Even though an estimated 16.5 million adults suffer from atopic dermatitis in the United States alone, research still hasn’t found anything to cure it. Atopic dermatitis,… Samantha Davis - March 27, 2022
Even though an estimated 16.5 million adults suffer from atopic dermatitis in the United States alone, research still hasn’t found anything to cure it. Atopic dermatitis, or eczema, is a condition that creates itchy, red, inflamed, and sometimes even scaly skin. It’s uncomfortable to live with and creates confidence issues for some people. Fortunately, even though there isn’t a one-size-fits-all cure, there are steps you can take to manage your dermatitis naturally. These natural treatments generally have a lower risk of side effects and are at least as effective as prescriptions used to treat dermatitis.
Dermatitis has many causes, however, the symptoms are generally characterized by a thinner, weaker, and drier outer layer of skin. Since skin is dry and itchy, it’s susceptible to damage and skin can easily open when scratched. Any open wounds also have a greater chance of infection. Many of the remedies recommended here help improve this skin barrier and reduce the symptoms associated with eczema. Of course, if you are already treating your dermatitis using cream or medication from the doctor, it’s always advised to discuss any natural remedies you’d like to try.
1. Try Colloidal Oatmeal to Relieve Redness and Itching
Oatmeal is a popular skincare additive for it’s nourishing properties, but it is also a century-old remedy for red, itchy skin. Scientists have studied its use in treating dermatitis and eczema, and one double-blind study found that it was at least as effective as prescribed topical treatments. Colloidal oatmeal works because it has high levels of starch that attract moisture and lock it into the skin. It also has anti-inflammatory benefits that reduce redness and stop itching. As an added benefit, you can make colloidal oatmeal at home by blending oats until they are fine and powdery.
If you are going to try a warm bath, you’ll want to use a powdered form of colloidal oatmeal. It is also available in a cream, which may be a good alternative for people whose dermatitis is irritated by soaking in water. For the most effectiveness, add powdered oatmeal to a warm bath and soak for ten minutes. When you’re finished, pat your skin dry and apply a hypoallergenic moisturizer or topical cream. You can soak longer if your skin tolerates it, but avoid soaking so long that the bath dries your skin out and makes eczema worse.
People with severe dermatitis may have dry, cracked, or open skin. When skin opens up, there’s a greater risk of infection. Baking soda has anti-bacterial properties that reduce the risk of infection that is common with dermatitis, especially staph infection. Additionally, it’s known for its ability to relieve itching. Often, baking soda is used as a paste in medicine and can be applied to bug bites and rashes. It also helps with redness and inflammation, two other common symptoms of eczema.
Even though there isn’t any formal research on the effectiveness of baking soda, the National Eczema Association recommends it as a treatment. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence of baking soda providing relief as well. The best way to use baking soda for eczema is to sprinkle about 1/4 cup to your bath. It can be used in addition to oatmeal or other eczema-friendly soaks as well. Since it does have alkaline properties that dry the skin, you will want to be sure to moisturize well and/or apply a wet wrap after a baking soda bath.
Water that is hot enough damages keratin cells in the outer layer of skin, harming the structure and making it harder for them to lock in moisture. Additionally, too much heat in the shower can make itching worse. Hot water causes mast cells to release histamine, which triggers itching. This is a bad combination that makes eczema much worse. You should also avoid scrubbing when bathing. Do not use loofahs or abrasive wash rags and always pat your skin dry after a shower, rather than rubbing it with your towel.
In addition to avoiding high water temperatures, be mindful of the amount of time you spend in water. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends bathing for 5-10 minutes, though they also state it varies from person to person and some dermatologists recommend soaking as long as 20 minutes. Additionally, it’s incredibly important to moisturize after the bath before skin dries completely. Bathing can actually make the skin more dry if moisturizer isn’t applied right after getting out of the water.
When showering or bathing, use a gentle cleanser or moisturizer rather than soap. Soap works for many people, however, it’s drying and may contain fragrances or dyes that weaken skin. Additionally, you’ll want a moisturizer that is hypoallergenic and free of those ingredients that are harmful or drying to skin like parabens, sulfates, dyes, fragrances, and other additives. There are several brands that carry gentle cleansers that are best for people with eczema. You’ll want to shop around and see what works best for you.
In addition to being careful when choosing bath products, try avoiding other products with added fragrances, harsh chemicals, and other ingredients that may irritate eczema. Many products without these things are labeled as hypoallergenic. In addition to choosing hypoallergenic laundry detergent, soap, and lotion, consider skipping dryer sheets since the lingering fragrance might aggravate dermatitis. Also be aware of anything like cleaning chemicals or dish soap that your hands might come into contact with during the day. Consider wearing gloves if avoiding those products isn’t an option.
5. Consider Wet Wraps to Lock in Moisture
Wet wraps are used to help lock in moisture. Additionally, applying wet wraps over moisturizers gives your skin a chance to really let the moisturizer set in. All you need for wet wraps is wet fabric or gauze. Following a bath, pat your skin dry and apply a layer of moisturizer. Then, wrap wet fabric around irritated areas and follow this with a second wrap that is dry. This type of therapy works because it promotes skin healing, while keeping it protected. The wraps can be left on for several hours, or even overnight.
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Immunology: In Practice showed success when treating dermatitis with wet wraps. This is best for moderate-to-severe symptoms. Additionally, wet wraps are something that can be used with strategies like regular bathing and moisturizing to reduce flare-ups. Something to note is that the wet wraps might feel as if they are making it worse at first. Trust the process, even if it seems it is making you a little itchy. Wet wraps also should not be applied over corticosteroids or other topical medications without the guidance of a doctor.
Apple cider vinegar is a natural remedy for dermatitis for three reasons. First, ACV helps balance the pH of the skin. Your skin is naturally acidic and raising it’s pH balance improves cell structure. As cell structures become firmer, it also makes skin stronger and improves your natural barrier against the outside world. Additionally, apple cider vinegar helps cleanse bacteria. When dry skin breaks open, it becomes especially susceptible to infections that make eczema worse. ACV also benefits eczema because it helps neutralize the histamines that cause itching.
It’s very important that you dilute apple cider vinegar before applying it to the skin. It’s acidic nature might leave chemical burns otherwise, especially on already damaged skin. Add 2 cups of ACV to a full tub of bath water and soak for 10-15 minutes. Then, be sure to apply a moisturizer afterward. ACV can also be used as part of a wet wrap. To do this, mix 1 tablespoon of vinegar with 1 cup of warm water. After dabbing it on the skin, cover with fabric. Leave the wrap on for up to three hours and moisturize afterward.
7. Use Aloe Vera to Promote Healing and Prevent Infection
Aloe vera gel is one of those age-old remedies that have many uses in medicine because of its benefits. Most known for it’s ability to treat sunburn, aloe also has benefits for scrapes, wounds, and other injuries. This study shows how much it helps with hydrating skin and locking in moisture. Additionally, aloe vera boosts the immune system and promotes wound healing. It also is anti-bacterial and anti-microbial to prevent infection. All these properties benefit someone looking for a natural way to treat dermatitis.
Aloe vera gel is made by cutting open the leaves of the aloe plant and taking the gooey liquid from the inside. Aloe vera straight from the plant is most beneficial, but you can also buy it in stores. Choose aloe vera gel with as few ingredients as possible. Additionally, avoid gel with added alcohol, fragrances, dyes, and other skin-drying ingredients. You can apply aloe vera gel straight to the skin. Though it soothes most people, a few people find it creates a burning/stinging sensation. Try a small test area first if you aren’t sure how it will affect you.
8. Apply Sunflower Oil to Moisturize and Relieve Itchiness
Since skin afflicted with dermatitis cannot retain moisture well on its own, one of the best methods of treatment is keeping skin well hydrated. In one study that compared sunflower oil to olive oil for treating mild dermatitis, sunflower oil was found to be incredibly beneficial for the skin in more ways than one. It even soaks deep into the skin and improves the health and structure of the outermost level of skin. Since moisture is locked in, sunflower oil is a little less greasy than some other common topical treatments for eczema as well.
Sunflower oil is not caustic or damaging, so it can be applied directly to the skin without a carrier oil. For the most effectiveness, apply while skin is still slightly damp. In addition to helping with hydration, sunflower oil has anti-inflammatory benefits when applied to the skin because of its high content of Vitamin E and linoleic acid. Vitamin E contains antioxidants that fight free radicals that cause advanced skin aging and damage and it also boosts cellular regeneration, so skin can grow back faster.
9. Try Vitamin D Supplementation to Reduce Dermatitis Flare-Ups
Researchers have thoroughly studied Vitamin D deficiency in recent years and linked it to several conditions, including eczema. Vitamin D plays critical roles at the cellular level. Not only has a deficiency in Vitamin D been linked to the development of eczema, but research shows supplementation may improve symptoms. In one analysis that reviewed several studies, researchers determined supplementing with Vitamin D was both safe and effective at reducing symptoms of dermatitis. Furthermore, getting Vitamin D from natural sources including diet and exposure to sunlight are also beneficial for people with eczema.
Getting enough Vitamin D is important for people with dermatitis because it plays a critical role in skin cell regeneration. It also plays a role in immune function and inflammation. For some people, applying Vitamin D topically or taking it as a supplement reduces inflammation and the number of flare-ups. The National Institutes of Health recommend consuming a minimum of 600mg of Vitamin D each day. As a topical treatment, Vitamin D is generally considered safe. You can use it every day without adverse side effects.
10. Add Probiotics to Your Diet to Improve Skin Health and Reduce Inflammation
All through your body, trillions of bacteria live in your digestive tract and on your skin. Researchers have learned that people with eczema all have an imbalance in these bacteria. This imbalance is called dysbiosis and it means that there are more bad bacteria than there are good bacteria. One of the best ways to combat this is to introduce good bacteria to the digestive tract. While there are some foods that contain natural probiotics, a probiotic supplement is an easy way to ensure you’re eating a wide variety of probiotics every day.
Probiotics are a long-term solution that improves the health of your skin, digestive system, gut, and more. They help decrease inflammatory responses through the body, which may also help symptoms of eczema. Research shows that a combination of good Lactobaccillus and Bifidobacillus bacteria as a daily supplement works best for treating eczema. Ideally, you should choose a supplement that contains a prebiotic and a probiotic as well. Prebiotics are a special type of sugar that good bacteria can eat, which are not able to be digested by humans.
11. Bathe in Rice Bran Broth to Improve Skin Strength
When added to warm water, rice bran broth creates a protective coating for your skin. This strengthens the skin barrier and makes it less susceptible to inflammatory reactions. Rice bran broth also decreases inflammation which can help with the redness and swelling associated with dermatitis. You can buy rice bran broth in powdered form to add to your bath. It’s made from the outside of a rice kernel. The starches of the rice kernel work with the skin and help form a protective layer.
In addition to being available in powdered form, rice bran oil is an effective remedy. The oil has the same benefits for your skin barrier and it also has the benefit of being moisturizing. For the most benefit, you should use rice bran every day. The starch builds up over time and improves your skin barrier, which might provide long-term eczema relief. Research has also shown rice bran is effective in supplement form, having antioxidant properties that fight inflammation, as well as lowering cholesterol and promoting overall health.
12. Use Coconut Oil Prevent Infection and Protect Damaged Skin
People with dermatitis might find themselves scratching at their skin. Unfortunately, since skin is so irritated and dry already, scratching causes open wounds. While coconut oil will not stop dermatitis, the National Eczema Association states that it does have benefits because of its lauric acid content. The body uses lauric acid to create the antimicrobial agent monolaurin, which fights against the growth of infection and bacteria. Lauric acid is also found naturally in breast milk and it has anti-inflammatory properties that help with some of the redness and inflammation associated with dermatitis.
As an added benefit, coconut oil is an incredible moisturizer. Coconut oil deeply penetrates the skin and there is even research that shows it can be stored in the outer layers, where people with dermatitis need it most. In addition to adding moisture that might prevent the itchiness associated with dermatitis and similar skin conditions, coconut oil also creates a protective barrier over the skin. To get these benefits, it’s important to choose coconut oil that has been minimally processed. It should also be made by pressing coconut flesh rather than heating it. Heating the oil destroys the beneficial compounds.
13. Try Evening Primrose Oil to Soothe Irritated Skin
Primrose oil is made by cold pressing parts of the evening primrose plant that grows natively in Europe, North and South America, and some of Asia. The official studies still show mixed results for using evening primrose oil as a treatment for dermatitis. However, it has been used for centuries in Native American medicine because of its inflammatory benefits. Recent research shows effectiveness in treating rheumatoid arthritis, eczema, and more. It’s effective because primrose oil significantly reduces inflammation, one of the main symptoms of dermatitis.
Evening primrose contains omega-6 fatty acids, including beneficial gamma-lineolic acid (GLA). When ingested, GLAs are converted into a compound that slows the production of inflammatory compounds in the body. By reducing these compounds, there is less inflammation. Something to note is that evening primrose oil may thin the cervix or interact with medications, so it should not be used by pregnant women or people on medication without physician guidance. You can apply primrose oil directly to the skin, take it as a supplement, or add a few drops to another cream or moisturizer.
14. Apply Honey for a Protective Barrier That Heals Open Wounds
Honey is another of those natural ways to fight dermatitis that has a long history in traditional medicine. It has incredible anti-inflammatory benefits, as well as anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties that prevent infection. Additionally, honey is a humectant. Humectants create a moist, protective barrier over the wound that keeps it protected without drying it out. Honey also has a slighly acidic makeup, and its organic acid gently exfoliates skin to remove dead and damaged skin cells. To use it, just apply a thick layer to the skin and cover areas afflicted with eczema. Then, wrap them in a sterile bandage.
When choosing honey for eczema, research shows that manuka honey has the most benefits. Manuka honey and raw, organic honey have similar anti-bacterial and humectant benefits, so you can use either. However, manuka honey is medical-grade and it has a higher concentration of MGO or methylglyoxal. The MGOs come from the nectar of the manuka plant, which bees native to certain areas in Australia and New Zealand. If Manuka honey is not available, however, research shows that raw, pure honey also promotes healing of skin lesions and soothing of the itch related to dermatitis.
15. Add Tea Tree Oil to Your Moisturizer for an Anti-Inflammatory Boost
Tea tree oil is another of those natural cures for dermatitis that has a long history in medicine. It’s used to fight bacteria, promote the healing of wounds, and relieve inflammation. The people of Australia have used it as an anti-septic for centuries and research shows promising results for treating different kinds of dermatitis. Even though tea tree oil does have a lot of benefits, it is caustic when used by itself. You should always add tea tree oil to moisturizer or a carrier oil before applying it to the skin.
Another benefit of tea tree oil is that it needs to be diluted, so it’s a good additive. You can add it into natural products you are already using to treat eczema, especially if they are providing you with some relief. For people with atopic dermatitis or dandruff on their scalp, tea tree oil can also be added to their hair care routine. Note, however, that you should never ingest tea tree oil. It is safe externally, but has the potential to cause breathing problems, loss of muscle control, confusion, and even coma or death when swallowed.
16. Consider Calendula Cream for Skin Inflammation and Wounds
Like many other natural remedies we’ve mentioned so far, calendula cream benefits dermatitis because of it’s anti-inflammatory abilities. It relieves redness and swelling and reduces inflammation that’s common with dermatitis. There’s even research that calendula cream increases the rate of wound healing by improving blood flow to the area and boosting the production of collagen. Collagen plays critical roles in skin health and wound healing. It’s ability to heal while working as an antiseptic make it a popular treatment for wounds, diaper rash, and even eczema.
In addition to helping heal the skin, calendula benefits dermatitis because it helps lock in moisture. Calendula is made using the garden marigold, which is relatively common and easy to grow in the right conditions. The parts of the plant are soaked in oil to gently extract all the beneficial nutrients. By adding moisture to your skin and helping with inflammation, calendula cream may reduce eczema. It’s another cream you can apply using wet wrap therapy, since there aren’t any harmful ingredients that will make dermatitis worse.
17. Try Cardiospermum as an Alternative to Steroids for Dermatitis
Cardiospermum is an extract made from the balloon flower, a vine native to South Asia. There, it’s been used for centuries in medicine because of the way it targets inflammation. In fact, recent studies show that cardiospermum is at least as effective as steroids at treating dermatitis. Cardiospermum is often sold in a gel-form that is similar to aloe. The thick nature makes it easy to apply and helps lock in moisture. While it can be used any time, cardiospermum works best for eczema immediately following a bath or shower.
In addition to soothing the redness and swelling associated with dermatitis, cardiospermum has anti-fungal and anti-microbial properties. Research even shows that it destroys the bacteria responsible for flare-ups and prevents infection. Its benefits allow it to provide immediate relief from the pain and itching of eczema. For some people, however, it may provide a long-term solution that reduces or even eliminates their symptoms. Even though it is as effective as a steroid at providing relief, there is a lower chance of side effects with this being a natural remedy for dermatitis.
18. Fight Inflammation from the Inside with an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
In the last few decades, science has uncovered the important link between the health of your gut and skin. Your digestive health is determined by the balance of good and bacteria in your gut. Eating foods that nourish the good bacteria helps prevent inflammation, while eating processed foods, grains, and sugars nourish the bad bacteria. In addition to trying to eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and spices, which contain antioxidants that help fight inflammation, choosing foods containing healthy fats (like fish, avocado, and olive oil) can also reduce inflammation.
Some of the specific foods known to help with inflammation include beans and lentils, fish, leafy greens, colorful fruits and vegetables, and spices like cinnamon and turmeric. By reducing inflammation through the body, many people also see benefits for their dermatitis. Some people also have success eliminating certain foods that their body doesn’t digest well. Foods that commonly trigger inflammation for some people include dairy, wheat, soy, and eggs. If you believe a food allergy is to blame, try eliminating one food at a time and seeing if that improves eczema symptoms.