3 Natural Remedies for Eczema

Soothe your symptoms without a prescription

licorice root and powder
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Eczema is a chronic skin disorder characterized by itching rashes which may be red, scaly, dry, or leathery. There may be skin blisters with oozing and crusting. It usually occurs for the first time in infants, with rashes typically occurring on the cheeks, elbows, or knees.

Although often less of a problem in adulthood, eczema can persist, especially if a person is exposed to allergens or chemical irritants or is under stress.

In adults, eczema is commonly located on the inner elbow or behind the knee. People with eczema frequently have family members with asthma, hay fever, or eczema.

So far, scientific support for the claim that any remedy can treat eczema is fairly lacking. But, let's take a look at some alternatives to medications that may be able to help relieve symptoms.

Probiotics

Probiotics, or "good" bacteria, are live microbial organisms naturally found in the digestive tract. They are thought to suppress the growth of potentially harmful bacteria, influence immune function, and strengthen the digestive tract's protective barrier.

Studies suggest that babies at high risk for allergic disorders, such as eczema, have different types and numbers of bacteria in their digestive tracts than other babies. It is thought that probiotic supplements taken by pregnant women and children may reduce the occurrence of eczema in children.

A large, long-term study examined whether the use of a probiotic supplement or a placebo could influence the incidence of eczema in infants. Researchers randomized 1,223 pregnant women carrying high-risk babies to use a probiotic supplement or a placebo for two to four weeks before delivery.

Starting from birth, infants received the same probiotics as their mothers had plus galacto-oligosaccharides (called a "prebiotic" because it has been shown to help multiple strains of beneficial bacteria flourish) for six months.

After two years, the probiotics were significantly more effective than the placebo at preventing eczema.

In addition to the use of probiotics to prevent eczema, probiotics have also been explored as a treatment for infants and children who already have eczema. Some studies have found that probiotics alleviate symptoms of eczema only in infants and children who are sensitive to food allergens.

Researchers are testing different strains of bacteria to see if one particular strain is more effective for eczema. One of the most commonly used probiotic strains used in eczema studies is Lactobacillus GG. Other strains used include Lactobacillus fermentum VRI-033 PCC, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus reuteri, and Bifidobacteria lactis. The prebiotic galacto-oligosaccharides has also been used.

Consult a qualified health professional before using probiotics. Children with immune deficiencies should not take probiotics unless under a practitioner's supervision. For more information about probiotics, read Acidophilus and Other Probiotics.

Topical Herbal Creams & Gels

Gels and creams made from herbal extracts of chamomile, licorice, and witch hazel have been explored to reduce symptoms of eczema.

The following are results of some of the preliminary studies:

  • A double-blind study compared a one percent and two percent licorice gel compared to a placebo gel for eczema. After two weeks, both licorice gels were more effective than the placebo gel, and the two percent gel was more effective at reducing redness, swelling, and itching.
  • A study compared chamomile cream to 0.5 percent hydrocortisone cream or a placebo. After two weeks, the chamomile cream was more effective than the hydrocortisone cream, but was not significantly more effective than the placebo cream. This study was not double-blind, so it cannot be used as proof that chamomile cream is effective for eczema.
  • In a German double-blind study, 72 people with moderately severe eczema used either a placebo cream containing witch hazel extract, 0.5 percent hydrocortisone cream, or the cream alone for 14 days. The hydrocortisone was more effective than witch hazel. Witch hazel was not significantly more effective than the placebo cream.

Consult a qualified practitioner before using any topical herbal applications. Some herbs, such as chamomile, are known to cause allergic contact dermatitis.

Gamma-Linolenic Acid

Gamma-linolenic acids (GLA), such as evening primrose oil and borage oil, are a type of essential fatty acid. GLA has been shown to correct deficiencies in skin lipids that can trigger inflammation, which is why it is thought to help with eczema. However, recent, well-designed clinical studies of GLA have generally found that it does not help with eczema.

For example, one double-blind study examined the use of borage oil (500mg a day) or a placebo in 160 adults with moderate eczema. After 24 weeks, the overall effectiveness was not significantly better with borage oil compared with the placebo.

A Word From Verywell

Due to a lack of supporting research, it's too soon to recommend any alternative medicine for eczema treatment. Supplements haven't been tested for safety and due to the fact that dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label.

Also, keep in mind that the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. You can get tips on using supplements here, but if you're considering the use of alternative medicine, talk with your primary care provider first. Self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

Sources

Brouwer ML, Wolt-Plompen SA, Dubois AE, van der Heide S, Jansen DF, Hoijer MA, Kauffman HF, Duiverman EJ. No effects of probiotics on atopic dermatitis in infancy: a randomized placebo-controlled trial. Clin Exp Allergy. 36.7 (2006): 899-906.

Kukkonen K, Savilahti E, Haahtela T, Juntunen-Backman K, Korpela R, Poussa T, Tuure T, Kuitunen M. Probiotics and prebiotic galacto-oligosaccharides in the prevention of allergic diseases: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 119.1 (2007): 192-198.

Moro G, Arslanoglu S, Stahl B, Jelinek J, Wahn U, Boehm G. A mixture of prebiotic oligosaccharides reduces the incidence of atopic dermatitis during the first six months of age. Arch Dis Child. 91.10 (2006): 814-819.

Sistek D, Kelly R, Wickens K, Stanley T, Fitzharris P, Crane J. Is the effect of probiotics on atopic dermatitis confined to food sensitized children? Clin Exp Allergy. 36.5 (2006): 629-633.

Taylor AL, Dunstan JA, Prescott SL. Probiotic supplementation for the first 6 months of life fails to reduce the risk of atopic dermatitis and increases the risk of allergen sensitization in high-risk children: A randomized controlled trial. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 119.1 (2007): 184-191.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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