When you have a flare of eczema (the most common type is also known as atopic dermatitis), it’s hard to think about anything else. The red, angry patches are insanely itchy — so, so itchy.
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Are there any eczema home treatments that can help calm your unhappy skin? Dermatologist John Anthony, MD, describes what natural remedies for eczema might help — and which you can skip.
Natural remedies for eczema
There’s no single best treatment for eczema, Dr. Anthony says. But several natural eczema treatments prove helpful for some people — including babies, kids and adults. Here are some to try.
Colloidal oatmeal is found in a variety of bath soaks and body lotions. It can help calm inflammation that’s common in eczema, Dr. Anthony says. “It’s soothing to the skin and really helpful for some people.”
It sounds strange, but adding bleach to your bath might be helpful. Bleach can kill bacteria associated with skin infections in eczema. Add 1/2 cup of regular-strength (6%) bleach to a full bath. For a baby bath, add one teaspoon of bleach per gallon of water. Make sure you talk to your doctor first before trying out this method.
Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar may have some antibacterial properties. Though there’s not enough data to suggest it’s helpful for eczema, Dr. Anthony says it isn’t likely to cause problems. If you’re wary of a bleach bath, consider adding vinegar to your bath instead.
Coconut oil is popular for everything from cleaning teeth to conditioning hair. Does it make a good moisturizer for eczema-prone skin? It’s possible.
There’s no data that shows coconut oil is better than other gentle moisturizers, Dr. Anthony says. But it may have antibacterial properties that can help. If you try it, choose raw coconut oil that doesn’t have other ingredients added.
It’s not glamourous, but this medicine cabinet staple can be an excellent moisturizer. “Vaseline® for eczema can be very helpful,” Dr. Anthony says. “It doesn’t sting, moisturizes well and doesn’t typically cause allergies.” To avoid getting grease on your clothes, he says, stick with a thin coat applied on damp skin.
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 the skin.
Eczema remedies you can probably skip
There are a lot of folk remedies out there, and not all of them are helpful. Dr. Anthony recommends avoiding these eczema treatments.
- Anti-itch ointments and sprays. “They’re not always harmful, but they’re complicated. In some people, they can cause allergies,” Dr. Anthony explains.
- Essential oils. Essential oils, including tea tree oil, are often touted as natural cures for all sorts of maladies. But there’s no evidence that any of these oils help with eczema, Dr. Anthony says. And some people can develop allergies to essential oils, so it’s best to avoid them.
- Botanicals. Plants are natural, so they must be gentle — right? Not necessarily. Creams with botanical ingredients such as calendula can trigger allergies, he says. “It’s better to choose bland moisturizers with few ingredients and no added fragrance.”
- Evening primrose oil. Some people claim this herbal supplement helps reduce eczema symptoms. Unfortunately, there’s no solid evidence to show that it helps.
More home remedies for baby eczema and child eczema
Eczema is common in babies and kids. And it can be really upsetting for both kids and their parents. Dr. Anthony shares some tips for keeping the littles comfortable.
As a parent, it’s so tempting to tell your kid to stop itching. “I understand the urge, but it’s not helpful,” Dr. Anthony says. Instead of giving kids a command they can’t obey, try to distract them instead. Whether it’s playing hide-and-seek, going for a bike ride or baking cookies, “anything you can do to take their mind off the itchiness is a good thing,” he says.
Skip the suds
Kids love bubble baths, but they can be harsh on the skin, Dr. Anthony notes. “Avoid bubbles and stick with gentle soap.” (Yes, you might have trouble convincing your toddler to take a bath without the suds. Try tossing in a new bath toy instead.)
Protect skin from scratches
Scratching itchy eczema patches can lead to broken skin, which could become infected. To protect the skin, keep your child’s fingernails clipped short, Dr. Anthony says. He also recommends covering itchy areas with loose clothing to avoid the temptation to scratch.
Don’t demonize foods
Some people find that certain foods, like dairy products, might trigger skin issues in sensitive kids. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid the food completely. “The thinking on this has changed over the last few years,” Dr. Anthony says.
Allergists now believe that if you withhold foods from children who are sensitive to them, they are more likely to develop severe allergies to those foods. If you suspect a food trigger, Dr. Anthony suggests talking to your pediatrician or an allergist before cutting it out of your kiddo’s diet. “We can generally manage eczema, but it’s harder to fix a severe allergy later in life,” he says.
Infected eczema treatment
There are plenty of things to try at home to calm eczema. But if the eczema is infected, it’s best to leave treatment to the pros, says Dr. Anthony.
Signs of infection include:
- Fever or chills.
- Pain or swelling.
- Straw-colored crust.
- White discharge or pus.
- Redness that’s spreading or worsening.
“If you have any of these signs, don’t try to treat it at home,” Dr. Anthony says. “See a healthcare provider so you can get the right treatment.”