Got red, dry, flaky, itchy skin? You may be one of 15 million Americans who suffer from a non-contagious skin condition called eczema. While eczema can be hereditary, the redness and inflammation are set off primarily by environmental irritants and allergens, and by stress. Cold, dry weather, wearing wool, animal dander, mold, synthetic perfumes, alcohol, paint, pesticides, and harsh soaps are also triggers. In addition, eczema can be triggered by fatigue, cigarette smoke or even by foods that are more acidic (think chocolate, coffee, meat, peanuts).
Doctors say there is no cure for eczema. Often it is controlled with steroids and antihistamines which, of course, have their side effects.
Are there things we can do to help ourselves? What self-care can we employ?
Let’s start with the hardest first. Ease stress levels. The only thing I can say about dealing with stress is to learn to go with the flow. Take a walk every day, sing, and spend time with people you care about. Laugh with them. Take yoga classes and get a massage. If meditation is your thing, meditate! Don’t forget your B-vitamins (the nerve and stress vitamins).
Some people inhale flower essences to aid in relaxation. Then there’s essential oil of lavender. You might try sprinkling some on your pillow at night. Don’t forget the old-fashioned glass of warm milk sipped before bed, if you’re a milk drinker. Take that with some magnesium for further relaxation.
If you’re feeling stressed right now and your skin is starting to tingle, or you have an itchy patch that you want to scratch down to the bone, try a bag of frozen peas to get the itch to subside. Having been there myself, I can tell you that often just getting that itch to chill out can calm you down. And then you can go from there and work from the inside out.
Besides dealing with stress, what made the biggest difference for me? Fish oil, of course, and I take more than is suggested on the bottle. But the fatty acid called borage oil (see the photo of the plant above) turned the tide for me. Borage oil is the richest source of Gamma-Linoleic Acid (GLA). Many eczema sufferers have a GLA deficiency which prevents them from processing fatty acids normally and so taking borage oil helps balance that deficiency.
A therapeutic dose of borage oil for eczema appears to be between 275 and 345 milligrams daily, or about ½ teaspoon. Does borage oil taste awful? Nope. It has a lovely, nutty flavor and can be added to a salad, a smoothie or taken right off the spoon. We have borage oil in the frig in the store. But, if you’re not an oil kind of person, like fish oil, borage oil is available in capsules. You need to take two capsules to be the equivalent of ½ teaspoon of the oil.
And as if vitamin D weren’t in the news enough these days, it seems that taking 1000 i.u. vitamin D and 1,000-2,000 mg fish oil with borage oil enhances the benefits of all three with regard to eczema (and all the other beneficial things the three do to improve our health).
Of course keeping the skin moisturized on the outside is critical too. Borage oil can be used topically, and I’m more than happy to share my recipe to make your own facial and body cream in which borage has a starring role. Otherwise, there are companies which make lotions based on borage oil that calm eczema down.
Some people get relief applying extra virgin coconut oil to their skin. Other good oils that absorb nicely and re-hydrate are sesame, rose hip seed, black seed, avocado, tamannu and even extra virgin olive oil.
Black seed oil is new for me, and I learned about it in relation to eczema from our staff in the beauty department and from some of you. Black seed oil is said to be a wonder with regard to calming eczema and giving the skin what it needs.
Cleopatra even used oils to cleanse her skin, but if that doesn’t float your boat, have you ever tried washing with yogurt and honey? Don’t laugh. Mix a few tablespoons organic honey with a cup of plain yogurt. Honey and yogurt are both gentle cleansers and skin healers. Slather the mixture on and massage gently. Let dry about 15 minutes. Rinse with lukewarm water.
While any raw honey works, Manukka honey would be my choice because it is so rich in antibacterial properties.
You might try an oatmeal bath. Place oatmeal in a cloth tied tightly. Run the tub with the cloth inside. Of course follow this bath (and any bath) with a tablespoon or two of oil zipped over your whole body, or use your favorite non-fragranced, chemical-free moisturizer. Other baths to try: a sulfur bath, or bathe in the sea.
For soap, some of our favorites are Soa soap (which is a sulfur soap), or a soap from the African Red Tea Imports called Rooibos Beauty Bar. .
Like with many health issues, ask yourself if you’re drinking eight glasses of good water each day to hydrate from the inside out. You can drink your water as tea, and the following teas cleanse the liver and help skin conditions: dandelion, red clover and yellow dock. From the Chinese tradition, Oolong tea is said to be good for eczema.
Probiotics (the good bugs in our gut) help fight against bad bacteria in the digestive tract. This can be very helpful, especially for children, to avoid the symptoms of eczema.
If you think food allergies might be the reason behind your eczema, get yourself tested or do an elimination diet. Like with any kind of body imbalance, balance your body’s pH (I start each morning off with my tablespoon of liquid chlorophyll and raw apple cider vinegar in a mug of water).
Finally, zinc is not only good for immune systems, but good for calming and healing skin inflammation. When my eczema was acting up, I patted on the Weleda topical cream for diaper rash because it has high amounts of zinc (my mother was the one who turned me onto this!) Now I take a zinc tablet each day and keep the Weleda cream handy if my skin gets over-active and starts to flake or itch.
In short, use your noggin when dealing with eczema. If you have an outbreak every time you eat a particular food, eat something different. If stress is doing you in, make some changes in your life. Maybe eczema is just a reminder that we need to smell the roses.
… Debra Stark