Self Help for Eczema and Itchy Skin
Recently quite a few readers have been asking me about natural home remedies for eczema and other general itchy skin problems.
The most common culprits of itchy skin are eczema, psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis.
Although this article is mainly about eczema, most of the tips will benefit all types of itchy skin as we “treat the cause” and “remove the obstacles to cure” in true nature cure fashion.
Now most people with itchy skin will improve if they just start drinking more water and taking fish oil. Dry skin is not hydrated skin. Good fats from fish or flax oil are needed to maintain a solid healthy barrier to skin. Nutrient deficiencies such as zinc, selenium, biotin and most B vitamins are also common causes of dry and itchy skin. More extreme cases of eczema though will require more extreme measures. Remember that for each year that you have had a problem, it will typically take a month to permanently resolve through natural means.
Eczema can be “contact dermatitis” or “atopic dermatitis”. Contact dermatitis is pretty simple to to cure because we just need to find the chemical or other substance that is irritating the skin and remove it. With that being said I would suggest that all sufferers of chronic skin conditions switch over to hypoallergenic laundry soaps, bath soaps and other personal care products. Avoid contact with chemicals such as bleach and other harsh cleaners whenever possible. Also switch to a whole foods diet to eliminate as many chemicals from your diet as well. Getting off sugar is key. Sugar is a chemical in our diet that just makes itchy skin that much more unbearable.
Consider the possibility that your itching is from a food additive or preservative. Aspartame, MSG, sodium benzoate, and yellow food dyes have all reportedly caused skin rashes.
The word “atopic” means allergic, and 80% of eczema sufferers have elevated IgE levels, which means that their immune system is over-reacting to some kind of food or environmental substance. You can easily see an allergist and have skin testing done to test for environmental allergies. Food allergies and intolerances are a bit more difficult to detect as the Gold Standard is a Food Allergy Elimination Diet, which is difficult for many people to comply with. Blood testing for allergies is only about 60-70% sensitive and specific.
Most people that I see with eczema either have a problem with wheat or dairy or both. Most children with eczema will improve when their favorite food is taken away. If your child is obsessed with bananas it is probably bananas. I am not trying to be the bad guy, I have just noticed that kids tend to form “addictions” to the food that is causing the problem.
Keep the food out of the house. Tell your kid that you are “all out of____ food” deal with the crying that should ensue around that food for a few days, and then they will usually forget about it. If it is not in the house and no one else is eating it, there is less of an energy battle over it. Once the food that is causing the symptoms is removed and the child is feeling better, they tend not to even like that food anymore. Kids heal quick, and usually improve after four days without the irritating food, adults usually take a week or two.
Just because a food is causing a symptom does not necessarily mean you have to avoid it for life, it just means that temporarily it should be eliminated while the body does some healing, and then in most cases it can be rotated back in.
Identifying and eliminating the food sensitivity is only half the battle. We need to treat the reason why it developed in the first place. The main reasons are typically stress and intestinal dysbiosis from frequent antibiotic use and/or lack of cultured foods in the diet.
Getting a handle on stress management is key for eczema. Stress causes food allergies because we do not properly digest our food when we are stressed. Betaine HCL is a well researched alternative treatment for itchy skin, that simply increases our stomach acid (which stress suppresses). Stress coincidentally is also a leading cause of itchy skin. Stress is commonly accepted to exacerbate both psoriasis and eczema.
The over use of antibiotics kills off all the healthy bacteria growing in our intestinal tract. These friendly bacteria are necessary for breaking down our food as well as producing certain vitamins.
I put everyone with eczema and most skin conditions on a course of probiotics like acidophilus. But be sure if you are on a course of antibiotics take at a two-hour separate window to ensure they do not get killed off. Enzymatic Therapy, Jarrow and Kyodophilus are brands that passed the test and are available over the counter.
Temporary herbal solutions for itchy skin are topical products that contain calendula, chickweed (Stellaria media) gumweed (grindelia spp), comfrey(Symphytum officinale NOT to be used internally), impatients, and plantain (plantago spp). You can make an herbal infusion (a strong tea that you allow to steep at least 15 minutes) with these herbs and then freeze in dixie cups. Peel back the paper and apply the “herbal ice” to the itchy area. This is also a great trick for kids itching with chicken pox. Calendula ointment or succus (juice) is well worth trying to temporarily calm down the itch while we address the above causes.
Other herbs such as burdock root (Arctium lappa) and dandelion root (Taraxicum officinale) are helpful for detoxing the system. Most patients I see with skin problems resolve when we gradually support the liver’s ability to detoxify. For most patients a light diet, digestive support, liver support and repletion of nutritional deficiencies will quickly clear up the annoyance of itchy skin.
Be sure to work with your physician to establish a proper diagnosis for the cause of the itchiness before self treating.
“The Textbook of Natural Medicine” by Murray and Pizzorno, “Medical Herbalism” by Hoffman
About the author
Dr. Nicole Sundene is a Naturopathic Physician and a graduate of Western Washington University for her undergraduate degree, and Bastyr University for her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine.
She believes we should utilize natural medicines to treat the root cause of disease rather than just treating symptoms, as symptoms are a message of imbalance sent from the body and will persist until they are properly addressed.
Dr. Sundene’s goal with Kitchen Table Medicine is to provide readers with the missing link in their health care experience. She works hard to share with everyone her latest health-promoting finds, tips, and tircks so that they can get the most out of life. Her mottos are “No hype...only help” and “Progress not perfection right?”