Moms ask me every day for natural products they can use on their children who suffer from itchy, dry skin and conditions like eczema. These moms—and many others—are increasingly aware of the potential harmful effects of chemicals in topical skincare products.
Eczema—an inflammatory skin condition characterized by redness, dryness, crusting, flaking, blistering, cracking, or bleeding—affects more than 30 million people in the US alone. Eczema is common in infants and children, with as many as 1 in 4 school-aged children suffering from the disease. Additionally, the risk of developing eczema increases based on family history of allergies. Eczema comes and goes over time. It results in very dry and sensitive skin, and can be made worse by exposure to many different things, including allergens such as pet dander or dust mites. Other common triggers include cosmetics, soaps, detergents and lotions with heavy fragrances. Exposure to perfumes and cleaning products can also irritate eczema. For some people, weather changes (especially dry winter air), illnesses such as the common cold, or even stress may make eczema worse.
Symptoms can be painful, including blisters, and the skin may change color. The itch associated with eczema can be severe, often interrupting sleep. Scratching of the skin may lead to an infection. Infants with eczema may rub against bedding or other things to relieve the itch.
Rule No. 1 of basic eczema maintenance and flare-up management: You need to use the right cleanser. A mild, soap-free option is less likely to strip your skin of its natural barrier and cause dryness. Choose a product that’s free of dyes and perfumes too, both of which can trigger irritation. Steer clear of anything containing dyes or perfumes. Keep your showers or baths to less than 15 minutes, and use warm water instead of hot. Pat your skin dry with a towel instead of rubbing it, and moisturize as soon as you can after.
Eczema can occur on almost any part of the body. It appears as itchy pink or red inflamed patches on the skin. The typical treatment comes in the form of creams and moisturizers, and many people today seek safer, more natural topical remedies to heal their ailments. Let’s review some of these natural remedies.
Colloidal oatmeal relieves itching in eczema patients and is best used in a lukewarm bath. You can make your own by grinding up oatmeal (the non-instant kind) into a very fine powder; use a blender, food processor, or coffee grinder. Colloidal oatmeal also comes in premade packets and is sometimes added to creams and lotions.
Essential oils, including tea tree oil, are often touted as natural cures for treating skin issues such as eczema. There are several essential oils that can be used to help get rid of the burning, itching, and dry skin experienced with this skin condition including Rosemary, Eucalyptus, Bergamot, Lavender, Chamomile, Thyme, and Rose Geranium.
Botanicals Plants have the power to help strengthen the skin barrier, restore the skin’s natural protective function, and keep microorganisms, allergens and other skin attackers at bay. Using multiple botanicals not only makes it possible to treat skin issues involved in a particular disease but also can dramatically increase efficacy.
Shea butter is an excellent moisturizer that contains both vitamins E and A. Although it can help soothe dry skin, not all shea butters are equally effective. Once they are old, they may lose their efficacy. There are also many varieties of shea butters and some are more premium in quality than others; look for the grade A, unrefined, raw variety.
Apple cider vinegar may have some antibacterial properties. If you’re wary of a bleach bath, consider adding vinegar to your bath instead.
Aloe vera has both moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties. The herb can be applied topically—in the form of a lotion, cream, gel, or even shampoo—or ingested via pill or juice. Pure aloe vera concentration varies from product to product, so check labels to determine how much you’re actually getting.
Magnesium salt baths can improve skin hydration and circulation. The mineral benefits our bodies from head to toe, yet many people are deficient. Adding magnesium salt to your bathwater may not only ease eczema symptoms, but also relieve stress, which in turn may help alleviate itching.
Calendula ointment, made from the flower of the marigold plant, is used to heal chapped hands, minor scrapes, cuts, and burns. This versatile product is great to keep in your medicine cabinet, and it’s also an effective eczema treatment.
Coconut oil has healing benefits that have been recognized in ayurvedic medicine for more than 4,000 years. It’s completely natural and, when applied topically, can help treat irritated skin. To provide eczema patients with a safe, chemical- and preservative-free remedy, I created CapriClear; this spray is formulated with just one ingredient—fractionated coconut oil—and can be used daily to restore the skin barrier and prevent eczema flare-ups.
Betty Bellman, MD, PA, is the creator of CapriClear Multi-Purpose Moisturizing Spray and has published more than 25 pieces of medical literature. Learn more at bettybellmanmd.com.
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