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Eczema (dermatitis)

There are many different types of dermatitis. The most common form in childhood is atopic dermatitis or atopic eczema, which is an inflammatory skin condition.

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  • Patches of affected skin are dry, scaly, red and itchy. Fluid-filled blisters may also be present.
  • Skin may crack and weep, especially if it is scratched. This makes the affected area susceptible to infection.
  • Symptoms are changeable, and may improve or worsen on a daily basis.
  • In babies, the rash tends to occur on the face and the backs of the arms and legs. In childhood and adulthood, it usually occurs in the folds of the elbows, knees and ankles, and sometimes on the face, neck and head. 
  • Symptoms tend to decline with age, and many people are only affected in infancy and/or childhood. In adults, symptoms tend to decline during middle age. It is rare for elderly people to be affected.
  • There is a strong association between atopic eczema and other allergic conditions, and it is common for sufferers and/or members of their immediate family to also experience hay fever, asthma and/or food allergies. Even if these issues do not occur in childhood, they may develop later in life .


Atopic eczema is caused by a skin dysfunction in which the skin barrier is unable to be repaired properly when it is damaged. It is a genetic problem, which results in the skin of susceptible people having a lower than optimal content of water and oil . Consequently it becomes dry, scaly and easily irritated.

Since the skin barrier doesn’t operate effectively, allergens are able to penetrate the skin surface and trigger the immune system, making the affected skin red and itchy. Scratching exacerbates the situation and increases the inflammation, and may also allow infection to occur. The infectious organism involved is usually Staphylococcus aureus.

Contributing factors may include:

  • Allowing the skin to become dry.
  • Inhaling environmental allergens, such as dust mites, grass pollens and pet hair. (Dust mite allergy is common in people with eczema, and even if they are not allergic to dust mites when they initially develop eczema, many sufferers become allergic to them later).
  • Contact with substances that irritate the skin, including perfume, and synthetic or woollen fabrics.
  • Food allergies don’t cause eczema, but may trigger or aggravate it, especially in children. Foods that are most likely to be involved include dairy products, soy protein, seafood, nuts and seeds, eggs, and wheat. In many cases, the allergies resolve during early childhood.
  • Becoming over-heated.
  • Abrupt changes in temperature or humidity.
  • Stress, which may trigger or aggravate eczema.

Natural Therapies

  • Dermatitis may be caused in part by an imbalance in the body’s ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and in particular by relatively low levels of the omega-6 fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). The issue may be related to a reduced ability to convert linoleic acid into GLA. Evening primrose oil is a rich source of GLA, and taking evening primrose oil supplements may help to correct the low levels of GLA that have been documented in adults and children with atopic eczema and dermatitis.
  • The omega-3 fats found in fish oil have anti-inflammatory actions in the body, and may help to relieve inflammatory disorders such as eczema and dermatitis.
  • Zinc levels tend to be low in people with atopic eczema. Zinc is involved in essential fatty acid metabolism, and taking zinc supplements may help to relieve minor skin disorders such as dermatitis.
  • Taking probiotic supplements may decrease the severity of atopic dermatitis in children. Similarly, when a family history of allergies is present, women may be able to decrease their baby’s risk of developing the condition by taking probiotic supplements during the late stages of pregnancy and while breastfeeding. The probiotic strains used in this research include Lactobacillus reuteri and Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG
  • Taking a combination of B-group vitamins, vitamin C and relaxing herbs may be beneficial during times of ongoing stress.

Diet and Lifestyle Suggestions

  • People with atopic dermatitis are also susceptible to other allergic conditions (such as hay fever and asthma). Professional treatment to support the integrity of the skin barrier and minimise the introduction of potential allergens into the body through the skin is recommended, and this may help to reduce the risk of further allergic health problems.
  • Ultraviolet light therapy, corticosteroids and antibiotics may be needed to aid the management of your eczema from time to time. Follow your doctor’s instructions carefully.
  • Minimising your exposure to allergens often improves eczema. Work with your healthcare professional to identify any environmental, dietary or contact allergens that are contributing to your skin problem. Skin prick tests, blood tests, or the use of an exclusion diet followed by food challenges may all be employed to identify the allergens. Note that it is not appropriate for children to undergo an exclusion and challenge diet without medical supervision.
  • If allergens necessitate dietary restrictions, work with your healthcare professional to ensure all nutritional requirements are met.
  • To maintain an optimal balance of essential fatty acids, avoid consuming animal fats, and increase your consumption of fish and other sources of omega-3 fats, such as flaxseeds and walnuts.
  • Soap and hot water may aggravate your eczema. Bathe in lukewarm water, using hypoallergenic soap-free cleansers. Baths are less likely to have a negative impact on your skin than showers, but avoid washing your hair in the bath as the shampoo may irritate eczema patches. After your bath, pat your skin dry; don’t rub it.
  • Keep your skin moist and supple by adding unperfumed oils to the bathwater  and applying thick, hypoallergenic moisturising cream or lotion immediately after your shower or bath, as well as after going swimming.
  • Avoid swimming in chlorinated pools. On the other hand, swimming in the sea may improve your symptoms, but take care to avoid getting sunburned or over-heated.
  • Avoid getting over-heated in other circumstances too. For example:
    - Wear several layers of light clothing so you can remain comfortable as the temperature changes throughout the day.
    - Use several light cotton blankets rather than one heavy doona  so that you can easily cool off if you become hot in bed.
    - Don’t keep your home too warm in winter.
    - Avoid exercising in hot conditions, as the temperature change and perspiration may trigger your eczema or make it itchy.
  • Avoid exposing your skin to chemicals of any type. For example:
    - Choose hypoallergenic laundry detergents.
    - Wear gloves whenever you’re exposed to any chemical or detergent. (Some people need to wear cotton gloves inside rubber ones).
    - Use make-up and cosmetics that are specially formulated to be hypoallergenic, but even then, keep your face free of make-up as often as possible. Always perform a patch test on a small inconspicuous area of your skin before using a new product.
  • Reduce the likelihood of mould developing by keeping your home well ventilated and clean. Vacuuming frequently and changing bedding regularly also helps by reducing exposure to dust mites and animal hair. 
  • Maintain good personal hygiene in order to reduce the risk of infection and avoid scratching skin affected by eczema. Children may benefit from wearing gloves or mittens (especially at night time) to prevent scratching from damaging the skin. It is also important to keep fingernails closely clipped  so that any scratching doesn’t damage the skin.
  • If your eczema tends to flare up under stress, it may be useful to take active steps to help you cope better. Strategies worth considering include meditation, yoga, regular exercise, and cognitive behaviour therapy.

Important Notes

  • If your eczema becomes infected, consult your doctor, as you may require antibiotics. Symptoms to watch out for include eczema that is weeping or crusted, or that doesn’t respond to normal treatment. Fatigue, a fever and a general sense of being unwell may also occur.


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Charmaine                     Charmaine

Dear Avila, Thank you for your post. I’m sorry to hear that Scarlett is experiencing such severe eczema. If you have already tried all of the above recommendations, I think the best thing to do would be to take her to a naturopath or integrative doctor in a private consultation. A naturopath or integrative doctor in clinic can take a full case & medical history, and undertake any necessary assessments, looking at physical, dietary, and emotional factors to help develop an individualised treatment plan. You may be able to find a naturopath or complementary health-care professional via the following websites: I hope this information is of help to you and can guide you to the right help for your daughter’s eczema. Kind regards, Charmaine , posted on 29 September 2014. Report Abuse

many thanks as Scarlett is only 6 months old I am in need of a cream and herbal treatment to assist as I have done everything as above can you please advise some , posted on 28 September 2014. Report Abuse

Leanne                        Leanne

Hi Marj,
I’m sorry to hear about your grand-daughter’s discomfort. As mentioned in the article above, she is at greater risk of infection while her toes are already cracked and have peeling skin. Vitamin E creams or herbal ointments containing calendula may assist the healing process, but it is important that the cause of this symptom is determined and addressed. This could be allergy-related, it could be a deficiency in essential fatty acids, or hereditary. If this is the only area of her body which is affected, it may even be caused by a fungal infection such as ‘Athlete’s foot’. In that case, topical application of tea tree cream or bathing the toes in tea tree oil may help useful. Please feel free to call the Blackmores Advisory line on 1800 803 760 to discuss this further with a naturopath.
All the best, Leanne (a Blackmores naturopath)
, posted on 02 December 2013. Report Abuse

My 11 year old grandaughter has really bad eczema around her toes spreading to the 'ball' of her feet Seems to have started around her toes.The skin has all peeled off and now are raw patches. it is very sore & now is cracking! She has had it previously but this looks worse.
Marj (Grandma)
, posted on 01 December 2013. Report Abuse

Danielle                      Danielle

Hi, This sounds very distressing, I can understand your discomfort. I recommend that you contact a Naturopath to discuss other options for treatment, in addition to your current treatment. You may also like to consider eating more foods rich in essential fatty acids, such as fish, raw nuts and seeds, vegetable oil, avocado etc. Zinc can also be very helpful, found in nuts and seeds, red meat and oysters and seafood. Try and keep your diet full of lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, with plenty of purified water. There are lots of great suggestions in the article above. I hope this is helpful, and you are recovering soon.
Thanks, Danielle, one of the Blackmores Naturopaths
, posted on 05 February 2013. Report Abuse


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