Dermatitis, also known as eczema, is a group of diseases that results in inflammation of the skin. These diseases are characterized by itchiness, red skin, and a rash. In cases of short duration there may be small blisters while in long-term cases the skin may become thickened. The area of skin involved can vary from small to the entire body.

Dermatitis is a group of skin conditions that includes atopic dermatitis, allergic contact dermatitis, irritant contact dermatitis, and stasis dermatitis. The exact cause of dermatitis is often unclear. Cases may involve a combination of irritation, allergy, and poor venous return. The type of dermatitis is generally determined by the person’s history and the location of the rash. For example, irritant dermatitis often occurs on the hands of people who frequently get them wet. Allergic contact dermatitis occurs upon exposure to an allergen causing a hypersensitivity reaction in the skin.

Dermatitis symptoms vary with all different forms of the condition. They range from skin rashes to bumpy rashes or including blisters. Although every type of dermatitis has different symptoms, there are certain signs that are common for all of them, including redness of the skin, swelling, itching and skin lesions with sometimes oozing and scarring. Also, the area of the skin on which the symptoms appear tends to be different with every type of dermatitis, whether on the neck, wrist, forearm, thigh or ankle. Although the location may vary, the primary symptom of this condition is itchy skin. More rarely, it may appear on the genital area, such as the vulva or scrotum.  Symptoms of this type of dermatitis may be very intense and may come and go. Irritant contact dermatitis is usually more painful than itchy.

Although the symptoms of atopic dermatitis vary from person to person, the most common symptoms are dry, itchy, red skin. Typical affected skin areas include the folds of the arms, the back of the knees, wrists, face and hands. Perioral dermatitis refers to a red bumpy rash around the mouth.

Dermatitis herpetiformis symptoms include itching, stinging and a burning sensation. Papules and vesicles are commonly present. The small red bumps experienced in this type of dermatitis are usually about 1 cm in size, red in color and may be found symmetrically grouped or distributed on the upper or lower back, buttocks, elbows, knees, neck, shoulders, and scalp. Less frequently, the rash may appear inside the mouth or near the hairline.

The symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis, on the other hand, tend to appear gradually, from dry or greasy scaling of the scalp (dandruff) to scaling of facial areas, sometimes with itching, but without hair loss.  In newborns, the condition causes a thick and yellowish scalp rash, often accompanied by a diaper rash. In severe cases, symptoms may appear along the hairline, behind the ears, on the eyebrows, on the bridge of the nose, around the nose, on the chest, and on the upper back.

When someone has eczema, the process of shedding and renewing corneal skin cells becomes disrupted.

Reasons for this include: 

  • Genetic factors, including having a mutated gene that results in reduced production of the protein called filaggrin, which normally helps maintain the corneal layer.
  • Reduced serum (oil) production, resulting in very dry skin. This can also be due to genetics or changes in the immune system.
  • Low immune function, which leads to inflammation in response to things like yeasts and bacteria that live on the skin. Low immune function can be due to factors like medications, autoimmune disorders, untreated infections, nutrient deficiencies or poor gut health.
  • Sometimes cracks in the skin caused by eczema can lead to infections when a common type of bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus, which is found on a high percentage of even healthy adults’ skin, triggers an inflammatory response in susceptible individuals.
  • Allergies (called atopic dermatitis or atopic eczema), which cause the release of antibodies and a harmful immune response. Allergic responses can be due to things like consuming certain foods, chemical exposure or contact with other harsh toxins/substances, such as chemical perfumes or soaps. Surprisingly, atopic dermatitis is not linked to things like pet or fur exposure. In fact, the opposite is true: Eczema has been found to be less common in children who have many siblings or dogs or who spend time in day care settings or around other children from a young age. This causes a stronger immune system and built-up protection.
  • Toxicity, including from smoking or exposure to high amounts of pollution. “Over-cleanliness” and antibiotic use are other contributors, which negatively affect the immune system.
    People who live in developed countries or colder climates seem to develop eczema more often, due to dry and cold climates or factors like pollution and poor diet.
  • In children, being formula-fed seems to raise the risk for eczema. Research shows that breastfed babies have increased protection against allergies that can affect the immune system and skin.
  • It remains controversial whether or not vaccines are related to eczema. Eczema prevalence has gone up as vaccine use has increased, but there is not yet clear evidence that they’re related. Studies have found mixed results, but as of now most authorities report that there is not a confirmed link. 

Eczema vs. Psoriasis

  • Both psoriasis and eczema cause similar types of skin irritation, including symptoms like itching and redness. Eczema is more common in infants and children, while psoriasis is most common between the ages of 15–35.
  • Both conditions can be triggered by low immune function or stress. However, eczema is more related to irritation (from things like skin care products) and allergies. The exact cause of psoriasis remains controversial but is believed to be a combination of genetics, infections, emotional stress, skin sensitivity due to wounds and sometimes effects of taking medications.
  • Compared to psoriasis, eczema tends to cause intense, persistent itching that can be very hard to stop scratching. Bleeding due to over-itching is more common with eczema than with psoriasis. 
  • Although itching and even self-wounding the skin are more common with eczema, psoriasis usually causes more stinging or burning. Burning can occur due to eczema too, but the desire to scratch is usually much more intense.
  • In addition to burning, psoriasis can cause raised, silvery and scaly patches to form on very inflamed skin.
  • There are also some differences in terms of where symptoms tend to show up. Eczema most commonly causes symptoms on the hands, face, or parts of the body that bend like the elbows and knees. Psoriasis often shows up in skin folds or on places like the face and scalp, palms and feet, and sometimes the chest, low back and nail beds.

Natural Eczema Treatments

1. Soothe, Don’t Scratch Your Skin

Itching caused by eczema can make it very tempting to scratch dry or peeling skin. But scratching has been found to lead to complications because it can cause open cracks or wounds that allow bacteria in. This sometimes causes infections, especially if the immune system is already weakened. It’s safer to try and leave the skin alone while you treat the underlying source of eczema. Applying a salve or moist towel to dry skin can keep you from picking at it.

Instead of scratching, other tips for protecting sensitive, healing skin include avoiding too much UV light/sun exposure, talking to your doctor if you take any medications that might worsen symptoms, keeping skin away from very hot water or very dry, cold temperatures (which can increase irritation), and changing the products you apply to your skin.

2. Reduce Allergies and Inflammation

Food, environmental factors and skin care products can all cause allergic reactions that trigger eczema symptoms. Allergies can be triggered in those with eczema by things like:

Chemical-containing soaps, lotions, detergents, disinfectants, etc.
Dust, pollen, mold, pet hair or debris
Foods like synthetic additives or preservatives found in packaged products, gluten, dairy, shellfish or peanuts.
Inflammatory foods like sugar and refined oils might also contribute to symptoms.

3. Breastfeeding and a Healthy Diet

Research suggests that a child’s risk for developing eczema is reduced when the child is breastfed. Into childhood and adulthood, a healthy diet with anti-inflammatory foods can help boost immunity. Foods that might be able to help reduce eczema symptoms are:

Essential fatty acids — These fats are found in things like wild-caught fish, nuts and seeds.
Probiotic foods — These include cultured veggies, yogurt, and kefir  – from goat or sheep milk
High-Fibre foods — Aim for at least 30 grams of fiber per day to improve gut health from vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, coconut and sprouted grains/legumes.
High-antioxidant foods — Consume more fresh, brightly colored plant foods to reduce inflammation and get plenty vitamins, minerals and electrolytes. 

4. Improve Immune Function

Supplements that might be able to help control eczema irritation are:

  • Probiotics: Research shows that probiotic supplements can have protective and preventive effects when it comes to skin health. They’re linked with improved gut health and immune function, along with other related factors like decreased allergies.  see: sauerkraut, as DBM prefer to use probiotics from natural sources and not tablets.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids:  Help lower inflammation. see Omega-3
    Antioxidants (such as vitamins EVitamin C and vitamin A): Antioxidants can help prevent skin damage, reduce inflammation and promote wound healing.
  • Vitamin D: The “sunshine vitamin” helps regulate immune functions and is a very common deficiency.

5. Applying Healing Oils to the Skin

Certain natural essential oils, such as lavender essential oil, which has anti-inflammatory and soothing properties, might help keep sensitive skin from flaring up. Make your own homemade eczema cream by combining hydrating, antibacterial ingredients like lavender oil, tea tree, raw honey, coconut or shea butter. You can also use products like probiotics, geranium essential oil and/or myrrh essential oil on sensitive skin.

Please follow this link to Food Allergies and watch the Open Source video on that page, for more information.