June 21st, 2011

Eczema: Triggers and Treatments the Natural Way

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Treating eczema naturally

I am taking off a few days from the blogosphere to spend some time with my family. This is a guest post by  Lynn Fang, the founder of Upcycled Love.

Do you have trouble with persistent dry skin? Using expensive high-end creams doesn’t do the trick, and some days your skin is so dry it feels like sandpaper. Typical doctors only prescribe steroid creams, which don’t really cure the problem and instead creates a dependency on the drug. Taking a break from a steroid cream means a harsh withdrawal. Something as mundane and seemingly simple as dry skin can become a frightening and frustrating experience.

The problem is, you might have something called Eczema, an autoimmune disorder that causes problems like dry, flaky, itchy, red, rashy, swollen skin that under severe attacks can swell up with pus and break the skin open. Eczema is frequently caused by allergy to a wide range of substances in our food and environment. Those who develop this condition may also have environmental chemical sensitivities, so they are extra-sensitive to the pollutants and irritants in their everyday lives.


If you have eczema, you definitely want to stay away from the following common chemicals found in our everyday home and personal care products (adapted from Exederm). Not only do they cause skin irritation, many of them are also associated with cancers and endocrine disorders. Unfortunately, they’re found in almost all personal and home care items: shampoo, soap, deodorant, makeup, dishwashing liquid, window cleaner, tub and tile cleaner, and laundry detergent.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
SLS is an irritant found in everything from shampoo to toilet bowl cleaner. It is also associated as a carcinogen, and releases the incredibly toxic 1,4-dioxane when incinerated was waste.

Parabens can cause irritation for those with chemical sensitivity, and has been shown in a number of studies to have influence on estrogen regulation and the development of breast cancer.

Formaldehyde and Formaldehyde-releasing Preservatives
Formaldehyde is used as cheap preservative and antibacterial. Some people who are sensitive to formaldehyde experience allergic skin reactions. It’s also linked to cancer, especially leukemia. Be careful of formaldehyde-releasing preservatives that come under different names. Some of the better known formaldehyde releasers, listed by Exederm, are:

  • Quaternium 15
  • Diazolidinyl urea
  • DMDM hydantoin
  • Imidazolindinyl
  • Bronopol

Phthalates are a widely used plasticizer, added to certain types of plastic like PVC to make it softer and more malleable. According to the EWG, they have been found to disrupt endocrine regulation. Studies have shown them to cause reduced sperm counts and testicular atrophy.

Fragrances are especially sinister because they are actually a cocktail of chemical compounds that are protected as proprietary trade secrets. Many of them are associated with hormone disruption and allergic reactions.

Colors & Dyes
All FD&C and D&C colors are made from coal tar, and have been shown to cause cancer.

For the average person, using shampoos and soaps with all of these compounds makes no difference. For the chemically sensitive, these guys are infuriating. Make sure none of these chemicals are present in your soaps, shampoos, conditioner, dishwashing liquid, laundry detergent, or household cleaners. If they’re present in any one of those places, you are vulnerable to an allergic reaction.

Eczema can also be caused by allergy to pollen, animal dander, dust mites, or certain types of food. Observe your outbreaks and try to take note of what triggers it. Some common food triggers are meat, dairy, trans fats, wheat, soy, shellfish, nuts, yeast, citrus, and processed foods. If you’re wondering what foods to begin eliminating, start with one of those. It’s also important to eat a well-balanced diet that supports healthy skin repair.


Most Western doctors prescribe powerful topical steroid creams to treat eczema. Unfortunately, steroid creams produce a strong dependency, so frequently you are asked to apply it for 3-4 days, then take a few days off before applying it again. For severe eczema sufferers, that won’t cut it. But those who use corticosteroids long-term often experience severe side effects like thin, red, lesioned skin and hormone imbalances, as well as withdrawal symptoms. In my experience, I always become dependent on steroid creams for eczema. When I stop using them, my dry skin comes back with a vengeance. So I find it best to avoid steroids altogether, in favor of soothing natural remedies and avoiding common triggers.

There are a few oils and compounds that are especially effective for healing dry broken skin. I’ll list a few products with each one.

Neem Oil
Neem oil is incredibly moisturizing and contains many antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal compounds to boost immune function. Be careful, though, supposedly it has a strong scent.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Olive oil is high in Vitamin E, making it incredibly moisturizing for your skin. You can simply apply a generous amount to the affected area. Personally I find olive oil a little too greasy. You can also try castile soap, which is made from 100% olive oil. Many Etsy sellers make it.

Essential Oils
Essential oils can help by reducing stress, calming inflammation, and healing the skin. Some that are used for eczema:

  • Bergamot
  • Chamomile
  • Geranium
  • Helichrysum
  • Jasmine
  • Lavender
  • Lemon
  • Myrrh
  • Oregano
  • Patchouli
  • Rose
  • Rosemary
  • Tea Tree
  • Thyme
  • Ylang Ylang
  • etc.

You can take a bath with a few drops of essential oils, or make your own blend to apply to the affected area. You can also buy preformed herbal blends designed especially for skin problems.

Emu Oil
Emu oil is refined from the fat of emus, before their meat is processed for sale. Unfortunately emu oil is not vegan, but is has really incredible skin healing powers. I’ve used emu oil before, and it works like magic. Emu oil is antiseptic, antibacterial, hypoallergenic, and highly penetrating in skin so it does not leave a greasy feeling afterwards. It contains Vitamin E, Vitamin A, and Oleic Acid, among other helpful compounds.

Oatmeal has antihistamine properties that fight inflammation, helping to reduce irritation and redness. It’s used for a number of skin irritations, including Poison ivy, Chicken pox, diaper rash, windburn, etc. Most commonly, an oatmeal bath is prepared.

Extra Tips:

  • To avoid toxic household cleaners, be sure to buy brands that use all-natural, non-toxic, hypoallergenic ingredients. Or, make your own from vinegar and baking soda.
  • For laundry detergent, you can make your own from non-toxic ingredients, or buy soapnuts, berries from a tree that are full of saponins.
  • For dishwashing liquid, you can also make your own from washing soda or soapnuts.

There are still other ways to treat eczema, but those are the most common. Good luck! And remember, don’t give up! There are so many factors that influence eczema, it may take some time to figure out what causes yours.

[Photo used under Creative Commons by o5com/Flickr]


Lynn FangLynn Fang is a caring global citizen, sustainability advocate, writer, and biologist. She writes about her trials in sustainable living at Upcycled Love, with a vision for a more harmonious and sustainable world. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

17 Responses to “Eczema: Triggers and Treatments the Natural Way”

  1. Oh Lynn! Thank you for this post! I’m adamantly against any and all toxins and yet I’ve recently started breaking out with eczema on both my hands and an area just below my belt line. I have no idea why and the only thing I can think of is I’m reacting to the soap at work (my doctor said it’s because I wash my hands too much and they’re getting dry). On my waist area I can only think it’s a reaction to my clothing or ??

    I have been starting to lather on the (homemade and/or natural) lotion and this helps but it still makes me angry that I’m reacting to something foreign that I have little to no control over. I’ll definitely be trying some of your recommendations!

  2. Hi Lane, I’m so glad this post could help you! If the dry skin appears elsewhere on your hands, it could be your clothing – try switching your laundry to something all-natural. TipNut as 10 homemade recipes: http://tipnut.com/10-homemade-laundry-soap-detergent-recipes/

    Personally I use soapnuts but they are a little different so many people aren’t comfortable with them.

    You’re totally right – it’s incredibly infuriating. You would think that government agencies like the FDA have tested all of these soaps and lotions to make sure they don’t aggravate dry skin conditions, but they don’t test all the chemicals. Best of luck with your skin! Feel free to contact me with any questions you might have.

  3. Hi Lynn-My son has had eczema since he was born. As a last resort we have always used hydrocortisone-which worked like a charm, but would love to use a safe alternative. I’m going to try the oatmeal lotion and soap you suggested. Thanks for sharing so many alternatives!

  4. Hi Lori, Hydrocortisone isn’t too bad, but a natural alternative is preferable for long-term regular use. Hope it works out for you!

  5. Hi Nina,

    Cool, coconut oil is really great! I add a little to my conditioning apple cider vinegar wash. Glad you enjoyed this post! 🙂

  6. Hi Lynn,

    Great post! I’ve had eczema since I was born and my skin reacts to just about everything! I’ve used every topical ointment under the sun, steriod, hydrocortisone, Eucerin, etc. The best thing that works for me is COCONUT OIL. Coconut is naturally very hydrating so it’s great for dry skin and eczema. A little goes a LONG way and it smells great! About 2-3 years ago my eczema practically disappeared except for an occasional breakout here and there, but it’s coming back now in 2 spots. It was really really bad my junior and senior year of high school, it spread everywhere, no area of my skin was off limits and some spots were so swollen and filled with pus and broken skin I couldn’t walk or sit comfortably. Even got on my face but luckily it was minor.
    Thanks for sharing this great post!

  7. Very informative post! Thanks Lynn.

    I occasionally get mild ecxema on my hands, but ever since switching to natural cleaning products, laundry detergent, and personal care products, it’s gotten better. It also helps that my hand soap is made with castile soap, one of your suggested remedies! The only thing I can’t control is the soap in public washrooms, which is probably only very rarely made with non-toxic ingredients.

  8. Aloe Vera is great for eczema too! Aloe has antibacterial properties and a concentrated mix of enzymes, anti-inflammatory fatty acids, and compounds that boost the immune system. I like using the pure gel from the cut stem of the plant. It forms a protective layer on broken skin, very soothing and healing. For DIY aloe remedies and an article on treating eczema check out:
    I hope it helps!

  9. Thanks, Andrea! That’s great you noticed a difference after switching products. I never touch the soap in public washrooms, I’m almost certain they always have SLS and triclosan.

  10. Thanks for the tip, Kate!

  11. I suffer from psoriasis and I have definitely noticed a change when I changed all the soap products in the house. I try to keep a non-toxic house but the for some reason the laundry and the shower were the last places I changed things. Speaking of never touching the soap in a restroom, I normally would just wash my hands with water. But today I found little sample sizes of liquid castile soap. So happy about that at Target.

  12. Dear eczema sufferers, After suffering from horrendous, humiliating eczema for 37 long years… scratching myself to the point of bleeding while living in constant fear and paranoia of what others might think about the nasty red eruptions all over my skin…I accidentally stumbled upon 3 simple little steps that to my amazement:Read more here!

  13. […] Baby & Adult Skin Soother (Unscented) This lotion is the absolute best for eczema. It was originally formulated for the company owner’s infant, Emily. There are are 5 natural, […]

  14. Great article on treating eczema. My DS has eczema and over the years I came across all of things you’ve shared here as ways to get it under control and keep it at bay (wish I would’ve found this sooner, it would’ve saved me a ton of headache!) I now use a cream (Pooters Skin Therapy) made of coconut oil, shea butter, olive oil, TTO and lavender that has prevented eczema breakouts for over 3 years now!

  15. […] leads to scratching and bleeding. There are so many expensive creams out there claiming to fix the eczema problem, but most don’t work. Conventional doctors often prescribe steroid creams […]

  16. […] Atopic dermatitis eczema home remedies She writes about her trials in sustainable living at Upcycled Love, with a vision for a more harmonious and sustainable world. Baby eczema face Follow her on Twitter and Facebook. Site: http://groovygreenlivin.com/eczema-triggers-and-treatments-the-natural-way/ […]

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About Lori

Hi! I’m Lori, a recovering attorney, writer, and mom to three boys. Join me as I uncover and share the latest info on healthy living. Learn more.

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