crunchy texture. This is high in the omega fatty acids so it is a good nutrient. Another suitable choice is hemp seed oil (as above)

  • Limit all dairy intake especially cheese, milk, eggs, yoghurt etc…
  • Try goat’s cheese as an alternative to dairy cheese

  • Limit or avoid altogether all junk food – far too many additives and chemicals that could trigger an inflammatory response in sensitive systems
  • Reduce red meat where possible and eat more fatty fish & chicken instead

  • Increase intake of fresh fruit and vegetables. Go organic & non-GMO whenever possible and go for variety. This will ensure you cover all bases where nutrition is concerned
  • Try gluten-free foods – there could be a possible wheat sensitivity

  • Plan the weekly food shopping by making a list and spend time thinking about meals way ahead so you have some control over diet and culprit foods
  • Limit eating out where possible but once in a while is OK or choose foods that are ‘safe’  (non-culprits foods) on the menu

  • Avoid wool and nylon materials in clothing
  • Avoid coconut oil, lanolin and coal tar products in all toiletries

  • Try almond or olive oil with a few drops of chamomile essential oil (EO) or lemon balm EO as an alternative moisturiser to the skin
  • Vitamin E cream or oil is also a good moisturiser for the skin

  • Sea salt baths once a week. Or add oatmeal to baths – great for nourishing the skin and an excellent moisturiser for eczema.
  • Take regular exercise to boost circulation and the healing process. Exercise will also boost immunity and general health & vitality.

  • Consider stress-reduction measures and relaxation techniques. Stress contributes significantly to the condition and can make an existing episode much worse.

For further information, contact the College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy( or the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (

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