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Stop the Itch: Home Remedies To Help Manage Eczema

Colloidal oatmeal, petroleum jelly and other around-the-home products can help provide needed relief

jar of coconut oil-based cream next to a cut open coconut on a bath towel

If you’re one of the many millions of people dealing with eczema, odds are you’re focused on one thing: MAKE THE ITCHING STOP!

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Red, dry and angry patches of skin are common with eczema, commonly diagnosed as atopic dermatitis. The discomfort the condition brings during a flare-up can make it difficult to get through the day.

So, what can you do to calm unhappy skin? Dermatologists John Anthony, MD, and Gowri Kabbur, MD, know a few home eczema remedies that may help.

Natural remedies for eczema

There’s no single best treatment for eczema, but there are a handful of natural eczema treatments that prove helpful for some people. Here are seven to try in your quest for eczema relief.

Colloidal oatmeal

Oatmeal isn’t just tasty and healthy to eat. It’s also fabulous for your skin, which explains why it’s found in numerous bath soaks, body lotions and creams.

So, what is colloidal oatmeal? It’s basically the same oats you eat at breakfast. But the difference is in the processing. Colloidal oatmeal is ground into a fine (and rather unappetizing) powder.

Applying an oatmeal-based product to your skin can help calm inflammation and dryness that are common in eczema. “It’s soothing to the skin and really helpful for some people,” says Dr. Anthony.

Bleach bath

It may sound strange and even unsafe, but adding a wee bit of bleach to your bath may help tame an eczema breakout. It’s a treatment that has been used for decades, shares Dr. Kabbur.

“Bleach is championed by a lot of dermatologists as a safe and effective home method to control eczema,” she says. “It has been proven to reduce itch, which provides so much relief.”

But it’s important to only add just a tiny amount of bleach. (We are talking about a household cleaning workhouse best known for its ability to kill mold and bacteria, after all, so caution is advised.)

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Dr. Kabbur recommends adding a 1/4 cup (59 milliliters) to a 1/2 cup (118 ml) of plain bleach to a filled bathtub. (Use the lower amount for small children.) Soak in the mixture for about 10 minutes, then rinse with plain water. Bleach baths can be taken two to three times a week.

If you’re more of a shower person, using a sodium hypochlorite (bleach) body wash while rub-a-dubbing can bring a similar benefit.

Vinegar bath

Can’t get into the idea of bathing in bleach? Then, maybe a vinegar bath is more your speed.

The use of vinegar as a protective and healing body wash dates back to ancient times. It should be noted that Hippocrates — often called the “father of modern medicine” — was said to be a fan.

Belief remains in some circles that products such as apple cider vinegar or white vinegar can boost your skin’s health, notes Dr. Anthony. It’s tied to acidity levels in vinegar and your skin’s ideal pH balance.

But does it really work? Well, evidence is more anecdotal than scientific. “It isn’t likely to cause problems if you try it,” he says.

The National Eczema Association suggests using 2 cups of vinegar in a warm bath and soaking for 15 to 20 minutes. Wraps soaked in a diluted vinegar solution also can be used. Consider treating a small patch of skin before going full body, too.

Coconut oil

Want to ease your eczema? The secret may come from the tropics.

Coconut oil offers a moisturizing magic that can reduce skin dryness and itchiness, shares Dr. Anthony. It works to decrease transepidermal water loss, a fancy term for the amount of H2O that evaporates through your skin.

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Other benefits of coconut oil include antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that can combat infection and soothe irritated skin.

The product is extremely gentle on skin, too — so much so that it’s great for young children with eczema. Researchers found that the use of topical virgin coconut oil over eight weeks improved skin condition.

Now, will coconut oil cure eczema? No. But it can relieve symptoms and make you feel immensely better.

Sunflower seed oil

Many of the perks associated with coconut oil also apply to sunflower seed oil. Fatty acids in the oils naturally boost skin moisture. (And, yes, both products can be pantry items — but in many ways, they’re far better for use on your skin than in your diet.)

“Sunflower seed oil has been tested quite a bit for skin care and there’s good evidence behind it,” says Dr. Kabbur. “It works well as a moisturizer.”

Petroleum jelly

It’s not glamorous, but Vaseline® petroleum jelly is a medicine cabinet staple that can be an excellent moisturizer. Dr. Kabbur calls it a “workhorse” skin care product that’s safe, affordable and easy to use.

“It’s an excellent skin emollient that helps seal moisture into your skin,” she says. “It works great for people with eczema.”

As we all know, though, Vaseline can be greasy. Very, very greasy. The solution?

“Put Vaseline on while your skin is still wet after a shower when it will be a lot easier to rub in,” advises Dr. Kabbur. “Then, just towel off like normal. It’ll eliminate some of the excess grease while staying on your skin and providing moisturization.”

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Cool compress

A cool, wet washcloth applied to inflamed skin can help soothe pain and itching, Dr. Anthony says. After applying the compress, gently rub a fragrance-free moisturizer into your skin.

Eczema remedies you can skip

Not every treatment idea you hear about or find online is helpful. Dr. Anthony and Dr. Kabbur suggest staying away from these supposed remedies:

  • Anti-itch ointments and sprays. Topical anti-itch products can include ingredients that can irritate eczema ­— which is not a step in the right direction. “I usually recommend avoiding these in general,” says Dr. Kabbur.
  • Essential oils. Essential oils (like tea tree oil) are often touted as natural cures. Don’t buy the hype. “Essential oils can sometimes cause irritation and make the problem worse,” warns Dr. Kabbur. “They’re often highly concentrated and not good for the skin.”
  • Botanicals. Plants are natural so they must be gentle, right? Not necessarily. Creams with botanical ingredients such as calendula can trigger extra irritation and allergies, cautions Dr. Anthony.
  • Evening primrose oil. Some claim this herbal supplement helps reduce eczema symptoms. There’s no solid scientific evidence to show that it helps.
  • Olive oil. The use of olive oil for skin care has grown in recent years. It’s a trend that should stop. Research shows olive oil may decrease skin barrier function or even cause a fungal rash. “Keep olive oil in your diet and off your skin,” advises Dr. Kabbur.

Tips to treat eczema in babies and children

Eczema is common in babies and kids. It can make for difficult and upsetting situations. So, what can parents do? Try these four tips to help little ones feel a bit more comfortable:

  • Embrace distraction. As a parent, it’s tempting to just tell your kid to stop scratching at that eczema spot. “I understand the urge, but it’s not helpful,” stresses Dr. Anthony. So, instead of giving kids a command they can’t obey, try distracting them instead. Play hide-and-seek. Go for a bike ride. Bake cookies. “Anything you can do to take their mind off the itchiness is a good thing,” he says.
  • Skip the suds. Bubble baths may be fun, but they also can be harsh on the skin. “They can make eczema problems worse,” cautions Dr. Kabbur.
  • Trim nails. If your child has long or sharp fingernails, any scratching could result in torn skin. “That can increase the risk for infection and flare-ups of eczema,” states Dr. Kabbur. So, keep fingernails trimmed short.
  • Protect skin from scratches. Choose clothing that covers itchy areas to keep fingernails off the skin, recommends Dr. Anthony.

Final thoughts

Home remedies for eczema are fabulous — if they work. Don’t let a case of eczema linger while you keep trying DIY treatments.

“Seek care from a healthcare professional,” advises Dr. Kabbur. “We have excellent treatments available, both non-prescription and prescription. There are methods to control eczema so it doesn’t affect your day-to-day life as much.”

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