Eczema is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that causes the skin to become red, itchy, dry and scaly. Eczema is, at least partially, an allergic/autoimmune disease because levels of allergic antibodies, known as Immunoglobulin E (IgE) are elevated in 80% of sufferers; most eczema sufferers also have positive allergy tests; and there is a genetic component of eczema in two-thirds of cases. The underlying abnormalities leading to eczema primarily originate in the immune system as well as the structural components of the skin. The increased activation of a particular white blood cell elevates IgE antibodies. There is also an increased production of histamine and other allergy-related compounds which result in the inflammation and itching that characterizes eczema. Another immune-system abnormality is a defect in the ability to kill bacteria; this, along with an imbalance of healthy bacteria and chronic itching, can contribute to an increased risk for skin infections.
It is increasingly common for some form of eczema to appear on a child’s skin from age six months to five years. While eczema isn’t contagious, there are certain environmental or foodborne triggers that may directly cause an eczema flare-up. Common food triggers include wheat (gluten), dairy, eggs and nuts. It’s also worthwhile to look into other common allergens such as corn and soy as possible triggers for eczema. Most people with eczema improve with a diet that eliminates common food triggers and allergens. It’s important to note that children experience eczema in different ways and are triggered by different things. Environmental irritants include heavy metals in the air or water, abrasive household cleaners and soaps, smoke, fragrances, certain fabrics like wool and polyester. Interestingly, an overgrowth of candida in the gastrointestinal tract has also been indicated as a causative factor in the development of eczema. Eliminating candida results in significant improvements in eczema flares.
It is important to understand the underlying causes of your child’s eczema and implement holistic strategies to heal it from the inside-out AND the outside-in. Over time, this will help to build your child’s defenses reducing and eliminating the reaction to foods trigger and chemicals.
Inflammatory Foods: Even if your child eats a healthy whole-foods diet, they still may be reacting to foods that typically induce an inflammatory response, but are still considered ‘healthy’. These can include night-shade family foods, such as sweet bell peppers, potatoes, eggplant, and tomatoes as well as chili peppers.
Try eliminating the most common inflammatory foods: gluten, dairy, soy, and corn. This will help to eliminate or reduce the severity of your child’s eczema internally by decreasing overall inflammation in the body. If you haven’t already, eliminate all processed foods from your child’s diet, as they are laden with colorings and other chemicals that may also be producing inflammation.
When babies develop eczema it often reveals itself as a rash on the cheeks or head (cradle cap), stomach or backs of legs & arms. Eczema is common in the first six months of life but generally clears up as the immune system develops.
If you notice your baby is developing eczema and you are breastfeeding, try eliminating the most common inflammatory foods and then slowly reintroduce over the course of several weeks, one at a time to see if you can identify reactive foods. Breastfeeding helps to build immunity so continue to breastfeed as long as possible. Many babies are sensitive & reactive to formula so if breastfeeding is not possible, look for the cleanest formula options available.
Encourage your child to eat foods rich in antioxidants such as blueberries, and as many anti-inflammatory foods as possible: dark leafy greens, broccoli, bok choy, celery, beets, fatty (low-mercury) fish, turmeric, ginger, coconut oil, nuts & seeds (including flax, chia & hemp), bone broth, herbal infusions.
Avoid histamine containing foods: Histamines induce an inflammatory response in the body, so naturally it’s best that your child avoid foods high in histamines in order to reduce overall inflammation. Histamines can travel throughout your entire body, affecting your gut, brain, lungs, cardiovascular system, and skin. These high histamine foods include: eggplant, spinach, tomatoes, bacon, avocados, citrus, and dried fruits.
Dysbiosis: Eczema is classified as an autoimmune/allergic disease. Did you know that up to 80% of our immune tissue is in the gut? It makes sense then to conclude that an imbalance in the gut may increase your child’s chances of developing an autoimmune condition such as eczema. Any effort that you make towards restoring balance in your child’s gut will most likely greatly reduce or even eliminate symptoms associated with eczema.
Determine if your child is suffering from dysbiosis caused by any of the following conditions: leaky gut, parasites, candida overgrowth, SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). If any of these conditions are present, work on correcting the imbalance with a sugar-free diet, probiotics, and herbs to help regulate the overgrowth of harmful microorganisms.
Environmental factors: chemical products impair immunity and dust, pollens, and pets can trigger allergic reactions that may result in inflammatory skin conditions.
Licorice: Mild laxative, supports digestion. Anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-viral and can help restore balance in the gut. Effective anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic effects will help to heal and soothe eczema from the inside out. Try licorice tea as a decoction with honey. No more than 4-5 grams/day.
Witch Hazel: Reduces itching and its astringent properties help to relieve oozing eczema. See below for a home-made tincture recipe.
Goldenseal: a powerful antiseptic herb that will help to clean and dry out oozing sores. See below for a home-made tincture recipe.
Marshmallow Root: A soothing demulcent that will help to ease inflammation by forming a protective film on the skin. See below for a homemade lotion recipe.
Lavender: Very healing and soothing. Will help to reduce redness, itching, and inflammation associated with eczema. Lavender can be used topically as an essential oil mixed with a carrier oil (such as jojoba) or in a bath. See also below for a home-made lotion recipe.
Make or purchase a 1:1 goldenseal, witch-hazel tincture. Put a few droppers full of the tincture in a small spray bottle of purified water. Spray on sores as needed.
Fill a 16oz jar ¾ full with dried marshmallow root. Fill jar will cold-pressed olive oil and allow to soak for two or more weeks. Strain out the herbs. Add 2 tsp of lavender essential oil. Mix well and apply to sores as needed.
Create an at home eczema cream: combine coconut oil or shea butter + raw honey and a few drops of lavender oil + a drop of tea tree oil.
Magnesium: Many say that a topical magnesium spray is helpful in improving skin barrier function as well as reducing the redness and roughness associated with eczema. (it may sting or itch at first, so start slow) A magnesium deficiency will increase the body’s production of histamines, increasing inflammation. To benefit from the internal and external benefits of magnesium, try magnesium flake baths for your child 2-3 times a week, if well tolerated.
Vitamin D: 10-15 minutes of sun exposure a day can significantly improve your child’s eczema during a flare-up. This practice can help to lower inflammation and itching while increasing vitamin D production and preventing the overgrowth of bacteria on the skin. In addition, eat Vitamin D rich foods such as: salmon, eggs, sardines, and cod liver oil. A Vitamin D supplement can also be very helpful. A general guideline for dosage is 35 units of Vitamin D per pound for children under 5, and 2500 units for children aged 5-10.
Probiotics: As mentioned previously, restoring balance in the gut will support your child’s immune system, which may, in turn, reduce the severity of their eczema. Include both probiotic supplements and fermented foods into their daily regimen. When supplementing with probiotics it’s important to use an effective dose. 5-10 billion colony forming units or more, containing strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, is suitable for children. Also try to incorporate probiotic containing foods into your child’s diet, including kombucha, kimchi, coconut yogurt, and miso.
Bone Broth: Bone broth contains gelatin and collagen which both help to heal an inflamed gut, which may be one of the underlying cause of your child’s eczema. Bone broth is also high in the amino acids glycine and arginine which support wound healing by synthesizing collagen and also encourage the production of glutathione, one of the most powerful antioxidants in the body. Bone broth also contains tons of highly absorbable minerals that can assist the body in easing inflammation. For best results, consume 8-12 oz per day. Bone broth can be store bought or made at home. If store-bought, make sure that the broth is gelatinous when cooled. This is a good indicator of the presence of collagen and gelatin.
Essential Fatty Acids: Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are notorious anti-inflammatory nutrients and are incredible for improving the structural integrity of skin cells. Help your child to get as many Omegas in their diet as possible. Try wild-caught fatty fish, cod liver oil, and/or flax oil and hemp oil. It is important for Omega 3’s and 6’s to be balanced in a proper ratio to promote an anti-inflammatory response. A proper ratio is 2:1 or 3:1 Omega 6’s to Omega 3’s. Typically the standard north american diet is around 10:1, skewed in favour of Omega 6’s, which actually encourages inflammation, resulting in eczema and other inflammatory conditions. For this reason, it’s wise to focus on Omega 3’s in order to correct this imbalance ratio. For children 2-3 years old, 300mg of Omega 3 per day is recommended. For children over 4, at least 600mg per day is recommended. This can be obtained through supplementation or with food. These dosages roughly translate to 6oz salmon twice a week for children over 4, and 3oz salmon twice a week for children under 4.
With good nutrition, healing root causes and supporting proper immune function, it is possible to prevent and heal eczema flare-ups.