If your skin is red, itchy and occasionally blistered, there’s a good chance that you could have eczema. Eczema is an umbrella term for various medical conditions that can cause rashes on the skin. According to the National Eczema Association, more than 30 million American suffer from it. Of that group, 33% are children.
There are several different types of eczema including atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, dyshidrotic eczema, nummular eczema, seborrheic dermatitis and stasis dermatitis. It shows up as red, itchy patches that look worse after scratching them. The skin can be scaly, cracked or even bleeding in extreme cases.
In babies eczema often appears on the cheeks, chin and behind the knees, as well inside the elbows and wrists. Some adults get it on their face, which can be uncomfortable as well as take a toll on self-esteem. Scratching the skin just makes eczema worse and can also leads to infections, swelling and more itchy skin- and then the vicious cycle continues.
Eczema is caused by a variety of genetic and environmental reasons, and can also sometimes be triggered by certain food allergies. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, anyone with asthma is more likely to develop eczema, and it’s most prevalent among people who live in cities as well as polluted areas.
Eczema rashes tend to come in waves with periodic flare ups – some people refer to it as “waking up” the eczema. There is no cure for eczema so treating it entails keeping the symptoms under control and working to prevent a new outbreak. A big part of eczema management is identifying what can trigger it. Everyone is different, but eczema triggers can include hot baths, dairy and too much stress. The sun, sweat, cold weather and humidity levels can all be factors as well.
One of the hardest things about having eczema is confirming whether your skin condition is truly eczema. Many people can have dry, itchy and red skin, especially in the winter if they live in a place with a harsh climate. If it responds well to creams and moisturizers, it doesn’t tend to be eczema. Extreme dryness, itching, scaly and red skin is more likely to be eczema – especially if it doesn’t clear up quickly. Anyone who thinks they might have eczema should see a doctor for diagnosis and to discuss treatment options.
But if you know you have eczema, there are some things you can do at home to help soothe the itching and prevent new outbreaks. Here’s a look at 17 home remedies for eczema.
- Take a Bleach Bath
Although bleach sounds like it could be the worst thing for sensitive skin, the Mayo Clinic suggests trying a diluted bleach bath by adding ½ cup of bleach to a typical 40 gallon bathtub. The concept is that the bleach will decrease bacteria on the skin and target any related infections. Soak your body from the waist down and do not dunk your head. The Mayo Clinic suggests soaking for 10 minutes two to three times a week.
- Keep Your Skin Hydrated
Eczema is characterized by dry, itchy skin so keeping your face and body moisturized is key. Aim to moisturize twice a day, and pay special attention to affected areas. Don’t forget about inside the elbows and behind the knees. Applying moisturizing after a shower helps lock in moisture. Look for hydrating ingredients such as ceramides and hyaluronic acid, and you may want to see how your skin can tolerate a body oil.
- Calamine Lotion
Calamine lotion, which also contains zinc oxide, is often used on babies to help soothe rashes and mosquito bites as it is gentle but effective. It can also help relieve the symptoms of eczema as it has a cooling effect. Calamine lotion is pink and drippy so apply at night and let it dry thoroughly before climbing into bed.
- Wear Cotton Clothing
What you wear can also have an effect on your eczema. Avoid tight clothing in order to let your skin breathe, and skip scratchy materials such as wool. If you do work out, try to change out of your sweaty gym clothes as soon as possible. Try wearing loose, 100% cotton clothing next to the skin which will be smooth and breathable. Swap any synthetic sleepwear for cotton as well.
- Colloidal Oatmeal
Colloidal oatmeal, or avena sativa, is made from oats that have been ground and suspended in liquid. It’s thought to be anti-inflammatory and skin healing, which makes it a good choice for soothe eczema. Buy a box of colloidal oatmeal (such as one from Aveeno) to add to your bath, or try a moisturizer made with colloidal oatmeal, such as Gold Bond Ultimate Eczema Relief.
- Take a Warm Bath
Since eczema is often made worse by dry skin, it’s important to keep skin hydrated. One way to do is by taking a warm (not hot) bath to add more moisture to the body. Soak for 10-15 minutes and apply a rich moisturizer when you come out to seal in the hydration.
- Aloe Vera Gel
Aloe vera gel is often called nature’s healer. This gel is often applied to skin after a sunburn and may also help provide relief symptoms of eczema. Aloe vera gel also has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties which can help prevent future skin infections while healing the skin. It is widely available at drugstores and health food stores.
- Relaxation Techniques
Stress can be a major trigger of eczema so learning how to manage stress and decompress can be a helpful tool. Everyone destresses in different ways but some options to try include yoga, meditation or deep breathing to feel calmer. Another option to consider is a meditation app, which can make your morning subway commute a little bit less stressful.
- Switch to a Mild Soap
Harsh soaps made with perfume and dye can make eczema worse. Soaps can also strip the skin of essential oils which will dry it out even further. Avoid antibacterial soaps for the body and switch to a gentle soap formulated without dye or perfume. Some soaps to try include Dove Sensitive Skin Body Wash and Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Body Wash. Make sure to completely rinse the soap off your body and moisturize immediately after showering.
- Switch Up Your Diet
Some eczema sufferers swear that certain foods make their eczema worse or trigger a flare up. While the jury is still out, eggs, wheat, soy, sugar and milk are among the most commonly named culprits. While only a doctor can rule out allergies, you can try eliminating these foods to see if there is any improvement with the skin.
- Buy A Humidifier
Hot, dry indoor air can parch sensitive skin and worsen the itching and flaking associated with eczema. Try putting a humidifier in your bedroom to boost the air’s moisture levels. They are inexpensive and easily available at drugstores, but make sure you can clean it regularly to avoid a mold build up.
- Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is recommended for seemingly everything these days, but it could be worth a try for anyone suffering from eczema. According to the National Eczema Association, coconut oil contains lauric acid, a fatty acid also found in breast milk that has antimicrobial qualities. It may also be anti-inflammatory so it may help provide relief from eczema but try a small test patch to rule out any allergies.
- Face vs Body Products
Dealing with eczema is not a “one size fits all” approach, especially if you have eczema on your face as well as your body. Your face should be treated differently to your body, as the skin there is thinner. Buy products that are formulated especially for facial eczema. Drugstore brands such as Aveeno, CeraVe and Eucerin have specific eczema products for the face as well as the body. You may want to experiment with balms and emollient creams as well.
- Avoid Scratching
Put this one in the category of “easier than it sounds” but try to avoid scratching eczema covered skin, which will only continue the cycle of itching, inflamed skin. One way to avoid scratching is to cover or wrap the afflicted area in cotton gauze. Some parents put gloves on babies and children when they sleep at night to avoid scratching. Keeping your nails trimmed and smooth can also keep over zealous scratching at bay.
- Load up on Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition, so some people try to stabilize their condition by loading up on anti-inflammatory foods. Although it is not proven, it could be worth a try. This group includes probiotics, which are found in fermented foods such as yogurt, kimchi and kombucha, as well as fish that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids such as mackerel and salmon. Fruits and vegetables such as berries, apples and kale are also thought to be anti-inflammatory.
- Wet Wrap Therapy
Keeping skin hydrated and moist is half the battle with eczema and one way to do that is with “wet wrap therapy.” According to the National Eczema Association, this entails soaking clean fabric in water and wrapping it around the afflicted area. Then put a layer of dry cloth on top of the wet layer. Use clean, white cotton gauze for the body, while socks and gloves can be used on the hands and feet. It’s a good idea to do a wet wrap at night when the water can soak in for hours.
Honey has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, which is why some eczema sufferers embrace it as a way to soothe and provide relief to inflamed skin. DIYers can make their own ointment out of honey, beeswax and olive oil. Honey is not recommended for babies though. If this sounds too messy for you, Eczema Honey is a line of honey-based products designed to soothe and calm skin.