Why can’t you just tell yourself to stop scratching? Very simple: you never told yourself to start. Your conscious willpower self isn’t running the show.
Published On: Sep 22, 2022
Last Updated On: Sep 22, 2022
Despite millions of dollars of research and some of the best and brightest minds working on the problem of eczema, we still do not fully understand the disease, nor do we yet have a cure.
The conventional treatments are very helpful for the vast majority of patients, but some continue to suffer despite the best medications, and others suffer side-effects from therapies that are far from totally safe or effective for atopic eczema and other types of eczema.
Thus, it is no surprise that more than half of all eczema patients have reported using some form of alternative medicine or home remedy, and that the majority continues to search for new and better treatment options.
A practical way to define alternative therapies is treatments and systems that do not have enough evidence to be recommended, either due to not having been tested sufficiently or at all, or having been tested and found convincingly not to work.
The problem is that there are an overwhelming number of outlets overflowing with anecdotal evidence, and simply not enough resources to test them all properly. Sadly, it seems that there is no easy solution for this, and thus many alternatives will remain that way for at least quite some time.
Although it lives on the edge of conventional and alternative therapies, for eczema there is some evidence that it is helpful. Although it can be expensive and time-consuming, it appears totally safe and can also help with stress reduction and behavioral components to this skin condition.
Acupuncture may help to reduce itch in people with eczema.
May work via nerve pain and itch modulation, but also has global effects on the body, decreasing stress and improving the sense of well-being. Also very safe, but can be expensive as it is often not covered by insurance.
A very difficult area to study, since herbs are not given for eczema flare-ups per se, but rather for the underlying imbalances in the body that lead to eczema. There are a number of small papers showing positive effects and there may well be something to this. However, it is difficult to know which particular combination might be effective and an individual patient’s outcome may be related to skill of their practitioner. There is also some concern about heavy metal contamination of certain imported herbs, and even pure herbs have very real side effects that must be considered.
Many plants and natural substances fall into this category, making it extremely difficult to parse out what actually works, but there are a couple that can help with eczema and dry skin.
Coconut oil is a popular moisturizer to soothe symptoms of eczema and get rid of dryness. It may also have antibacterial properties. Many lotions and other skin care products can contain coconut oil as well.
Sunflower seed oil applied topically appears to have some very favorable properties in terms of itchy skin, reducing rashes, eliminating blisters and improvement of the skin barrier function and immune system. Sunflower oil may also be used in certain soaps and ointments for sensitive skin. A recent paper suggests that borage oil and evening primrose oil now have enough evidence to be convincingly shown as not helpful treatments for eczema. Clinical trials suggest these oils do not support the wellness of eczema patients.
Some patients and healthcare practitioners feel that diet is the secret of eczema, and most of us wish it were so simple.
The truth is that there are many types of diets that are recommended for eczema, including: dairy free, gluten-free, low-allergen, no sugar, no dyes, no yeasty foods, alkaline foods, and many, many more.
Food allergies should also be avoided whenever possible. But aside from avoiding foods that one is truly allergic to, diets seem to have less effect in the real world than they seem to on the internet.
There is no doubt, however, that some foods seem to be inflammatory, particularly in some people, and so gluten-free and dairy-free may make a difference in some.
There is no conclusive evidence that restricting diet will help prevent eczema flares
Avoiding processed foods is also generally a good idea, even if it does not help the eczema much. Eating natural, organic, and balanced foods is a win-win, so rather than argue against it, it is better to encourage it! More specifically, many people believe olive oil, apple cider vinegar, manuka honey, fatty acids and antioxidants are great diet additions to reduce eczema. Applying aloe vera to your skin can also boost the antioxidants in your system.
However, it is always frustrating when a patient has been assured that diet is the solution and — despite their best efforts — the eczema seems to disagree.
Introducing healthy bacteria in the body makes sense given there is clearly disrupted bacteria both on the irritated skin and in the gut of patients with eczema. However, it doesn’t play out so simply when studied in the real world: it does seem to help prevent some eczema when given to pregnant mothers, but as a way to treat eczema in pediatric cases or as a treatment of atopic dermatitis, it has limited effect.
There are a number of vitamins that may help with eczema. Vitamin D supplementation, though still a bit controversial, is quickly becoming more mainstream as studies show both that supplementing vitamin D can help eczema, and that more severe eczema is correlated with lower levels of vitamin D. Safe and inexpensive, it seems a reasonable consideration for most patients.
Topical vitamin B12 has been studied and has some compelling evidence that it is helpful. However, there is no commercial product as of this writing, and so it must be compounded in order to be used which can be expensive.
Alternative therapies encompasses an enormous amount of possibilities that can be overwhelming for patient and provider alike. And there are even more eczema treatments than the ones mentioned in this article, such as colloidal oatmeal bath, tea tree oil in bathwater, bleach baths and wet wraps. Often, these natural and alternative treatments can be complementary to over-the-counter medication or to prescription medications, though it’s important to note any side effects. Finding a dermatologist that has experience with eczema, is reliable, and is willing to admit when something is not working is critical to success, whether alternative or conventional medicine is being used.