What most people typically refer to as eczema is usually a form of dry skin known as atopic dermatitis, a condition that's allergy-related. When the skin barrier gets broken down--by washing with harsh detergents instead of gentle soaps like Aveeno, Kiss My Face, or Dove, for example--allergens get into the skin and cause dryness, itchiness, and irritation.
During a flare-up, using a moisturizer with colloidal oatmeal, which has anti-inflammatory properties, will help restore the skin barrier--try Aveeno's Active Naturals products. You can also help repair your skin's layers by topically applying products that contain gamma-linolenic acid, a fatty acid found in evening primrose oil, borage oil, and black currant oil.
Once you've got the condition under control, you can try daily topical treatments such as evening primrose oil, aloe vera gel, calendula, or tea tree oil.
--Shawn Allen, M.D., director of Mohs and cosmetic surgery at Colorado Permanente Medical Group
Eczema tends to be related to food allergies, with wheat being one of the allergens most typically associated with skin. Allergies to peanuts, crab, lobster, shrimp, almonds, and hazelnuts are also common among adults.
The best way to have healthy skin is to choose foods that help the body maximize all its potential vitamins and antioxidants. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables and limit sugar. If you're prone to eczema, steer clear of foods that trigger inflammation, such as red meat, fried foods, refined breads and pastas, margarines, and beverages that contain sugar. Make sure your diet includes foods that help reduce inflammation, including fish, nuts, seeds, and avocados, which are rich in fatty acids and highly beneficial to skin health. When we're healthy on the inside, it shows on the outside.
--Dee Sandquist, R.D., Portland, Ore.-based spokewoman for the American Dietetic Association
The drier your skin, the more likely you are to have problems with eczema. You can improve hydration by drinking plenty of water, avoiding harsh soaps, and moisturizing well.
When you do break out with eczema, first try to reduce the itching. Some natural anti-inflammatory creams can be very helpful: Try Florasone, a cream made from the herb cardiospermum. Chamomile, found in the lotion CamoCare, also has anti-inflammatory properties and soothes the skin.
Natural antihistamines can help with eczema, since they relieve the itch. Consider taking supplements of quercetin, a bioflavonoid--a 250-milligram dose four times a day should be effective.
--Michael Traub, N.D., Hawaii-based naturopath and past president of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians