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Treat Eczema Naturally, What Works and What Doesn't

treat eczema naturally

Parents of children with eczema often scratch their heads as their kids scratch themselves, because they want an effective yet safe way to treat this skin condition. You can treat eczema naturally and successfully, but you need to know what works and what doesn’t.

Study reports on natural treatment

Eczema, also referred to as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic or recurrent inflammatory skin disease that usually first appears during the first few years of life, affecting 10 to 20 percent of infants and school age children. Along with itching and scratching, eczema is characterized by red, painful skin that can cause embarrassment as well as problems with sleep.

Many people want natural ways to treat eczema, whether it is for their children or themselves, as the condition often continues into adulthood. Conventional treatments for eczema include antihistamines, immunomodulators (e.g., tacrolimus, pimecrolimus), and topical steroids, all of which are associated with side effects.

A new review appearing in the Cochrane Library reports on the use of evening primrose oil and borage oil as natural treatments for eczema. Both of these oils are excellent sources of gamma linoleic acid, which has been shown to fight inflammation.

A total of 27 studies involving 1,596 adults and children and lasting 3 to 24 weeks were evaluated. Overall, the reviewers found that evening primrose oil and borage oil, when compared with placebo, were not effective in relieving symptoms of eczema.

If evening primrose oil and borage oil are not helpful, what other natural treatment options do you have to manage eczema?

Other natural treatments for eczema
Here are a few other natural treatments for eczema that have been shown to be effective in some patients.

Probiotics. Also known as good bacteria, probiotics have relieved symptoms of eczema and shown promise in several studies. One is a new report from Finland which notes that more than 50 percent of the studies show a decline in the prevalence of eczema until 2 years when probiotics are used, and that Lactobacillus rhamnosus is the strain found to be most effective.

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For a look at treatment, 90 children with moderate to severe eczema were given either a placebo or a mixture of two probiotics: Lactococcus acidophilus DDS-1 and Bifidobacterium lactis UABLA-12 twice a day. The study lasted two months, at which time the children who took the probiotics showed a decrease in SCORAD indexes (a scoring system for eczema) of 34 percent compared with 19 percent in the placebo group.

Another promising study conducted in young children used two strains of Bifidobacterium and one of Lactococcus. Use of the daily supplement resulted in a 58 percent reduced risk of eczema during the first two years of life, although this advantage disappeared beyond age three.

Bleach baths. A study from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine reported that adding regular household bleach to bathwater can reduce itching and the number of flare-ups. In the three-month study, children with eczema responded to dilute bleach baths five times better than children who took a regular bath.

Researchers used ½ cup of bleach mixed into a standard size tub full of water. Parents should consult their pediatrician before using this method.

Fish oil. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements, typically in the form of fish oil, may hold some benefit for treatment of eczema. A report in the Cochrane Databases of Systematic Reviews noted that “two small studies on fish oil suggest a possible modest benefit,” but that larger studies and more convincing results were needed before fish oil could be recommended for treatment of eczema.

Diet. According to a number of experts, including Andrew Weil, MD, founder and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, eliminating inflammatory foods from the diet can help reduce inflammation throughout the body and support the immune system. Examples of inflammatory foods include red and processed meats, sugar, alcohol, milk and other dairy products, refined grains, trans fats, and polyunsaturated vegetable oils.

Aloe vera. Despite a lack of scientific evidence showing the effectiveness of aloe vera gel for eczema, anecdotal evidence abounds. Look for pure aloe vera gel or just break open a leaf and apply the gel directly from the plant.

Eczema symptoms can be especially uncomfortable and have a negative impact on quality of life for children and adults. If you want to treat eczema naturally, you have several safe options for you and your family.

Bamford JTM et al. Oral evening primrose oil and borage oil for eczema. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 4. Art. No.: CD004416. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004416.pub2.
Bath-Hextall FJ et al. Dietary supplements for established atopic eczema. Cochrane Databases of Systematic Reviews 2012 Feb 15; 2:CD005205
Kuitunen M. Probiotics and prebiotics in preventing food allergy and eczema. Current Opinion in Allergy and Clinical Immunology 2013 Apr 17. Epub ahead of print

Image: Wikimedia Commons

This article updated: 3/29/2017