Written by Danielle Solof
Essential Oils for Eczema Relief
Eczema is a condition where the skin can become red, itchy, dry, cracked, and/or inflamed. It comes from the Greek work ekzema, ek meaning “out” or “over” and zema meaning “boil”. Often, people with eczema develop small red bumps. Perhaps all those people in medieval literature with boils just had bad cases of eczema?
It’s estimated that around 30 million people in the United States alone suffer from eczema. Experiencing an eczema flare up can be taxing on a person. There is the physical discomfort of having itchy skin. Sufferers can also feel self conscious to expose any skin that is red and unsightly.
Eczema can look like a skin rash, but don’t worry- it’s not contagious. It’s most likely hereditary. It’s a reaction to something in the environment, applied to the skin, or ingested. Eczema is believed to be the body’s immune system overreacting to an irritant. Knowing what causes an eczema flare up for you is the best way to avoid one. Here are some common causes:
- Chemical Irritants- Be mindful of soaps, shampoos, detergents, household cleaners, disinfectants, and anything else that is applied to your skin or that your skin could come into contact with regularly.
- Allergens- Common allergens found in your home or environment like mold, pet dander, dandruff, and pollen can trigger eczema.
- Microorganisms- Viruses, bacteria, and fungi have also been found to cause eczema flare ups.
- Changes in Temperature- Temperature changes from hot to cold, humidity levels, and excessive sweating during exercise can all be causes.
- Food Allergies- Notice if eating dairy, soy, nuts, eggs, wheat, and/or seeds affect your skin.
- Clothing- Pay attention to how your skin reacts to wool and synthetic fibers.
I myself have eczema. I notice that long, cold, dry winters irritate my skin. I must use a thick, rich cream during the winter to minimize the effects. I also have to be careful of soap, especially on my hands. I must wear gloves while washing the dishes as dish soap always leads to a flare up. Most hand soaps in public restrooms can cause the same reaction, so it’s better if I bring my own, all natural soap. I also notice a flare up on my feet when I go running; it’s from the fabric of my socks rubbing on my skin. Avoiding dairy also helps my skin’s general health and vitality. How you and others are affected is likely to be different, but hopefully the example helps you see how one person can be affected in many different ways.
So if our ancestors gave it to us, and it’s a chronic condition (meaning, it’s going to keep happening), what’s a guy or gal covered in itchy skin to do? Fortunately, we have many options.
First, let’s talk about how to minimize the likelihood you will have a flare up.
- Avoid your irritants. That means to kill the mold in your bathroom and stop eating sunflower seeds, if those are your triggers. Maybe I should get new socks and stop tying my running shoes so tight?
- Stay moisturized! Dry skin is one of the most surefire ways to beg your eczema to show up. Stick with all natural moisturizers. This includes using soaps and cleansers that are chemical-free. It will ensure that you’re not exposing yourself to unnecessary, possible irritants.
- Consider using a humidifier. This is especially important if you live in an area with low humidity, and/or if the heater in your home dries out the indoor air. I can vouch for myself, visiting the tropics in the dead of winter clears up my weather-related eczema within a few days.
- Reduce stress. Being stressed out contributes to a laundry list of problems. Eczema is just one of them. So here's one more reason to relax!
So you’ve been a good little person, you’ve been doing everything right, and pop goes the eczema weasel. Relax- it’s normal. It’s to be expected.
If you see your family doctor or dermatologist, you’ll likely be prescribed a topical steroid cream. This generally calms down the reaction and gives the body time to heal. The downside is, they can thin the skin in the affected area, so generally one is advised to use them for short periods of time. You will also need a doctor’s prescription to get it.
Another option to consider is using essential oils containing anti-inflammatory properties with nourishing carrier oils. This would be an all natural option that could be used in addition to, or instead of, a cream prescribed by your doctor. Usually essential oils are pretty potent, so using a carrier oil to dilute them makes them easy to apply and ensures you are getting just the right amount of a good thing. Remember that each individual person will find that different things do and don’t work for them, so before trying any of these, test a small amount of the oil on a healthy spot of your skin to see if and how you react. If all goes well, then try it on your eczema. You may also want to consider adding one, or several, of these to a warm bath. The keyword here is warm as hot water could irritate your skin more.
Here are the essential oils we’ve found to be beneficial for eczema:
- Tea Tree - Tea tree oil is a go-to solution for a variety of skin conditions, so if skin issues are one of your issues, keep this on hand. It reduces inflammation and can be used for acne, sores, and itchiness.
- Eucalyptus - Another oil with an array of uses, eucalyptus oil has been used for pain relief and to reduce inflammation.
- Peppermint - Among its many uses, peppermint oil can be used topically to calm itchiness. It’s pretty potent, so definitely blend it with a carrier oil. Then enjoy the cool, tingly sensation. (Note: Keep this one for the adults. Some studies have noted that the topical application of peppermint oil can be harmful for children.).
- Fennel - This is another natural oil used to reduce inflammation. It’s a go-to if you love licorice.
- Calendula - This comes from the marigold flower and has shown to reduce pain and swelling.
- Lavender - This is a safe bet for many issues, with reducing inflammation being just one of them.
- Thyme - Used to reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation, this is a must try.
- Clove - Similar to thyme, it’s a commonly used to reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation. Is anyone else thinking we need to make an eczema salad with all of these?
- Chamomile - Chamomile has an overall calming effect on the body. It has been found to not only decrease inflammation, but also shown to be a sound maintenance option.
- Bergamot - Another great option to reduce inflammation is bergamot. It’s also used to boost energy and mood.
- Rose - In addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, rose has been found to have antidepressant and aphrodisiac properties. Guess who’s skin isn’t itchy tonight? [wink, wink]
- Turmeric - Tumeric is becoming all the rage in anti-inflammation circles. Add it to your food or put a few drops in your skin care routine.
Carrier oils can be used as the base for a moisturizer. The idea is you make a mixture of this with whatever essential oil(s) you want to use. Aim for 4 drops of essential oils for every tablespoon of carrier oil. If it’s too strong, just add more carrier oil.
- Sweet Almond Oil - Hydrating and relieving itchiness, this is a mild and hypoallergenic oil.
- Borage Oil - This oil contains a fatty acid that our bodies convert into a hormone-like substance with anti-inflammatory properties. Who knew?
- Jojoba Oil - This is another ingredient commonly found in body-care products, and with good reason. It is an excellent moisturizer as it closely resembles human sebum. Some studies have shown it can calm skin irritation.
- Baobab Oil - This oil is not greasy and it absorbs quickly into the skin. It’s also rich in vitamins A, D, and E. This is perfect for an everyday hand moisturizer.
- Coconut Oil - This is another excellent option as it’s both anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory. Coconut oil is a stable for anyone with dry, cracked skin.
- Rosehip Seed Oil - This is another staple for skin conditions. It is highly moisturizing, reduces itchiness, and, like The Great Wall, acts as a protective barrier, just for the skin.
- Sunflower Seed Oil - This oil is high in vitamin E, which can help reduce skin inflammation.
- Evening Primrose Oil - This oil helps with many eczema symptoms, including redness, swelling, crusting, and itchiness. It also sounds decadent for anyone wishing to be a lady.
Choose whatever mixture of carrier oil and essential oil work best for you. I tend to keep coconut oil and sweet almond oil on hand as carrier oils and mix in peppermint, lavender, tea tree, chamomile, and rose essential oils. Using the Hello to Natural Shea Butter, which already has many of these oils mixed together, as my regular moisturizer really helps to keep my eczema at bay. Whenever I do have a flare up, mixing that with a steroid cream calms it down in no time.
So go forth, young, itchy grasshopper. Happy mixing, testing, and experimenting.