Tips for Managing Eczema without Drugs – Part I
Eczema attracts a lot of attention in the world of alternative medicine because it’s both so widespread while also being inadequately understood. The root cause of eczema is obscure and eczema symptoms tend to wax and wane without clear triggers so as a result, there is a lot of room for interpretation… and for misinterpretation. As research continues and more breakthroughs develop, science shows promise in the treatment of eczema, however there are many alternative and holistic approaches to treating eczema that are also worth exploring.
In our Tips for Managing Eczema without Drugs series, we’d like to explore and shed some light on a number of alternative therapies. From fabric to diet to vitamin supplements, there is a lot to consider when it comes to caring for your eczema, but we would like to be clear that there is not enough conclusive data to deem any of these practices as officially “effective” but we hope that the information might be helpful to you in your journey to care for your skin.
When we look at alternative treatments, it’s important to be clear that there is a difference between insufficient evidence and evidence against the therapy. In the case of eczema, it’s a matter of insufficient evidence.
Diluted Bleach Baths
Bathing is something that we talk about a lot at AD Rescue Wear. We talk a lot about diluted beach baths and while this practice was once considered to be ‘alternative’ the practice has now become a mainstream form of eczema therapy. It’s a highly effective way to keep eczema at bay. Bathing for 5-10 minutes in water with 1/2 cup of 6% sodium hypochlorite added to bath followed by topical ointments and emollients are part of a good eczema treatment regime.
However, there are other types of bathing to also consider:
We have our usual bathing protocol that we suggest, but there are more elaborate bathing options. There is a type of therapeutic bathing called balneotherapy that involves immersion in mineral water baths. Ideally, therapeutic baths are taken in warm weather and some UV sun exposure (heliotherapy) is also beneficial to those suffering from eczema.
The most notable example of this is the Dead Sea. The healing powers of the Dead Sea waters in Israel have been attracting patients with a wide variety of ailments for much of history. The Dead Sea waters are rich in minerals and particularly when combined with sun exposure are said to be very healing. The relaxing and soothing baths have been helpful to people for centuries. Studies have shown that bathing twice a day in the Dead Sea for 20 minutes each time, and gradually adding more sun exposure each day, can improve the severity of eczema, psoriasis, and vitiligo.
There is another natural mineral spring with similar healing properties in the South of France at the Avène hydrotherapy spa. We wish that extended vacations to Israel or France could be possible for everyone but instead, we suggest trying to recreate the properties of those mineral baths and the sun exposure at home. You can bathe in a 10% Dead Sea salt solution and get a narrow band ultraviolet B (UVB) light for home use.
However, on the opposite side of the spectrum, there are studies that suggest that hard water could make your eczema worse. Hard water is the description for water that’s very high in mineral content. Overall, it seems that UV exposure is important when it comes to mineral baths so if you pursue mineral bathing, you’ll be most likely to have success if you also use a UV lamp.
Skin moisturization is a fundamental part of controlling eczema flare-ups. Emollients should be used frequently, definitely daily, and particularly after bathing. But there is always the question: which is the best emollient? It’s important to make choices based on your own trial and error and personal preferences. You can take recommendations from your doctor, naturopath, or from friends and family but the trial and error will need to be your own to find the products that work the best for you.
Companies are striving to develop eczema emollients and really the choice of which emollient to use can be overwhelming. Companies are now also producing a number of prescription-required barrier repair creams that usually include at least one of these inflammatory mediators: ceramides, hyaluronic acid, dimethicone, licorice extract (glycyrrhetinic acid), and palmitoylethanolamide. You can also find a lot of these ingredients in over-the-counter products but in smaller concentrations and combinations. However, a study found that the over the counter petroleum based products were 47 times more effective AND more cost-effective than the expensive prescription-required barrier creams.
Natural oils, including many oils that you would consider to be cooking oils, can make excellent skin emollients. However, not all oils are created equal. Studies have shown that the very best oil for skin is sunflower oil. The next best topical oil is virgin coconut oil. Olive oil, however, has shown to be detrimental to the skin barrier.
Look for Part II in our Tips for Managing Eczema without Drugs series.