Eczema Explained: How To Break Free From Dry, Inflamed Skin & Find Healing

Eczema

Do you deal with dry, inflamed, flaky, irritated skin? If so, you’re not alone. A staggering 35 million people suffer from the frustrating dry skin condition known as eczema in the U.S. alone and millions more are somewhere on the larger skin-inflammation spectrum. The sad part is, a huge portion of those people have no idea what the underlying causes are or how to manage this often severe skin condition. 

I’m guessing by now you’ve tried several ointments, creams, and home remedies; or maybe this is the first you’re even noticing your skin looking and feeling irritated. Here’s a practical, functional medicine guide to managing eczema and identifying its root causes.

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What is Eczema? 

Atopic Dermatitis, more commonly known as Eczema, is a dry skin condition that causes the skin to be red and itchy. Eczema can be long-lasting and can periodically flare up depending on the weather or your surroundings. Oftentimes symptoms come to the surface around the age of 5, but since every case is different others can notice their eczema was first triggered in adulthood. To overcome this issue, identifying the root cause is the first step. 

Triggers, causes and how to approach them: 

Possible triggers and causes for children can be: 

  • Bacteria
  • Dry skin
  • Food sensitivities  
  • Familial factors
  • Scratching
  • Climate
  • Teething and lack of sleep 
  • Sweat 
  • Underlying gut problems
  • Environmental stressors

When you see everyday materials and things like saliva becoming an issue for your child’s skin, take note of the foods and allergens that trigger the irritation. Studies show that cotton is less likely to irritate the skin, compared to harsher materials like polyester or wool. Paying attention to the smaller details like what detergent you wash with can make all the difference. 

Possible triggers and causes for adults can be: 

  • Food sensitivities 
  • Climate
  • Anxiety & stress 
  • Detergents 
  • Scented products 
  • Allergies
  • Exercise 
  • Hormonal changes 
  • Skin infections & saliva 
  • Decreased level of lipids
  • Increased bacteria on body
  • Underlying gut issue
  • Environmental stressors

The key point in managing eczema is more than just applying the right creams and ointments, but also to find out what your particular triggers and causes are. At my functional medicine telehealth clinic we prioritize uncovering the root drivers of each client, offering consultations via webcam worldwide.

What Functional Medicine Approaches Can Help With Managing Eczema? 

Probiotics

As a Functional Medicine Practitioner who consults people around the world I’ve seen enough cases to know that more often than not, inflammation is the undercurrent to most health issues in the body. When it comes to skin inflammation, L. rhamnosus is a probiotic colony that is being explored for skin health, as it helps manage gut and immune health. This probiotic as well as L. plantarum help produce more filaggrin, a protective barrier for the skin, lower the chances of extreme allergies, and reduce severity in skin conditions. When using probiotics like these, you can decrease the likelihood of living with extreme eczema. 

Ointments and Oils 

With Atopic Dermatitis, it’s important to keep your skin moisturized at all times. People living with eczema have a weaker skin barrier and skin microbiome. With this damaged protective barrier, the skin is vulnerable to airborne allergens and irritating chemicals from materials. When this happens, it’s a lot more difficult for the skin to retain moisture, causing the skin to be dryer and more irritated. Products like ointments, moisturizers, and oils are best when it comes to applicable treatments and natural ingredients that will repair the protective barrier.

Borage Oil

Borage Oil is not known to prevent eczema all together, but it can help those with mild cases and want to take a natural route. Running high on fatty acids like gamma and linolenic acid, Borage Oil can help increase and maintain flaggarin in the body. 

Coconut Oil

Virgin coconut oil can decrease the inflammation levels in the skin and preserve the protective skin barrier. This kitchen staple was shown to improve mild cases of eczema in just 8 weeks when it was applied daily. Coconut oil moisturizes the skin, working to prevent the issue of dry skin early on. 

Sunflower Oil

Sunflower Oil enhances hydration in your skin, and can even calm down the extreme side effects of eczema. When applied daily, sunflower oil can repair damaged skin and lock in moisture.

Hemp Seed Oils

Hemp Seed Oils are doubled up on my favorite kind of fatty acids, Omega-3 and Omega-6. These are often found in foods like fatty fish, shellfish, and plants. Fatty oils that seal in moisture have shown improvements in itchiness, redness, and dryness in skin.

Aloe Vera

With aloe vera being a natural moisturizer, any cream, oil, or ointment made with or including Aloe Vera will improve the overall immunity and dryness of your skin, while reducing the likelihood of wrinkles. However, I do recommend choosing quality aloe vera products that avoid any harsh and harmful ingredients that can irritate the skin. 

Light Therapy

Low doses of LED light and blue light therapy have been shown to help lower disease/condition severity. The radiation from UV lights help with inflammation, immune response, and infectious skin bacteria in eczema cases. 

Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting helps identify where your gut health is really at, and believe it or not it can be beneficial for inflammatory skin conditions. In my book, Intuitive Fasting, I talk about how chronic inflammation is the common issue beneath most major and minor diseases and dysfunctions in the body. A key benefit of intermittent fasting is that inflammation levels lower and the gut microbiome balances significantly.

Elimination Diets

Oftentimes, food allergies and sensitivities are directly linked to extreme cases of eczema or eczema flare ups. Through an elimination diet you can slowly cut out and reintroduce certain foods to see if that is one of the root causes of your irritated skin. In my book, The Inflammation Spectrum, I talk about this at length.

Colloidal oatmeal baths

Oat in its natural state is known to help improve and soothe dryness, itchiness, rashes and other severe symptoms of eczema. Studies showed that colloidal extracts of oat, often a powder form, also have anti-inflammatory properties.

Eczema can be extremely uncomfortable and frustrating but the beauty of what I do clinically  is that there are many tools, protocols, and therapies in the functional medicine toolbox to help improve and reduce skin flares like eczema.

As one of the first functional medicine telehealth clinics in the world, we provide webcam health consultations for people around the globe. 

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References:

  1. Binghamton University. (2020, June 24). Biomedical researchers get closer to why eczema happens: New study examines link between lipids and bacteria to aid 35 million Americans who suffer from atopic dermatitis. 
  2.  “Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Clinic Book Of Home Remedies, 6 Apr. 2020, 
  3. Higuera, Valencia. “13 Severe Eczema Triggers And How To Avoid Them.” Healthline, 1 May 2019, 
  4. Danby SG, AlEnezi T, Sultan A, Lavender T, Chittock J, Brown K, Cork MJ. Effect of olive and sunflower seed oil on the adult skin barrier: implications for neonatal skin care. Pediatr Dermatol. 2013 Jan-Feb;30(
  5. “Intermittent Fasting for Eczema + Psoriasis.” Droughtskin, Droughtskin, 21 Sept. 2020, 
  6. Becker D, Langer E, Seemann M, Seemann G, Fell I, Saloga J, Grabbe S, von Stebut E. Clinical efficacy of blue light full body irradiation as treatment option for severe atopic dermatitis. 
  7. Foster RH, Hardy G, Alany RG. Borage oil in the treatment of atopic dermatitis. Nutrition. 2010 Jul-Aug;26(7-8)
  8. Meduri NB, Vandergriff T, Rasmussen H, Jacobe H. Phototherapy in the management of atopic dermatitis: a systematic review. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 2007 Aug;23(4)
  9. “Controlling Eczema by Moisturizing.” National Eczema Association
  10. Goddard, A. L., & Lio, P. A. (2015). Alternative, Complementary, and Forgotten Remedies for Atopic Dermatitis. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine 
  11. Wietske Andrea Christoffers, Pieter‐Jan Coenraads, Åke Svensson, Thomas L Diepgen, Janine L Dickinson‐Blok, Jun Xia, Hywel C Williams, Cochrane Skin GroupCochrane Database Syst Rev. 2019 Apr; 2019(4):
  12. Atopic Eczema In Children. Vol. 57, RCOG Press, 2007. 
  13. Callaway, J.C. Hempseed as a nutritional resource: An overview. Euphytica 140, 65–72 (2004)
  14. Lee D, Kim HS, Shin E, Do SG, Lee CK, Kim YM, Lee MB, Min KY, Koo J, Kim SJ, Nam ST, Kim HW, Park YH, Choi WS. Polysaccharide isolated from Aloe vera gel suppresses ovalbumin-induced food allergy through inhibition of Th2 immunity in mice. Biomed Pharmacother. 2018 May;101:201-210. doi: 
  15. Reynertson, K. A., Garay, M., Nebus, J., Chon, S., Kaur, S., Mahmood, K., Kizoulis, M., & Southall, M. D. (2015). Anti-inflammatory activities of colloidal oatmeal (Avena sativa) contribute to the effectiveness of oats in treatment of itch associated with dry, irritated skin. Journal of drugs in dermatology : JDD, 14(1), 43–48.

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BY DR. WILL COLE

Evidence-based reviewed article

Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.