9 Healing Baths to Calm the Eczema Itch

Finding Relief From The Outside-In

If you’ve ever suffered from an eczema flare, then you’re probably familiar with the burning, itching, crawling sensation on your skin. And, you know how horrible it is!!

Your immediate instinct is to calm what’s happening on the outside… you just want to stop the scratching and bleeding and oozing.

In functional medicine, the goal is always to address the root causes and heal from the inside-out.

But when it comes to eczema… I know you need to have some relief on the outside first so that you can focus on the actual underlying causes— not just the symptoms.

What I’ve seen with skin issues, especially eczema, is that there’s no one-size-fits-all remedy.

Something that really irks me is when you go to message boards and people are like, “Oh, (insert favorite remedy) is my miracle cure….” or “I use dead sea salt baths” or “I use coconut oil” or “I use apple cider vinegar.” Don’t get me wrong, these things are all helpful, but everybody is so highly individualized that it’s hard to say any one thing will work across the board.

Eczema is more specific to the individual than any other condition we treat in our clinic, so we encourage people not to get caught up in other people’s hype. Do the work to heal inside, but in the meantime you can find ways to help soothe the rash.

9 Healing Bath Options

Something I’ve used myself, and have gotten back feedback from patients and colleagues alike is on the benefit of a healing bath. There are lots of different things you can put into a bath, but these are my top 9:

  1. Magnesium sulfate/Epsom salt. These minerals can be very soothing for an eczema flare for a couple of reasons. Epsom salt helps decrease inflammation which can reduce the swelling of lesions and calm itching. It also has antimicrobial properties keeping your skin free of bacteria.
  2. Dead Sea Salts. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback about this one which is in the mineral category. Dead Sea Salts aid in hydrating dry skin and can provide some itching relief with it’s anti-inflammatory properties. And more than Epsom salt, it’s packed with lots of minerals that help balance pH.

I like to add dead sea salts with baking soda or Epsom salt with baking soda to my bath— usually a cup of each if the itch is bad. You can buy them at any natural food store or on Amazon.

  1. Borax/Boron. You might be familiar with Borax (sodium tetraborate) as a cleaning agent, but it can also be very soothing for an eczema flare. It helps lower inflammation and can be used to treat infection.

You’re probably starting to see a pattern that most of these have an anti-inflammatory response which helps decrease itching (but it’s all about finding out which ones work best for YOU).

Read here for further information on the many benefits of Borax, because like many of these remedies you can use it for many application.

  1. Essential Oils. Essential oils (EOs) have a variety of healing benefits, but you have to be very careful because for some people they can incite more of a flare. Even if they’re used in small, diluted quantities in the bath, they still can be a little caustic to the skin.

I tell people to use them very sparingly if you’re going to use them. Tea tree oil or lavender oil are the two that I tend to use most frequently and recommend starting out with.

Of all the EOs, tea tree oil is one of the best for treating eczema symptoms. It has antibacterial components that help fight infection and stop it from spreading. It also has antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties that reduce itching.

Lavender oil can be calming for both your mental and physical state. It helps restore and balance healthy nutrients in the skin which reduces irritation. Bonus- lavender also minimizes the stress that goes along with an eczema flare.

  1. Sitz Baths, Herbal Blends, and Chamomile Tea bags. If you’ve ever given birth, sitz baths are commonly recommended for their healing properties. I used them after both of my births and they significantly helped with the soothing and healing my skin.

I had an “A-ha” moment with my second baby last year because I’d had an eczema flare because of the hormones during pregnancy. I thought to myself, “Hey, I can probably use this for the eczema too,” so I tried it.

I actually bought Earth Mama Angel Baby (which just recently changed its name just to Earth Mama) since they make pre-made sitz bath pouches. I bought those because, quite frankly, who has the time to make them when you’ve got a new baby or kids or just have a busy life?

I also augmented it with dried chamomile that I got from a natural food store that I put that in cheesecloth or a sock if you don’t have cheesecloth. Soaking with those for about 20 minutes really soothes my skin (and my mind). Chamomile tea bags also work instead of preparing the dried herbs.

Bonus tip— sitz herbs are also recommended for hemorrhoids and diaper rash!

  1. Colloidal Oats. I put a big asterisk by this one because of the *gluten issue*, but some of my patients have experienced healing benefits from colloidal oats or oatmeal so I didn’t want to exclude it.

Many people with skin and gut issues tend to have problems with gluten internally and sometimes externally. Those with Celiac can get a skin manifestation called dermatitis herpetiformis. I’ve seen people who have not been diagnosed with Celiac, but do have the dermatitis herpetiformis and it’s misdiagnosed as eczema.

Now, the cool thing is, really, it doesn’t matter what you label something on the skin. You’re going to end up treating it essentially the same especially because these are all in the autoimmune realm.

Like I said, I’m really careful when it comes to recommending anything that is grain-based, but this is where bio individuality comes into play. One person’s poison can be another’s medicine. If you’re going to do this, make sure it’s gluten-free. If gluten is an issue for you, and you don’t know it yet, you want to make sure you’re not adding fuel to the fire.

You can read more about the uses and benefits of colloidal oats here.

  1. Hydrogen Peroxide. Most of us have this under our bathroom sink to clean out cuts or as a natural cleaner. When added to a bath, it helps disinfect eczema sores and promotes new cell growth.

Be sure to use a food grade hydrogen peroxide and add no more than one cup to your bath. I recommend starting off a little slower with maybe ½ cup to see how you tolerate it.

  1. Baking Soda. This is another household item that has many uses. I buy a giant bag at Costco because of the quantities I use and it’s way more economical. I add this to almost every bath for myself and kids even when I don’t have a flare because of its other benefits.

As I mentioned in #1, combined with Epsom salt it makes for a great detox bath.

  1. Apple Cider Vinegar. Similar to the previous point, apple cider vinegar is also multifunctional. It has compounds like riboflavin, vitamins, enzymes, and mineral salts which can improve the quality of your skin.

It acts as an astringent and helps remove surface bacteria that shows up when the skin is compromised from a flare.

Experiment with the quantities that work for you, but I would start by adding ½ – 1 cup to your bath.

Bottom Line

Many of these are items you likely already have in your home for other reasons, or you’ve built yourself a “natural medicine cabinet.” Start with one ingredient at a time. Go slowly by using ¼- ½ cup with of the powdered ingredients or single drops of essential oils initially, then work up to the full dose you need from there.

If something completely doesn’t work for you, try something else from the list. Remember that it may take some time to see what works for you and dial in your recipe. You can always tweak it once you see what works for you.

Most people will get some type of relief from something on the list, even if it’s only a small amount.

Resist the urge to go hog wild with any of the ingredients because you could end up stoking the flames and adding fuel to the fire. It’s so easy to go overboard when you finally find a remedy that provides some relief. But heed my words… don’t do it!! (I know from personal experience and it was a disaster!)

There’s no one blanket approach to calm an eczema flare which is why I like to suggest a variety of options. All of these are going to provide different healing properties. Some are going to balance the pH while others will have antimicrobial effects, but they’re all going to be anti-inflammatory to some extent.

Have you experimented with any of these healing baths? Let us know in the comments section!

Treating Eczema With Functional Medicine: 101

Understanding  an eczema outbreak is really complex. And like a child learning language, you have to understand the alphabet and sounds first before you can talk. Same goes for eczema.

To really understand an eczema outbreak, you have to first understand the difference between the way functional medicine and conventional medicine views it.

Why Functional Medicine?

Functional medicine (FM) is a “systems” way of thinking. And when we say “systems,” it’s not like conventional medicine that views the body as a group of isolated systems where you have a cardiologist for the heart, an endocrinologist for hormones, etc.  In FM, we view the systems, or areas of the body, as operating as a whole response to the environment (kind of like the operating system of a computer).

It makes perfect sense because each area influences the others.

A good analogy to help you understand functional medicine versus conventional medicine is to think about a tree. Visualize the entire tree with its roots, trunk, branches, and leaves.  Conventional medicine looks at one branch, whereas functional medicine views all of the branches, trunk, and roots. It’s going to look at the leaves and even further in-depth because we really want to understand what’s going on in the entire person.

When we do this, we take a really detailed history and look for root causes. It’s interesting that we look for root causes and use the tree analogy, because the goal is to find out what is foundationally disrupted in your body to figure out what’s causing the eczema flare.

Conventional medicine really tends to see eczema as something that doesn’t truly have a cause yet. When I was told that I had eczema the doctor said, “You’ve got eczema. There’s no known cure. See you later.” However, in functional medicine—and now even in the medical literature (check it out here)—they’re starting to talk about it as an autoimmune condition and starting to identify some causes of it. And that’s what we’re going to get into here a little bit later.

This is why taking a FM approach to looking at eczema really can help you get down to why things are happening.

The ATM Model

One of the foundational principles of understanding functional medicine is the concept of antecedents, triggers and mediators. We call it the ATM model. These are how a functional medicine practitioner frames an understanding of your entire life history and contributing factors to your condition. We’re looking at all of that to figure out how you got to where you are today.

Let’s start off with the antecedents, which are the predisposing factors. Those are things like genetics and family history, lifestyle, past illness, and exposures (occupational, home, or environmental), and are the underlying or precipitating cause of illness.

A key point regarding genetics and family history is that they aren’t life sentences. A lot of people think, “Oh, there’s cancer in my family. I’m going to get cancer.” That’s not necessarily the case. There are so many modifiable factors here that can prevent you from actually having that illness even though you might be very prone to having it. Great news!!

To recap: Genetics are largely modifiable. NOT your destiny. **Note, in a future post I’ll address genetic concerns such as the filaggrin protein and common SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) that matter to eczema suffers.

Triggers are what provoke the signs and symptoms of illness. Those are along the lines of infections, allergens, toxins, radiation, surgery, social conditions, and things of that nature. They’re going to combine with the antecedents to actually cause more signs and symptoms.

Last, the mediators perpetuate the illness. You can think about these on a biochemical or psychosocial level. Biochemically speaking, the hormones, neurotransmitters, metabolites, free radicals, and inflammatory chemicals are what perpetuate what’s going on. Once you have that genetic factors, plus the triggers, these mediators keep that cycle going. In the case of eczema, it’s going to cause the flare to continue.

The psychosocial factors—stress, thoughts, beliefs, community- are extraordinarily important in this model, but also in eczema. Stress is often the primary trigger and tipping point for most people (***remember stress can be emotional or physiological like trauma or infection…regardless of the source, it causes systemic biochemical changes that are bad if they continue for a prolonged period of time).

Eczema ATM’s

Genetics, family history, lifestyle, past illness, and environmental exposures are key antecedents for everyone. For example, if you have certain historical factors like a family history of autoimmunity or allergies, asthma, and eczema (the allergic triad) you’re much more likely to get eczema than the rest of the population.

The most common triggers I see in practice are infections, allergens, toxins, diet, and dysbiosis (an imbalance in the microorganisms in your body—not just in your gut, but all over your body).  In eczema, skin dysbiosis can be an important piece of the puzzle too.

The primary mediators of eczema are (without getting too crazy science-y):

  • Hormone imbalances (especially from stress and sex hormones). Cortisol, DHEA, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone imbalances can perpetuate inflammation and make eczema flares worse.
  • Depleted Nutrients. In practice it’s usually omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin D, antioxidants such as vitamin C and selenium, and minerals such as zinc and magnesium. Protein malabsorption can be an issue too since you need the amino acids to make collagen and skin tissue.
  • Inflammatory chemicals. Histamine, cytokines, and free radicals are major contributors here, though there’s a long list of players in this biochemical pool.
  • Impaired liver function. If you’re liver can’t function optimally, you can’t clear metabolic waste, toxins or hormones efficiently which are essential for a healthy gut and skin. This is often one of the key places we address first.
  • Leaky gut. This occurs when many of the above factors cause increased intestinal permeability allowing things into the bloodstream (like bacteria, toxins, proteins, etc.) that shouldn’t be there. This causes inflammation and immune system activation driving the eczema cycle.

I find for most of the clients we see in our virtual clinic is that stress is often the most significant factor, either as a trigger or as something that’s perpetuating, or both. We work on addressing it in its many forms, in many different ways.

To recap- if you’re having an eczema flare or a flare-up of any autoimmune condition-  you’re looking at: antecedents + the triggers + the mediators= cause of flare.

It’s a cyclical process that self-perpetuates until you identify the triggers and the root causes to stop this cycle. You must eliminate the root cause imbalances such as infections, hormone and nutrient imbalances, allergens, foods, etc., to get this cycle to stop. Then you actually need to take the proper steps to heal it (replacing nutrients, healing leaky gut, balancing hormones, improving liver function, etc.).

Real Life Eczema Example

I’m going to use myself as an example. I’m not necessarily proud of this, but we’re all human 😉

I was driving home from my sister’s this past Halloween. I had just thought to myself that I was so excited because I didn’t have any Halloween candy…. but then I did.

BAD IDEA!

About an hour later, it triggered a flare. And for me, the area where my eczema always, always, always starts is my left wrist and my left hand. They started itching like mad. I was scratching for four hours.

UGH!!!

Immediately, I went downstairs and took some anti-inflammatory nutrients because I knew I had to get at that flare before it became a full-blown outbreak. Yes, it is possible to dampen the effect of a flare once you have your eczema under control.

But for me, I had a major flare. My last major flare was 1.5- 2 years ago. I hadn’t had anything go on since then until I was pregnant recently and had a few minor flares (due to hormones) that went away quickly.

Let’s also review my ATM’s.

My major antecedent is the allergic triad in myself and family members.  As I mentioned above, the allergic triad is allergies, asthma and eczema. Most of that manifests in childhood, but not always. I only had allergies in childhood. Eczema started in my 30’s! If you have any of those, you’re also going to be more prone to autoimmunity as an adult.

And, eczema often accompanies other autoimmune conditions, not just in and of itself.

So I have 2 of the allergic triad, and a family history of autoimmunity and inflammation conditions. There’s lots of cardiovascular disease and diabetes in my family. Historically, I was bottle fed and was around smokers growing up which are also key antecedents in developing eczema.

My main trigger for this flare was hormone imbalance and dysbiosis that developed during pregnancy. In the gut, when your hormones such as progesterone are high, it slows things down in pregnancy. It sets the stage for things like leaky gut and dysbiosis to occur. This was something that I had experienced quite a bit of during my pregnancy (even though I tried my hardest to prevent it since I know what I know!!).

Diet was also a key trigger (especially the candy). I kept a clean, organic diet for the most part. However, after the birth, my diet has not been quite as tight. I’m gluten-free and try to be in the realm of Paleo/Autoimmune Paleo. But sometimes I have corn or dairy or beans. And those things have crept into my diet more frequently now that I’ve had the baby.

The candy just happened to be the breaking point for me… that little bit put me over the edge!

My primary mediators were hormone and nutrient imbalances from pregnancy and breastfeeding, leaky gut, and STRESS.

I’m going to reiterate stress here… I’ve got a new baby. I’ve got a 5 year old. I’ve got work. I’ve got life. Everybody’s got stress. But I currently feel like I have a lot on my plate. That’s the main mediator perpetuating the cycle for me.

And for me, stress is probably the number one factor that contributes to my flares every single time. When my stress levels get high, I can get a flare super easily. And I know that’s true for many of the people we work with in the clinic as well.

Another less obvious mediator is lack of sleep. Lack of sleep is a major contributor to manifesting any autoimmune condition, especially something like eczema. We heal and regenerate when we sleep. If you’re not sleeping well, it’s not happening.

Lastly, there’s the issue of support and community, or a lack thereof.  When you first have a baby, everyone comes and sees you for the first couple of weeks. And then it’s suddenly, it’s gone. This can leave you with a sense of feeling like you’re lacking community or lacking support. I won’t say that I feel that tremendously, but I feel it a little bit.

All of these things added up and resulted in my eczema flare.

I got it under control by tightening up my diet, doing some key supplementation, and topical salves.  Thankfully, this prevented it from erupting into a full-blown outbreak.

If you’re looking for more support in healing your eczema and understanding your root causes, you can always book a free 15-minute consult with our clinic:  http://drstephaniedavis.com/consultation/.

Do you know you’re root causes or ATM’s? Leave a comment below if you do!

3 Natural Eczema Remedies to Start Healing

Have you tried the drug store potions, over the counter (OTC) medications, or even prescriptions only to have little to no improvement in your eczema?

This is a common theme in my virtual clinic. We see many people that’ve tried everything, including things we recommend like diets or supplements, only to have a small change in their eczema. So, what’s going on??

The truth is that eczema, like any other chronic inflammatory or autoimmune condition, is complex and the causes are different for each person. This makes it difficult to treat, especially self-treat.

Super frustrating, right?

There’s a small percentage of people that can eliminate the common food triggers and take a couple of supplements, and achieve resolution of eczema. However, this is rare. If they don’t maintain their diet or have a major stressor, the eczema usually returns because they haven’t addressed the underlying causes.

You might be thinking- what do I do?

Addressing the root causes like stress, hormone imbalance, diet, gut infections, nutrient/vitamin deficiencies, and immune dysfunction provides long term resolution, but in the meantime here several natural eczema remedies to help control the symptoms and start healing.

Topicals

Don’t: Petroleum jelly goes under many names such a Vaseline®, petrolatum, mineral oil, or paraffin, and it’s a byproduct oil refining that contains compounds such as hydrocarbons that are harmful to health. It also seals the skin, trapping potentially harmful bacteria and letting the skin breathe.

Even worse, it can cause collagen breakdown which is the opposite of what you want if you have eczema.

Do: Shea butter, cocoa butter, coconut oil, and jojoba oil are all great options and each their own benefits. Some people find they work well alone, but in practice we’ve seen that people usually benefit from a combination.

You can purchase one like Moon Valley Organics EczaCalm (there are many other options available and we’ll be doing a review of our favorites so stay tuned).  You can also customize a blend of your own with our Healing Salve recipe. The recipe can be altered with different base butters, oils and essential oils.

Remember, topicals help soothe the skin, but real healing comes from inside the body.

Supplements

Supplements seem to be an obvious starting place for natural eczema treatment, but in reality are a complex task to tackle, especially alone.

Don’t: Sadly, we see many people that are either on 20-30 supplements at once (YES…this is real unfortunately) and have no relief and lots of wasted money!!

The truth is this could be making the situation worse since you don’t know what ingredients are helping or hurting. Plus, there are the fillers, binders, and additives to consider as well as the active ingredients that could be causing issues.

Do: Start simply. Use single or few ingredient products that are clean, well sourced, and have a good reason for you to invest in them.

Here are two great options that have worked well in our clinic:

Collagen Protein has many benefits. It’s a critical building block of our skin that is compromised with eczema and it helps heal the gut which is a primary root cause in eczema and other autoimmune conditions.

Bifidobacterium based probiotics reduce histamine and can help heal the gut. This 2008 study shows using B. infantis and B. longum reduced histamine signaling which can translate to less itching.

Diet

Again, diet is often difficult to navigate on your own (even harder than supplements). We’re all different and for some just taking out a couple of foods or food categories may work, but no one will ever respond to the same exact diet (not even identical twins).

Don’t: Taking on too many dietary changes at once can be overwhelming and lead to unnecessary (and unwanted) stress. Don’t try removing gluten, dairy, salicylates, and histamines all at once. This will leave you with nothing to eat and likely cause confusion.

Do:  Take baby steps with diet and monitor closely so you know what’s going on. An easy stepping stone is to remove all gluten or dairy products for 3-4 weeks minimum (you can do both if you’re willing). When you re-introduce them watch for reactions not only on your skin, but digestion, headaches, runny nose, fatigue, and achy muscles or joints.

Eggs, soy, corn, or nuts might be good options for you to test eventually too. If you find the main food allergens and sensitivities aren’t your problem, then it might be time to look at broad categories like salicylates or histamines.

The Bottom Line

These are all good, natural eczema remedies to start with and are things we recommend in the clinic while we’re working on reversing the root causes since the ultimate goal is healing on the inside and outside.

We’d love to hear what natural remedies have worked best for you?