Every year, nearly 6.5 million Canadians suffer from eczema, according to the Canadian Dermatology Association. Worldwide, it affects 1.8 billion children and adults. YIKES! You’re probably here because you yourself suffer from the skin condition, or someone you love does. Don’t worry, we’re here to help! Let’s talk about what eczema is, the different types, the causes and finally how to treat it!
What is eczema?
Eczema is a skin disorder that causes inflammation and results in symptoms such as dry, itchy skin, rashes, scaly patches, blisters, and skin infections.3 Okay, so let’s dig a little deeper to understand what’s really going on inside your body when you have eczema. *Puts on thick-rimmed glasses to look studious.*
Your skin is made up of three layers, the epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous tissues. In healthy skin, the epidermis, also commonly referred to as the skin barrier, protects your skin from environmental stressors such as UV rays, allergens, and bacteria. It also acts as a water barrier ensuring your skin maintains a healthy level of hydration. When you have eczema, your skin barrier is weaker and overresponds to your immune cells. This means that your skin barrier is allowing allergens, bacteria, and other environmental stressors to enter your epidermis. From there, your immune cells travel to your lymph nodes, located in your dermis, and activate your T-cells to help fight the bacteria and allergens. The T-cells release chemicals that cause the signature eczema rash and inflammation. Typically, these chemicals stop after a short time, but if you have eczema your immune system doesn’t stop when it should. Even when your skin looks clear, you still have chronic inflammation in your dermis.10
What are the different types of eczema?
There are actually SEVEN different types of eczema. Let’s take a look at each type:
By far the most common type of eczema experienced and the most well-known. When you think of typical eczema, this is the type you’re picturing.
An itchy rash or skin irritation caused by CONTACT with an allergen or irritant.
There are two types of contact dermatitis: irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis. You guessed it, the former results in damage to your skin cells which causes irritation, the latter triggers an allergic reaction within your immune system.
Dr. Jeff Yu, a dermatologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, shares “the cause is almost always contact with something in your topical products, whether this is shampoo, make-up remover, perfume, essential oil diffusers, paints, glues or a topical antibiotic.” 11
This type of eczema only affects the hands and feet. It causes small, deep, extremely itchy blisters that look like little bubbles. Women are more likely to suffer from this type of eczema and it’s triggered by metals, like nickel, stress, seasonal allergies, and hot, humid weather.12
Aka discoid eczema is characterized by coin-sized, itchy lesions. Sometimes they ooze liquid, and they have red, pinkish or brown, scaly, and inflamed skin around the spots. The causes are widely unknown, but sometimes it can be a secondary eczema to atopic dermatitis or contact dermatitis. It’s also thought to be triggered by dry, sensitive skin or external factors such as scrapes or chemical contact. 14
A chronic form of eczema only found on parts of the body with the most sebaceous glands (aka oily glands). Common affected areas include the scalp, face, upper chest, upper back, armpits, and groin area. It causes inflammation, scaly patches, flakiness, dryness, peeling and itching.15
Aka gravitational dermatitis, aka venous eczema, is caused by poor circulation in the legs. It causes ankle swelling, orange-brown speckles, itchiness, scaling and dryness. If left untreated it can lead to ulcers, skin thickening, hardening, and darkening.16
The intense itch caused by eczema can lead to neurodermatitis. Most common on the feet, ankles, hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck, and scalp—anywhere you can reach to itch! It makes the skin thick, leathery, scaley, and discolored. It can also lead to hair loss on the scalp.13
What causes eczema?
We’re going to focus on atopic dermatitis today, since it’s the most common type of eczema. As we mentioned above, at its root, eczema is caused by skin barrier damage/misfunction, and an overactive immune response. Genetics may predisposition you to have a weaker skin barrier and atypical immune response, but there are other factors that play into both of those.
What damages your skin barrier?
Your skin barrier plays an important role in keeping your skin healthy and radiant so it’s important to keep it at its best. According to Web MD, many things can damage your skin barrier. These include:
- Stress and Anxiety
- Allergens, irritants, and pollutants
- A dry or humid environment
- Hot or cold weather
- Too much sun exposure
- Hot baths or showers
- Harsh soaps or detergents
- Poor skincare
- Cuts or injuries
- Eating lots of unhealthy foods
- Overwashing or exfoliating
- Certain medications, like steroids
- Mental or physical stress
- Lack of sleep
- Family history of skin conditions
- Being of certain ethnicities
That’s A LOT! Don’t worry; we’ll get to some natural skincare treatments and diet changes you can make to help with your eczema.
Eczema vs Psoriasis vs Ringworm
After taking a look at the seven different types of eczema above, you’ve probably already drawn some connections to other skin disorders like psoriasis and ringworm. Most commonly, atopic dermatitis and neurodermatitis can be confused with psoriasis because of the red, itchy, flaky, and sometimes scaly inflammation it can cause to the skin. When it comes to the fungus infection, ringworm, nummular dermatitis can look very similar. It’s always important to get a proper diagnosis so you can correctly treat your skin condition. If you’re not sure, you should visit a doctor or a dermatologist. They might need to scrape off some skin samples to confirm your diagnosis. Check out the graphic below to see just how similar these skin disorders can be.
Top Five Best Natural Skincare Treatments for Eczema
If you’ve had chronic eczema for a while, you’ve probably been treated with topical steroid creams which work in the short term, but they create a vicious cycle. Your skin clears up, but after you stop using the steroids your eczema comes right back! And no one wants to be on steroid creams for too long. They can cause skin thinning, stretch marks, easy bruising, spider veins, and ironically more skin itching, burning, redness! No thanks! Let’s take a look at the top five skincare ingredients to naturally treat your eczema.
Tea Tree Oil –Tea tree oil helps fight the two most common types of bacteria that can worsen eczema infections.2,7,9 Tea tree oil also has strong anti-inflammatory properties which can help reduce redness and itchiness caused by eczema.
Green Tea— Green tea is a powerhouse to drink or apply topically! Green tea contains flavonoids, tannins and is high in the EGCG antioxidant. Combined, it tackles inflammation and skin bacteria.8
Aloe Vera – We all know that aloe vera is great for treating sunburns, but did you know those same anti-inflammatory properties are also great for your atopic dermatitis? On top of that, it contains lupeol, salicylic acid, urea nitrogen, cinnamonic acid, phenols, and sulfur to tackle bacteria and promote healing.6
Our go-to’s is our Hyaluronic Acid serum!
Coconut Oil— Beth Goldstein shares “coconut oil can help with cracks and water loss in the top layer of the skin by providing key essential fatty lipids. These lipids improve the barrier function of the skin, allowing it to feel supple and hydrated as a result.” A 2013 study looked at the effects of applying virgin coconut oil to the skin in children. It found that using the oil for 8 weeks improved the symptoms of eczema.”4
Our Sweet Like Mango body butter is packed with coconut oil and other intense moisturizers.
Lavender Oil – Lavender oil has pain-relieving and numbing effects, as well as beta-caryophyllene which is a natural anti-inflammatory. Debra Jaliman says “Lavender is particularly good for people with redness due to rosacea and skin that is irritated by eczema.” An added bonus, lavender oil is full of antioxidants which tackle free radicals and provide anti-aging effects.
How to treat eczema naturally with diet and nutrition?
Since the root cause of eczema is inflammation within caused by a misfunctioning immune system and a weakened skin barrier, it’s important to ensure your diet and nutrition are working for you and not against you. “Seventy percent of the immune system is located in the gut,” says David Heber, MD, PhD, professor emeritus of medicine at UCLA Health. “Nutrition is a key modulator of immune function.” Let’s look at how you can promote a healthy gut and healthy immune system.
- Get Enough Fiber – According to the Canadian Department of Health, nearly half of Canadians aren’t getting enough fiber. Fiber is linked to decreasing inflammation in the body and strengthening your immune system. It is recommended that Canadian women consume 25 grams of fiber per day and men consume 38 grams.
- Avoid Eggs & Dairy – These have been studied as top potential contributors to allergic reactions and chronic inflammation causing eczema in both children and adults. Try eliminating these for at least 3 months to see if your skin improves.
- Vitamins A, C, D & E – Each of these vitamins play their own special role in keeping your immune system functioning properly. From antioxidants, preventing infections or fighting infections off once they’re in your system, be sure to get your vitamins from foods like veggies, seafood, almonds, and nuts.
- Zinc – It’s recommended to add this as a supplement (specifically zinc citrate and zinc picolinate, 40-50 mg/day) if you have eczema or other skin conditions because you’re most likely deficient and you can’t have too much. Zinc maintains the integrity of collagen, kills skin bacteria, anti-inflammatory and helpful in times of high stress.
- Omega 3’s – These are essential fatty acids, meaning we cannot produce them ourselves. They are anti-inflammatory, hydrating, and essential to healthy, clear skin. You can get your omega 3’s through your diet by adding salmon, cold-pressed olive oil and chia seeds, walnuts to your daily routine, or take a fish oil supplement.
Sources & References
- Bridgman, Alanna C, et al. “Canadian Burden of Skin Disease from 1990 to 2017: Results from the Global Burden of Disease 2017 Study [Formula: See Text].” Journal of Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery, SAGE Publications, 29 Jan. 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7109598/.
- Carson, C. F., et al. “Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil: A Review of Antimicrobial and Other Medicinal Properties.” Clinical Microbiology Reviews, vol. 19, no. 1, 2006, pp. 50–62., https://doi.org/10.1128/cmr.19.1.50-62.2006.
- “Eczema Causes, Triggers & Symptoms.” National Eczema Association, 14 Jan. 2022, https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/.
- Evangelista, Mara Therese, et al. “The Effect of Topical Virgin Coconut Oil on SCORAD Index, Transepidermal Water Loss, and Skin Capacitance in Mild to Moderate Pediatric Atopic Dermatitis: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Clinical Trial.” International Journal of Dermatology, vol. 53, no. 1, 2013, pp. 100–108., https://doi.org/10.1111/ijd.12339.
- Kephas, Eric. “There Is No Such Thing as a Healthy Tan – Southern Ohio Medical Center.” SOMC, 2 Aug. 2015, https://www.somc.org/news-events/news/no-healthy-tan/#:~:text=Spring%20and%20summer%20is%20the,to%20your%20skin%20cells’%20DNA.
- McDonell, Kayla. “4 Natural Ways to Get Rid of Pimples as Fast as Possible.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 3 July 2020, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/get-rid-of-pimples-fast#aloe-vera.
- Orchard, Ané, and Sandy Van Vuuren. “Commercial Essential Oils as Potential Antimicrobials to Treat Skin Diseases.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2017, 2017, pp. 1–92., https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/4517971.
- Pazyar N, Feily A, Kazerouni A. Green tea in dermatology. Skinmed. 2012 Nov-Dec;10(6):352-355. PMID: 23346663.
- Roosta N, Black DS, Peng D, Riley LW. Skin disease and stigma in emerging adulthood: impact on healthy development. J Cutan Med Surg. 2010 Nov-Dec;14(6):285-90. doi: 10.2310/7750.2010.09053. PMID: 21084021.
- Sinha, Priyam, et al. “New Perspectives on Antiacne Plant Drugs: Contribution to Modern Therapeutics.” BioMed Research International, vol. 2014, 2014, pp. 1–19., https://doi.org/10.1155/2014/301304.
- “Understanding Eczema Symptoms & Causes: ECZEMA Exposed.” Home, https://www.eczemaexposed.com/understanding-eczema.
- “What Is Contact Dermatitis and How Is It Treated?” National Eczema Association, 2 Dec. 2021, https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/types-of-eczema/contact-dermatitis/.
- “What Is Dyshidrotic Eczema and How Do You Know If You Have It?” National Eczema Association, 2 Dec. 2021, https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/types-of-eczema/dyshidrotic-eczema/.
- “What Is Neurodermatitis and How Do You Know If You Have It?” National Eczema Association, 2 Dec. 2021, https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/types-of-eczema/neurodermatitis/.
- “What Is Nummular Eczema and What Should You Do If You Have It?” National Eczema Association, 2 Dec. 2021, https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/types-of-eczema/nummular-eczema/.
- “What Is Seborrheic Dermatitis and How Do You Know If You Have It?” National Eczema Association, 2 Dec. 2021, https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/types-of-eczema/seborrheic-dermatitis/.
- “What Is Stasis Dermatitis and How Do You Know If You Have It?” National Eczema Association, 2 Dec. 2021, https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/types-of-eczema/stasis-dermatitis/.