Eczema is an overwhelming skin condition that affects over 30 million Americans and you probably feel like it’s pretty tough to find an eczema treatment plan that works.
Dry, itchy, scaly skin, rashes, lesions, and blemishes caused by eczema are incredibly frustrating and even embarrassing. They can send you on an exhaustive hunt for the right soaps, lotions, and creams – but these are only temporary fixes that don’t address the root cause.
I’ve had my fair share of rashes before I went gluten free, but eczema was by far the worst. And my clients agree! Some refuse to wear anything even remotely revealing (forget bathing suits or even shorts) because of the stares they got.
Eczema can be so itchy and painful, you might have even considered taking steroids or immunosuppressants to get some relief.
But there are hidden consequences to using many of the eczema medications that doctors either don’t tell you or minimize the potential risks involved.
For example, steroids actually thin your skin making it more fragile and susceptible to breaking. And immunosuppressants are not a great solution either and definitely do not offer the best solution for lasting results.
Surely we can do better, right?
Thank goodness! It never does your body any real good over the long term to get on drugs like these.
Studies and shared personal stories are identifying different root causes, which is leading to more effective treatments for eczema. Research indicates that eczema is an autoimmune disease – a result of the immune system attacking healthy skin tissues.
It makes sense that eczema is an autoimmune disease because it has all the telltale signs of autoimmunity – triggers, flare-ups, inflammation, food allergies, and sensitivities.
You’ve heard of leaky gut, but have you heard of ‘leaky skin’?
Some research suggests the overactive immune system eczema is a result of impaired skin structure and function, which in turn activates the immune system response resulting in the symptoms of eczema – this is called the ‘leaky skin’ theory.
Because the skin is your body’s first line of defense against toxins and outside invaders, it can get overwhelmed. An overwhelming number of triggers can contribute to immune system activation. Your immune system then gets confused and begins to attack your skin causing eczema.
So, the question becomes – which one comes first? The impaired skin or the overactive immune system? Maybe, both?
Whether the overactive immune system fires up due to impaired skin function or other causes isn’t entirely clear, but at eczema’s core are its underlying contributors. Inflammation is the number one culprit.
To heal your skin, you’ll need to identify your eczema triggers. Often this requires you to begin your eczema treatment in your gut. Your gut makes up 80 percent of your immune system so to effectively treat your eczema, you’ll need to start there.
Clear, Beautiful Skin Begins in the Gut
If you haven’t yet guessed, everything begins in the gut.
Eczema and other skin conditions like it require a comprehensive gut check. See, the connection between your skin and your gut runs deep, through what’s called the gut-skin axis. In fact, studies have found that people with eczema are more likely to also have leaky gut.
We are seeing how healing the gut can clear up all sorts of skin conditions, which is why the gut is where we should focus eczema treatment for remission and reversal. Any time a client comes into my office with a skin condition, the first place we look is the gut.
After spending 3 years struggling with horrible dyshidrotic eczema that destroyed the skin on my right hand, I realized that my dermatologist’s cream and ointment suggestions weren’t going to work. I was so tired of constantly battling the constant flares no matter what I did.
When I finally approached my eczema from a gut perspective, everything changed. I added in key nutrients that skin needs to thrive, while also addressing gut repair as part of my eczema treatment plan. It took time, but I was able to find sustainable relief that wasn’t just patches and band-aids.
The thing about eczema is what worked for me, might not work for you. It’s all about finding your personal root cause.
What is Eczema?
To effectively address any autoimmunity you must first find the root cause. When you treat the root cause (as opposed to the symptoms), you’ll benefit from long-lasting relief. There are actually eight types of eczema, with atopic dermatitis being the most common.
The term eczema is used pretty loosely to refer to all conditions where there are similar hallmark symptoms.
Symptoms of eczema include skin that is:
- Inflamed or irritated
- Scaly and thickened skin
- Oozing wounds
- Red or grey patches
These uncomfortable symptoms can affect small areas or large areas of skin and can occur anywhere on the body.
The 8 Eczema Types
There are eight types of eczema, which include:
- Atopic dermatitis – The most common form. Chronic and inflammatory in nature, atopic dermatitis usually begins in childhood.
- Contact Dermatitis – This occurs when skin comes in contact with a trigger or allergen, causing a flare up.
- Dyshidrotic eczema – Identifiable by itchy blisters, usually around the toes and bottoms of the feet.
- Hand eczema – Very common and usually triggered by contact with an irritating substance on the hands.
- Neurodermatitis – Similar to atopic dermatitis but characterized by thick, scaly patches.
- Nummular eczema – A type of eczema that’s difficult to treat and causes circular lesions that sometimes look like insect bites.
- Seborrheic dermatitis – A chronic form that appears on areas of the body where oil forms, such as the scalp, nose, and upper back.
- Stasis dermatitis – Occurs around areas where there is poor blood circulation, usually the ankles and backs of the legs.
Atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema and sometimes the names are used interchangeably. I had dyshidrotic eczema which resulted in painful blisters – it was not pretty.
The 4 Stages of Eczema
Eczema appears on the body in a cyclical pattern. How long your symptoms last in each stage depends on your personal health and the type of eczema you have.
My eczema cycles would last over a month at a time! Each time I’d start to feel a flare-up coming on, I’d be overwhelmed with dread.
Here’s what happens when you live with eczema:
- Flare up – This occurs due to a trigger and may cause the area of skin to itch or burn. If you scratch this skin, it will make your outbreak worse.
- Outbreak – Scratching of the affected area causes added inflammation, redness, swelling, flaking, bleeding, and crusting. Your outbreak won’t subside until you remove the trigger.
- Healing – After the trigger or root cause has been removed, your skin can begin the healing process. How long healing takes will depend on how bad the area was affected by the outbreak.
- Remission – After your skin heals, you can have completely clear skin. However, if you come in contact with a trigger, you can easily start another flare up.
Some people don’t realize there’s a trigger when it comes to eczema and live life perpetually in this cycle. This is such an unfortunate situation, which is why it’s my mission to spread the word!
The ideal treatment of eczema involves stopping the flare-up before it begins. The best way to stop flare-ups is by reducing common eczema triggers and incorporating preventative treatments. It’s important to note that an outbreak won’t stop until the trigger is removed.
This is key: You can only relieve your eczema when you identify and remove your personal triggers.
Reduce Your Eczema Triggers
When I have clients come in with rashes of any sort, I have them check for common factors that trigger eczema including:
- Leaky gut syndrome – Leaky gut can trigger your immune system and cause the flare-ups that cause your eczema symptoms.
- Filaggrin gene SNPs – If you have the FLG gene mutation, you could have an impaired filaggrin function (a protective protein in your skin).
- Food sensitivities – Food sensitivities can set off your immune system and cause eczema breakouts.
- Gut infections – Infections that mess with your gut also mess with your immune system and can cause flare-ups.
Each are common triggers for eczema and other skin issues. You can read more about them all in my article: 5 Reasons Why Your Rash Won’t Go Away (That No One Tells You)
Other triggers may include:
- Hormone imbalances
- Dry skin (sometimes caused by weather)
- A weak immune system
- Skin and Gut Infections
- Digestive dysfunction (both in the digestion and absorption phases)
- Liver Detoxification Challenges
- Environmental conditions and triggers such as chemicals, soaps, food, weather, etc.
Certain lab testing can also be incredibly helpful to identify triggers and root causes. Some of these tests do not require a doctor’s visit either! Download my list of Root Cause Skin Tests that I use.
Healing Your Skin From The Inside Out
Due to the nature of eczema, you’ll have a lot more luck and longer-lasting relief if you address the condition from the inside out.
Instead of treating the symptoms with creams and lotions that are a band-aid at best, opt for these seven surprising eczema treatments that actually work.
Inflammation is at the heart of eczema flare-ups. You can fight inflammation by eliminating inflammatory foods and other lifestyle factors as part of your eczema treatment plan.
Avoid these inflammation-causing foods:
- Gluten – Gluten is a major cause of so many skin conditions, I often call the reactions collectively, “Gluten Skin.”
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Trans fats – junky vegetable oils
- Fried foods
- Refined carbohydrates (including those that are gluten-free)
- Processed meat
Reduce inflammation with your habits:
Reduce the number of toxins you’re exposed to each day. Start with your skincare products, body care products, candles, and household cleaning supplies. I switched to this really amazing brand for super clean skincare and I’ve can’t say enough good things about them!
Get plenty of high-quality sleep. Important recovery processes that reduce inflammation happens when you sleep. Each night, shoot for a solid 8 hours of sleep to make sure that your body has time to “reboot” just like a computer.
Reduce stress. Stress reduction techniques, such as yoga, have been found to reduce inflammation. Even just 2 minutes of breathing exercises can have a huge impact on how well you deal with stress. Or you can go outside and take a walk which can also help you stay calm.
Check For Food Sensitivities And Allergies
Food sensitivities and allergies also cause inflammation, but they are so pervasive they required a category of their own.
Plus, if you are already eating a healthy diet free of the inflammation-causing foods above and you still have eczema, you might have undiagnosed food allergy or sensitivity. I recommend elimination diets or food sensitivity testing.
The most common food sensitivities and allergies include:
- Tree nuts
- Nightshade vegetables
You might not have a full-blown allergy to any of these, but be merely sensitive or even intolerant. (Here’s how to tell the difference between an allergy, a sensitivity, and an intolerance.) In the case of gluten, it’s entirely possible to be sensitive, but not have celiac disease.
Skin rashes were one of my big symptoms before I learned that I was gluten, dairy, and egg sensitive (read more about my story HERE).
Food sensitivities can sometimes be a trigger, but are not a root cause. I don’t often recommend IgG Food sensitivity tests anymore because they tend to be inaccurate. Gluten is a great place to start because removing it helps reduce gut permeability.
Beyond that, I’m cautious about excessive elimination diets since chronic skin flares can be due to a number of things — many of which are not food-driven.
Avoid High Histamine Foods
Foods high in histamine are often overlooked, but are a critical part of any autoimmune-fighting diet.
Histamine is a mediator released by your immune system’s mast cells that ultimately trigger inflammation in your body. This inflammation isn’t always bad. It allows the blood cells of a particular area to become larger so your white blood cells can get to the area and fight off invaders.
But with an autoimmune disease and eczema, histamine can run rampant.
Foods high in histamine can reinforce this inflammatory response, making your eczema worse. Many high histamine foods are considered pretty healthy, so there’s a possibility you haven’t considered these.
High histamine foods include:
- Fermented foods and drinks – Sauerkraut, beer, kombucha, soy sauce, kefir
- Cured meats – Bacon, lunch meat, salami, sausage
- Smoked meat and fish
- Aged cheese
- Vinegar and vinegar-containing foods, such as pickles
- Sour cream
- Certain vegetables – Spinach, avocado, tomatoes, and eggplant
There are also histamine–releasing foods which can cause inflammation. If you’ve been struggling with eczema for a while or suspect you have a histamine sensitivity – this is definitely something worth looking into deeper.
Eat Eczema Fighting Foods
This involves a diet full of nutrient-rich, whole foods. Add vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, and an appropriate amount of protein. Studies have found that diets high in fresh fruits, vegetables, and traditional whole foods, reduced the risk of eczema in children.
Incorporate more of these anti-inflammatory and delicious foods into your diet:
- Dark leafy greens
- Sweet potatoes
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Wild caught salmon (Here’s a great source to get it if it’s not available in your area)
- Grass-fed beef (Here’s my favorite place to buy high-quality meat)
If you find that you’re still having eczema problems on a cleaner diet, you may need to step things up. Looking at your sugar intake is incredibly important along with specific “foods groups” such as nickel-rich, nitrates, salicylates, nightshades, sulfites, histamine-rich, and amine-rich foods.
Make sure that you’re eating enough protein.
Low protein intake makes it difficult for your body to rebuild healthy skin cells when it doesn’t have enough of the raw materials available. Typically this is somewhere between 70 to 80g daily, but can be more depending on your weight, and how much healing needs to be done.
Check out my Protein Guide for Healing HERE where I walk you through the process of figuring this out and implementing it!
Heal Your Leaky Gut Is Key
If you have eczema flare-ups, there’s a good chance you have leaky gut syndrome. This condition occurs when your gut lining becomes permeable and allows particles that shouldn’t leave the GI tract to enter the bloodstream. This causes your immune system to fire up, which leads to inflammation and eczema flare-ups.
You can heal your leaky gut with a functional nutrition approach I often use with clients:
Remove – Avoid inflammatory foods, allergies, and sensitivities (see above).
Replace – Support your gut with digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid like this one that I recommend to clients.
Reinoculate – Reintroduce beneficial bacteria with a good probiotic. (I discuss this further in the next section.)
Repair – Add further support with gut-healing foods. These should include L– glutamine, (which has been shown to repair intestinal permeability), okra, slippery elm, marshmallow (the herb, not the candy), zinc, and other botanical agents. There are specific formulas out there that work really well and combine all of these so you don’t have to take them individually. My favorite is GI Benefits or GI Revive.
You can learn more about healing your leaky gut in one of my favorite breakdowns — Leaky Gut: 7 Reasons Why You Don’t Feel Better
Probiotics For Alternative Eczema Treatment
The first priority in your eczema treatment is taking excellent care of your gut. Probiotics are essential to this!
Even if you don’t follow the leaky gut protocol, you should still take probiotics if you struggle with eczema. Your probiotic should contain 50-100 billion CFUs per dose of a healthy mix of multiple species depending on what your underlying issues are.
I mentioned above that histamine-rich foods could be a trigger for your eczema rashes. And the same concern exists for probiotics! Some probiotic strains will produce histamine in your gut and make your skin worse.
So I’d suggest that you avoid picking up the cheapest probiotic you see at the store so that you don’t unintentionally set yourself up to react.
My two favorite skin-soothing probiotics include:
Or S. Boulardii (for short) is actually a type of friendly yeast. It helps to reduce gut inflammation and rebalance your gut by killing unfriendly gut bugs like certain bacteria and Candida.
This is a great option if topical anti-fungal creams have worked in the past on your eczema rash or you’re prone to yeast infections.
Since this is commonly used to stop Traveler’s Diarrhea, capsules contain much lower doses compared to other high-potency formulas — around 5 Billion CFU. S. Boulardii is taken at lower doses (5 to 25 Billion CFUs total per day) than other probiotics.
This S. Boulardii product is a great option if you’ve got diarrhea or loose stools. But if you are more constipation-prone, S. Boulardii will “bind you up” and worsen your symptoms.
If you tend to have issues with bloating, beware of added prebiotic ingredients (usually marked MOS or FOS or inulin) that make this symptom worse. In that case, this option without any prebiotic would be a better fit for you.
Megaspore is a spore-based probiotic combining 5 strains — Bacillus Indicus, Bacillus Clausii, Bacillus Subtilis, Bacillus Licheniformis, and Bacillus Coagulans.
What’s neat about Megaspore is that it can help reshape the makeup of gut flora in a positive way and ultimately it may help reduce the immune stimulation that can be an ongoing trigger for eczema.
Megaspore capsules can be emptied directly into something you eat or drink. The spores can withstand stomach acid making this an incredibly easy way to get them in if you find pills difficult to swallow or you want to start at a lower dose if you tend to be sensitive to supplements.
Megaspore can be taken regardless if you are diarrhea- or constipation-dominant (or have no issues with your poop).
And it can only be purchased through a health practitioner (so you will not find it in any stores). If you’d like to give it a try, go HERE to set up an account and place your order.
Just an FYI — Megaspore may not be appropriate for you if you’re currently taking an immunosuppressant or biologic drug wherein your immune system is compromised. As with any supplements, you should consult with a practitioner first before picking one that’s right for you especially if you’re on medication or taking other supplements to avoid any adverse effects.
Supplements For Your Natural Eczema Treatment
Horsetail is anti-inflammatory and acts as an antioxidant. Because it is so rich in silicon, horsetail promotes collagen synthesis and has long been used as a treatment for skin conditions – including eczema.
Collagen Types 1 & 3
Speaking of collagen, collagen is an integral part of my custom skin protocol since it is good for supporting a healthy gut as well as new skin.
It’s also an important part of an increased protein intake that’s necessary to create new, healthier skin.
Make sure to look for collagen from healthy sources of cows and chickens (there are no vegan collagen sources). This brand is what I personally use and recommend. If you’re not comfortable with these animal sources, you can purchase collagen from fish that will also work.
Low vitamin D status has been found in most people with eczema and lower vitamin D levels can cause worse symptoms. Take up to 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 with Vitamin K2 each day and make sure you’re also getting sunshine to active it.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce eczema symptoms. Researchers believe it’s because it effectively lowers the inflammatory marker – leukotriene B4. Try taking a good krill oil supplement, which is more stable than fish oil. This is my favorite high-potency Omega 3 supplement that I use in client protocols. One to two capsules a day would be a great place to start.
Similar to omega-3, vitamin E lowers leukotrienes which are associated with eczema. Vitamin E also acts as an antioxidant to reduce inflammation and fight free radicals. You can take a 400 IU per day of a quality vitamin E supplement to prevent flare-ups and reduce symptoms.
If you’re sensitive or allergic to soy and/or gluten, be careful what Vitamin E supplements you take as they are typically derived from soy or wheat germ oil.
You might think of zinc as something helpful for avoiding the common cold, however, zinc plays a big role in healthy DNA synthesis and healing. This is one of my favorite zinc supplements that’s highly absorbable.
Plus, you can also find zinc-laced bandages should you develop cuts or open wounds when your skin gets too dried out. Many people have found them to be helpful to get the split skin to finally seal up.
Witch hazel is anti-inflammatory and effective during an eczema flare-up. You can add witch hazel directly to the skin but be sure to use an alcohol-free option.
More commonly known as Marigolds, Calendula is known by herbalists for its soothing properties. Some research exists on its ability to help wounds heal, though more formal research is still necessary. This is a great brand to use!
That said, if you have an allergy to Compositae family (ragweed, daisy, and chrysanthemum), you are better off avoiding this since you’ll likely react to it as well.
St. John’s Wort Oil
You may have heard of St. John’s Wort (in capsule form) for depression, but the oil derived from this botanical can be used topically. There is some research demonstrating positive results in soothing eczema when tested against a placebo. Here’s a clean source of St. John’s Wort Oil that I’ve recommended to clients.
Caution should be used when applying herbs topically. If there are cuts or open wounds in the skin, do not use herbs until they have closed in order to avoid infection. And as always, you should consult with your doctor before starting any supplements to make sure there’s no conflict with your medication.
Eczema can be successfully managed through proper diet, supplementation, and trigger avoidance. I was able to get my skin conditions under control by identifying food sensitivities and I’ve helped many others do the same.
Not sure what the root cause of your rashes is? You can get my List of Root Causes – Skin Tests to help you discover your hidden eczema triggers that are often overlooked.
Want to support your skin with the right nutrients? Check out my 7 Eczema-Soothing Smoothies eGuide that’s free of gluten, dairy, eggs, and the other extensive list of eczema triggers.
Need more help? I work with people who struggle with chronic skin rash conditions that have not been resolved through conventional dermatology. Together we identify root causes and work to address them so that you can begin building healthy skin. CLICK HERE to learn more!
And of course — be sure to share this article!! Part of the problem is so many eczema sufferers aren’t even aware that there’s another, more natural way to stop the flares. It’s up to us to get the word out!
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Yes, to all of the above, but remember the poor ol’ liver needs help, too. Helping your liver will help your skin.
Hi Julie, absolutely!!!! The liver is key 🙂
This is a wonderful resource for those of us that have skin problems. Thank you so much for all the detail.
I’m glad you appreciate the attention to detail! It was definitely a big undertaking 🙂
Wow! There is so much information here. I will have to read this article a few times to begin to absorb all the information. The leaky gut connection is particularly interesting to me as I’ve just been diagnosed with osteoporosis at the age of 40 and I was told that leaky gut could play a large roll. Thank you for putting all of this information together.
Yes… I know and it’s just the tip of the iceberg. I plan on writing on more of the sub-topics in the coming weeks and months so stay tuned. And please share the post with anyone you know who is dealing with eczema. There are other options 🙂
It will take me weeks to fully digest this article since there are so many links that I know will be helpful to read. I plan to start a little notebook to help create a plan for things to try that you suggest. I’m just on the healing part of yet another flare. Still have a few small cracks that aren’t quite as painful as the larger ones. And I’ve gone a couple of days without bandages on my fingers. Winter is the worst even in “not so cold” Texas. This past summer I had to have my wedding ring cut off as I had madly scratched my hands and fingers during sleep creating an extremely swollen ring finger. It didn’t go down all day even with ice so I was afraid to leave my ring on. Thanks for your hard work on this article. It is truly a gem of a resource.
Wow, that must have been a horrible experience! I’ve had clients who also have had their hands swell badly and struggled to wear their rings anymore.
Thanks for sharing how helpful you feel this resource is, Cheryl! I know it’s a lot… especially to tackle on your own. Should you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to ask 🙂
Thank you Jennifer for sharing your expertise! Can I take Zint Collagen if I suspect having histamine intolerance?
No, unfortunately collagen is a high histamine food as are bone broth, gelatin and protein powders. I talk more about that here: https://www.skinterrupt.com/collagen-skin-rashes/