Eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, is a skin inflammation that affects around 30 million people in the U.S. and can develop at any age.
It typically causes red, inflamed, itchy skin, or sometimes as tiny bumps or blisters.
If it’s left untreated, eczema can become more severe where your skin weeps and becomes infected.
There is no permanent cure for eczema, but several natural remedies can help alleviate symptoms and flare-ups of eczema.
In this article, I’ll explain some of the basics of eczema, including its causes and symptoms, and outline some ways to treat it at home.
I’ll also discuss other ways to cope with eczema, and when you should see a doctor.
Eczema is an umbrella term used to refer to skin conditions that cause irritation, inflammation, and itchiness.
It may appear as a rash on the face, ear, hands, feet, behind the knees, and inside of the elbows.
It is not contagious and can affect people at any age.
There are several environmental factors that trigger eczema along with stress and genetics.
If you struggle with eczema, it means your immune system overreacts to small irritants or allergens that cause the skin to become agitated.
The causes of eczema are unclear.
It is believed that eczema can be caused by a variety of factors:
- Abnormalities in the immune system
- Genetic predisposition
- Endocrine system disorders
- Skin barrier issues that allow germs to enter and moisture to leave
Eczema flare-ups can be triggered by certain environmental conditions or events, including:
- Skin irritants like itchy clothes, perfumes, fragrant soaps, etc.
- Cold and/or dry weather
- Prolonged exposure to moisture such as being in a pool too long or excessive sweating
- Allergic reactions
- Cigarette smoke
Depending on the severity of your eczema, you may need topical steroids, which your doctor can prescribe.
Some over-the-counter creams may also provide symptom relief.
How to Treat Eczema at Home
For many patients with eczema, the dry, itchy rash can pose an ongoing battle.
Arming yourself with a variety of at-home remedies can help you alleviate symptoms and learn which options help control your flare-ups.
Manage your symptoms with these home remedies in conjunction with topical steroids or other methods recommended by your doctor.
- Relaxation technique/stress reduction: Stress can be a trigger for eczema, so incorporating relaxation techniques such as meditation into your daily routine can help you avoid flare-ups.
- Gym routine: Being hot and sweaty can trigger itching. Avoid tight clothing that doesn’t breathe and may rub or chafe your skin. Wear loose cotton clothing when working out, take regular rest breaks, drink plenty of water, and blot sweat away with a clean towel.
- Avoid extreme temperatures: Keep your skin cool in the summer. The colder months can also trigger eczema as you may experience dry skin from indoor heaters combined with the cool, dry air outside. Moisturize regularly and wear comfortable clothing that doesn’t itch. You may want to avoid wool fabrics that can irritate the skin.
- Use gentle soaps and detergents: Choose gentle soap and water-based lotions, and use cleaning products and detergents that are unscented or suitable for sensitive skin. Wear gloves when using cleaning products to avoid direct contact with skin.
- Baths: Take warm baths to soothe your irritated skin and reduce eczema symptoms. Don’t water that is too hot—this can dry your skin. Within a few minutes of getting out of the bath, apply moisturizer designed for sensitive skin—in this time after bathing, your pores are more open, so they’ll be more receptive of the lotion.
- Humidifiers: Humidifiers can add moisture to the air, which is especially useful in the winter when indoor heat can cause the air in your home to become dry.
- Keep your fingernails short: This will avoid doing serious damage to your skin if you scratch.
- Avoid harsh beauty products: Stay away from beauty products that cause the skin to become irritated such as heavy foundations, concealers, and perfumes.
- Things to remove from your diet: If certain foods trigger your eczema, avoid them. Some common eczema triggers include citrus fruits, dairy, soy, gluten, wheat, eggs, or peanuts. If you’re not sure if one of these foods is contributing to your flare-ups, talk to your doctor or an allergist.
- Things to add to your diet: Foods that are rich in a compound called quercetin may help with eczema. These include apples, cherries, blueberries, broccoli, spinach, and kale.
Probiotics, or “good” bacteria, can also help. You can add probiotics to your diet by eating fermented foods like sourdough bread, miso soup, soft cheeses, tempeh, yogurt, and naturally fermented pickles.
Omega-3 fatty acids may also help. These can be found in fish, and in supplements.
- Natural Oils: Sunflower seed oil improves the skin barrier and decreases inflammation in the skin. Virgin coconut oil is a natural antibacterial that alleviates inflammation. One oil to avoid: Olive oil. Studies have found that it may have a detrimental effect on your skin barrier.
- Aloe vera gel: Aloe vera gel is a natural antibacterial agent that can hydrate the skin and help fight off infections.
- Bleach baths: Diluted bleach baths can help patients with moderate to severe atopic dermatitis kill off infections. This bath should not contain much bleach—just a half-cup of bleach in a full tub of water—to kill the bacteria on their skin. Remember, lukewarm baths are better than long, hot baths that can dry out the skin.
- Colloidal oatmeal: Add oatmeal to a warm water bath. This can help soothe inflamed, itchy skin.
- Witch hazel: Witch hazel is made from the bark and leaves of the witch hazel shrub, and can be applied to inflamed skin to relieve itching and oozing areas.
- Acupuncture and acupressure: Histamine can be a trigger for eczema. By getting acupuncture to ease histamine-mediated itch and allergic rhinitis, you can effectively minimize any eczema flare-ups that may be triggered by this.
- Wet wrap therapy: Apply a clean damp washcloth to the affected area. Keeping the skin moist can relieve itchiness and inflammation.
- Use honey: When used topically in conjunction with corticosteroids, honey has been shown in studies to help alleviate eczema symptoms. Talk to your doctor before applying anything with your medication, though.
- Take supplements: Take daily supplements such as vitamin D and probiotics which can help repair dry, damaged skin and prevent contact dermatitis.
How to Cope With Eczema
Eczema can be a frustrating condition to live with, as there is no cure.
If you are struggling with eczema, monitor your flare-ups to better understand what is causing them.
By managing and avoiding your triggers you can better keep your eczema at bay.
Be prepared with the necessary natural remedies you can use to treat your eczema, moisturize your dry skin consistently, and consider making lifestyle and diet changes to improve your skin and overall health.
When to See a Doctor
If home remedies are not working to maintain your eczema flares, and you notice your skin is weeping, it may be time to see a doctor.
Weeping could be an indicator that you have contracted a bacterial, fungal, or viral infection, which can spread quickly, so seek medical attention right away.
Your doctor will examine the affected skin, and they may swab the affected area to determine what type of infection you have.
From there, your doctor can prescribe you the necessary medicine.
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis) Treatment. (2017).
Alternative, Complementary, and Forgotten Remedies for Atopic Dermatitis. (2015).
Quercetin Is More Effective than Cromolyn in Blocking Human Mast Cell Cytokine Release and Inhibits Contact Dermatitis and Photosensitivity in Humans. (2012).
Home Remedies: what can relieve itchy eczema? (2021).