How To Treat Eczema: Internally + Externally
Eczema is something I see in practice a lot... like a lot. In my 10 years of being in skincare, it seems to be becoming more and more common, and I'm not all that surprised, with the amount of stress + inflammation we have these days! Here are some of my top tips for healing eczema.
Lets start with the basics...
What is Eczema?
Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition which is characterized by red, dry, scaly, cracked and itchy patches on the skin. It can affect certain areas of the body and face, or the full body. The most common areas affected are the knee and elbow creases, as well as the neck, forehead and eyes.
In Chinese Medicine, eczema is caused by heat, dampness and wind, and the organs most involved are the lungs, liver and spleen. The lungs are the organ connected with the skin, which is why there is such a strong connection between people who have eczema as well as asthma + allergies. When the lungs are weak - the skin is weak, which allows pathogens to easily attack the body. This is also why people tend to have flare ups of eczema during season changes, when allergies are at their highest. Now that we have a better understanding of what eczema is, lets get into some ways to help treat it...
Diet is one of the most important aspects when trying to get your eczema under control. Because eczema is an inflammatory skin condition, if we're eating a diet thats high in inflammatory foods - it's going to cause flare ups. The usual suspects like gluten, dairy, sugar and alcohol, as well as eggs, nightshades and nuts in some cases, usually need to be removed from the diet or reduced in consumption. Everyones triggers are going to be different and it doesn't necessarily mean you have to eat that way all the time but during periods of flare ups (like season changes or high stress) it's a good idea to cut it out for the time being!
Now lets focus on some foods to add into the diet...
Eczema typically responds well to lots of veggies + lots of fats! Try adding 1 cup of veggies to every meal you eat and make sure you have a serving of fats like avocado, olives, fish + oils. You can also take a fish oil supplement that is high in EFA's to reduce inflammation.
Fruits and whole grains are also good to add!
As I mentioned earlier, in TCM, the lungs and skin are closely connected, as are eczema and asthma/allergies. Strengthening your immune system and lungs is one of the best things you can do to help get everything under control. A few things that help strength the immune system include: reducing stress (see below), taking the herb Astragalus, keeping your skin covered in the spring, fall and on windy days and supplementing with vitamin c.
Stress plays a major role in eczema, and although it doesn't directly cause eczema, it can cause flare ups. It does this because... stress increases cortisol = cortisol increases inflammation. Causes of stress will always vary from person to person and so does treatment. Things like yoga, exercise and meditation will always help but in my opinion, sleep is the most important thing to focus on. Getting a quality 8+ hours of sleep a night, especially during times of high stress. Try setting up a bedtime routine like shutting off your phone atleast 1 hour before bed, dimming the lights, reading a book or taking a magnesium supplement to help relax.
Acupuncture works wonders for strengthening the immune system, reducing stress and lowering inflammation - all 3 things that play key roles in eczema. It does this by switching our nervous system from a sympathetic state (fight + flight) into a parasympathetic state (rest + digest) ... which is where healing happens! Studies have shown that people notice a difference in redness, itchiness, and overall size of patches.
The most important thing to focus on when externally treating eczema is your skins moisture barrier. Eczema is characterized by a lack of lipids + water in the skin. Your skins barrier is made of lipids which lock in water and when its weak, moisture gets sucked out of the skin - leaving you feeling tight, itchy and inflamed. My treatment plan involves going back to basics. We want to have a gentle, minimal skincare routine which is focused on calming + repairing the skin, and then possibly adding more skincare in the future once the skin is healed!
I love using a double cleansing routine for anyone suffering with eczema!
Double cleansing involves the use of an oil based cleanser first, which removes make up and impurities from the skin, while also nourishing and moisturizing. Followed by a second cleanser which is used to remove the excess oil and properly cleanse the skin. I recommend using a gentle, cream based cleanser that is non-fragranced, hypoallergenic and ph balanced.
Oil Cleansers: Wildcraft Oil Cleanser, Living Libations Seabuckthorn Best Skin Ever, Province Apothecary Moisturizing Cleanser.
Cream Cleansers: Cerave Hydrating Cleanser, Skin Regimen Cleansing Cream, First Aid Beauty Pure Skin Cleanser.
A calming, hydrating serum is necessary to increase water + moisture in the skin. My favourite hydrating serum will always be Hyaluronic Acid. It's able to hold up to 1000x its weight in water which makes it extremely hydrating. It's also lightweight, fragrance free and absorbs quickly into the skin.
Serums: Skin Regimen 1.85 HA Booster, Drunk Elephant B-Hydra Intensive Hydrating Serum, Skinceuticals Phyto Corrective Gel.
When it comes to using a moisturizer for eczema, there is always one key ingredient I always tell people to look for in their products - ceramides! Ceramides are naturally found in the skin and are actually part of what makes your skin barrier. Research has actually shown that eczema sufferers have low levels of ceramides in their skin so its a crucial ingredient for healing!
Moisturizers: Cerave PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion, Drunk Elephant Lala Retro Whipped Moisturizer, Dr Jart Ceramidin Cream, First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream.
Oils + Balms
Now that we've added water into the skin and moisturized, we want to lock it all in by applying an oil or balm to strength + seal the skins moisture barrier (lipid barrier). There are lots of different oils on the market these days and I will put some of my favourites for eczema below but some of the oils you will want to look for in products are: Jojoba, Hemp Seed, Squalane,
Oils + Balms: Province Apothecary Clear Skin Advanced Face Oil, Province Apothecary Healing Eczema Balm, Indie Lee Squalane Facial Oil, Le Prunier Plum Beauty Oil.
There are some products you'll want to avoid when trying to heal eczema, especially in the beginning stages until things have settled. These include acids, retinol and vitamin c. You'll also want to avoid alcohols + fragrance (including essential oils in some cases).