By Dr. Mercola
If you’ve never experienced eczema symptoms before, suffice it to say that many people who do suffer from this skin condition describe chronic bouts of a nearly unbearably itchy, cracked, inflamed rash — sometimes with rough, “weepy” blisters — so serious it can make both concentration and sleep very difficult.
Duration of the “flare-ups” can come and go, but at its worst, it can be noticeable enough to be both unsightly and embarrassing. Areas of the skin that are affected, as well as the severity of the flare ups, vary from person to person and among different ages.
Babies typically show it on their cheeks, outer arms and legs, but sometimes on the stomach, back and chest. But it’s different for everyone. While the faces of older children and adults are rarely affected, the backs of the knees, elbows and back of the neck are frequent trouble spots, as are the palms and soles of the feet. Sometimes children can outgrow it, while other times symptoms remain throughout adulthood.
A 2007 study1 showed that eczema and atopic dermatitis (aka AD, which is the most common form of eczema but the terms are often used interchangeably) are recognized worldwide as major health concerns, and affect up to one-third of a population, depending on the country.
In the U.S., 31.6 million have been diagnosed with eczema, and 17.8 million with AD. The cost of health care was estimated at $314 million in 2016, while patients and caregivers seeking treatment say they lost $128 million in wages that same year.2 According to statistics
- It’s been associated with decreasing lifespans by an average of eight years4
- About half of those with atopic dermatitis say they’re either often or always frustrated by their disease while one-third say they’re either often or always angry or embarrassed by their appearance5
- Nearly 40 percent reported they’d turned down either an educational opportunity or a job because of it6
There’s good news, though. Coconut oil and apple cider vinegar (aka ACV, which is apple cider that’s been fermented) are both natural substances that research has shown to be effective in alleviating eczema symptoms. Coconut oil can soothe dry, itchy, inflamed skin, and there’s evidence that ACV can heal eczema by rebalancing the acidity level of your skin and reducing your risk of infection.
Can Apple Cider Vinegar Make Any Real Difference in Eczema Symptoms?
People whose skin has a pH balance of less than 7.0 is said to be acidic, while anything above that is alkaline. The healthiest skin has a pH of under 5.0. Why is this significant?
Because people with eczema usually test to have pH levels higher than those who don’t have it, and pH, a fairly recent study found, may play a role in the breakdown of your skin’s protective barrier. Levels of acidity are linked to your skin’s microbiota and help protect you from bad bacteria.7
It’s important to note that soaps, shampoos and use of cosmetics raises the pH of your skin significantly and, therefore, your odds of an allergic reaction, which is why soap is often an eczema trigger. But even tap water can decrease your skin’s acidity. Because it’s a mild acid, ACV may help restore your skin to its natural pH level and, as it contains antimicrobial properties, can sometimes be a viable stand-in for soap.
Research from 2018 shows (again) that ACV can soothe and reduce inflammation and infection caused by eczema, noting that it’s demonstrated “multiple antimicrobial potential with clinical therapeutic implications.”8 From Healthline,9 here are five ideas for treating eczema:
1. ACV in your bath — One effective way to restore your skin’s natural acidity is to add ACV to your bath water. The water should be warm though, as opposed to hot. Add 2 cups of ACV, soak for 20 minutes and rinse with cool water.
2. ACV facial toner — ACV has antibacterial properties shown to kill staph bacteria, which could help reduce chances of an infection from an eczema flare-up. It’s easy to do: just put several drops onto a cotton ball and apply to your face using circular motions. One study acknowledged:
“We conclude that ACV can have multiple antimicrobial effects directly on E-coli, S. aureus and C. albicans … Collectively our results highlight the potent antimicrobial and therefore beneficial actions of ACV.”10
3. ACV facial moisturizer — According to Medical News Today, you can also use ACV as a do-it-yourself moisturizing solution after your apple cider vinegar bath to further help retain your skin’s moisture, and longer, as opposed to using a lotion that may aggravate the problem. Mix 1 tablespoon of ACV with 1/4 cup of virgin coconut oil.
4. ACV hair oil — Antifungal properties are another advantage to ACV, which may be able to prevent a dandruff-causing fungus or yeast known as Malassezia from developing. Mix 1/4 cup of ACV with 1 tablespoon of sunflower oil to help restore your skin’s protective barrier and retain moisture.
5. ACV wet wrap — Intense flare-ups call for intense treatments. Mix 1 cup of warm water with 1 tablespoon of ACV. Soak wide strips of gauze or paper towel in the solution and apply it to affected areas of your body, covering it with plastic wrap to keep the treatment next to your skin (but your clothing dry) for up to three hours or overnight. It adds moisture to your skin while killing harmful bacteria.
What Can Coconut Oil Do for Eczema?
A natural moisturizer, coconut also helps people whose skin is irritated. The active ingredient that packs the greatest punch in coconut oil is lauric acid, a healthy fatty acid also found in breastmilk, which scientists have long known can prevent infant eczema. A number of studies are supportive:
- In 2013, a clinical study12 reported that coconut contains important antioxidants that are beneficial for treating skin conditions.
- A randomized, double-blind study13 in 2014 found that applying virgin coconut oil (VCO) for eight weeks may help hydrate the skin of children with this malady.
- The same year, a large review14 noted that properties in coconut oil are able to eradicate harmful viruses, fungi and bacteria.
- In 2018, a study15 supported earlier findings that coconut oil has anti-inflammatory properties and can help protect your skin.
One thing you’ll note regarding coconut oil, whether you’re using it on your body or cooking with it, it’s solid at room temperature and must be melted slightly to render it a liquid. But touching it with your fingers (or with a spoon first, then applying it to your fingers to keep it clean) is enough to melt it. Either way, using it on your skin is helpful in several ways if you have eczema.
There are several ways to do that. Applying it directly to affected skin twice a day or even more often if necessary, just as you would any other cream or lotion, is very likely to ease your symptoms or prevent them from worsening. Use it before going to bed to keep your skin from being dry in the morning, and massage it onto affected areas of your scalp.
Eczema Medications and Possible Side Effects
According to Medical News Today, there’s no cure for eczema. Healing affected skin and preventing new flare-ups is usually what medical professionals aim for, with treatment plans based on each individual case. In conventional medicine, that may involve medications, such as:16
|Topical corticosteroid creams and ointments||Systemic corticosteroids, which are either injected or taken by mouth|
|Antibiotics, prescribed if eczema occurs with a bacterial skin infection||Antiviral and antifungal medications|
|Antihistamines to reduce the risk of nighttime scratching||Topical calcineurin inhibitors to suppress immune system activity and decrease inflammation|
|Barrier repair moisturizers to reduce water loss and help repair skin||Phototherapy, which involves ultraviolet A and/or B wave exposure|
As so many medications do, some prescribed for eczema can make the problem worse, not better. WebMD17 mentions possible thinning skin and stretch marks; numbness, redness and/or stinging; large purple or brown skin splotches; hair loss; high blood sugar; excessive hairiness and in the worst cases:
|Impaired hypothalamus and pituitary gland function||Central serous chorioretinopathy, fluid accumulation and vision loss18|
|Decreased adrenal gland function||Decreased skin pigmentation|
|Increased eye pressure||Stretch marks|
Contact Dermatitis: What It Is and What Causes It
Identifying the triggers that cause periods of eczema symptomology definitely goes a long way toward avoidance. In this way, it’s often possible to manage the condition and even prevent the onset of the worst occurrences. According to PubMed Health,19 a wide array of environmental factors can come into play, including:
- Hot and cold temperatures
- Chemical exposure
As a chronic, inflammatory skin condition, the terminology often describes the symptoms; atopic dermatitis, as mentioned, is the most common form. The cause hasn’t been determined, but a combination of factors is likely. Heredity is one of them, and it can be passed down from one or both parents.
Contact dermatitis, the National Eczema Association20 explains, is when your skin comes into contact with an environmental substance that triggers an allergic reaction, causing your skin to itch and become red. There are three types of contact dermatitis, beginning with the most common:
- Irritant contact dermatitis — If your skin should come into contact with heat, an irritating chemical or is simply rubbed too hard, your skin barrier can break and develop inflammation. If your skin is already broken, due to a small cut, for instance, it’s easier for the irritant to enter.
- Allergic contact dermatitis — You may come into contact with a new allergen with no reaction at first. It can take 48 or 96 hours for your skin to react, as this type of dermatitis “learns” what will eventually cause a reaction after several points of contact. The process is known as sensitization.
- Contact urticarial, also known as hives, causes swelling and redness almost immediately, but it doesn’t usually persist. However, there’s the rare but serious anaphylactic reaction that can cause some peoples’ throat to swell, experience tightness in their chests and other symptoms. If such a reaction occurs, get help immediately.
Further Notes on Relieving Eczema Symptoms, and Cautions
It’s wise to take note that some people are particularly sensitive to apple cider vinegar. Try a small test patch on your skin first to ensure you don’t have an unpleasant reaction, especially for the elderly or small children. Similarly, there are those, including infants, who should avoid contact with coconut oil because they’re allergic to coconuts. Medical News Today notes:
“To test for an allergic reaction, try applying a tiny bit of oil to a small patch of undamaged skin. It is important to choose a high-quality, organic, extra-virgin or cold-pressed coconut oil to ensure that it was extracted without chemicals, as certain chemicals can irritate the skin … When using coconut oil on an infant’s or toddler’s skin, be sure to keep it away from their eyes.”21
Other ways you might explore to soothe skin irritations caused by flare-ups, not to mention preventing and eliminating them altogether, include consuming omega-3 fats (dietary or via supplements), increasing your vitamin D levels and consuming fermented foods or probiotics on a regular basis. Each of these methods will also have multiple benefits besides helping you dodge eczema symptoms and complications.