Struggling with eczema? Dry, irritated, inflamed patches of skin that don’t seem to go away no matter how much lotion you apply?
I know how incredibly painful and frustrating it can be. I had bouts of eczema myself at the beginning of my health journey.
But the good news: eczema doesn’t need to be a lifelong struggle.
The key to healing eczema lies in identifying and addressing the root causes.
So often, we treat skin conditions as purely cosmetic or topical issues with topical solutions. But our skin is a mirror, reflecting everything happening within the body.
After all, the skin is the body’s largest organ and all aspects of the body system are so intimately connected.
And so when looking to heal or address eczema, we must look to heal or address the root causes. This is the key to long-lasting results and relief.
Impaired Gut Health and Inflammation
Not only are digestive issues uncomfortable, but they’re a significant source of chronic inflammation as well. Since eczema is an inflammatory skin condition, it’s important to do as much as possible to calm inflammation.
“Leaky gut” or increased intestinal permeability is a particularly common cause of chronic inflammation, and a significant eczema trigger. “Known as ‘leaky gut’, a compromised epithelial barrier allows toxins and antigens in the GI lumen to enter the bloodstream.” (Source) The body then launches an immune attack on these toxins, accompanied by inflammation. This can lead to a number of health issues from food intolerances to acne and eczema.
The gut microbiome — the balance between the “good” and “bad” bacteria living in the large intestine — can also profoundly impact skin health and eczema. Research has found that certain strains of unhealthy bacteria and pathogens in the gut microbiome release toxins that trigger an inflammatory response, whereas beneficial bacteria create anti-inflammatory compounds. This is why a healthy balance of gut microbiota is essential for healthy digestion, a healthy body, and healthy skin.
Since digestive issues can be quite complex, we use a comprehensive diagnostic test called the GI Map to guide the process with each of our clients. Remember testing is just one small part of the process.
True food allergies and food intolerances are very different — whereas an allergic reaction can be very severe and even life threatening, symptoms of food intolerances can be more nuanced.
Belly bloat, gas, and diarrhea are the most common symptoms of food intolerances, though they can also include nausea, fatigue, headaches, brain fog, and a runny nose, plus hives, rashes, and eczema.
But before you run out and spend a lot of money on a food sensitivity test, know that they aren’t the most accurate! And if you have a lot of food sensitivities, this is often rooted in digestive issues like “leaky gut.”
Impaired Immune Function
According to the National Eczema Association : “People with eczema tend to have an over-reactive immune system.”
The absolute best thing you can do to support your immune system? Address leaky gut and support digestive health since about 80% of the immune system resides in the gut.
Eating a nutrient-dense, real food diet rich in a variety of colors, vitamins, and minerals also supports immune health.
Dry skin can feel itchy, tight, and irritated, so it’s no surprise that dry skin can trigger or exacerbate eczema.
Skin hydration and moisture should be supported with an inside-out and topical approach. Be sure to drink plenty of water to keep hydrated, include healthy fats in your diet, and moisturize often.
Many skincare, makeup, and home cleaning products (including laundry detergent) contain chemicals and fragrances that irritate the skin, causing dryness, itchiness, and redness.
In fcat, “contact dermatitis” is closely related to eczema and is caused by contact with an irritating substance. Personal care and home cleaning products are the most common triggers.
When the body experiences stress — either physical or psychological — it experiences a spike in the stress hormone cortisol.
When we experience chronic or ongoing stress, the increased cortisol increases inflammation throughout the body. This can lead to skin inflammation and an eczema flare.
Hormones’ influence over skin doesn’t stop at acne! Hormones can also have a profound impact on eczema.
Estrogen seems to wield the most influence — estrogen is known to keep skin smooth, supple, and moisturized, so a decrease in estrogen causes the skin to lose water, impairs its ability to maintain moisture, and can lead to dryness, making eczema worse.
Estrogen levels drop during menopause, pregnancy, and the very end of your menstrual cycle (right before your period starts), and so you may notice that your eczema tends to flare at this time.
So how can you start healing your eczema by addressing these root causes?
Eat An Anti-inflammatory Diet
Generally speaking think: a wide variety of whole fruits and vegetables, spices and herbs, protein, and healthy fats. But guess what? Depending on your case some foods like fruits and vegetables may actually be irritating to the gut and actually increase inflammation. For some with big gut issues plants can be very hard to digest and healing needs to happen before reintroducing.
As an upgrade, look to include the anti-inflammatory superfoods turmeric and ginger in your diet as much as possible.
You may also consider ditching dairy and reducing other common allergens like gluten, corn, and soy to see how your skin responds.
Support Gut Health
The digestive system is vast and complex, but it’s always best to start with the foundations:
- Work to eliminate processed foods from your diet
- Take a deep breath and relax before eating
- Take your time and actually chew your food!
- Eat mindfully, being sure not to overeat
- Incorporate probiotic and prebiotic-rich foods in your diet, or supplement with a high-quality probiotic supplement
If your eczema or any digestive symptoms (bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, etc) persist after implementing these foundations, then it’s time to consider moving on to functional diagnostic testing to pinpoint where exactly to focus your efforts.
Switch to Non-Irritating Skincare and Home Cleaning Products
It’s important to make sure no products coming into contact with your skin — and this extends beyond skincare products to cleaning products, including laundry detergent — are causing any irritation, inflammation, or dryness.
Skincare and cleaning products should be simple, natural, and fragrance-free (including free of essential oils).
Beautycounter is my top suggestion for clean skincare and makeup products that perform as beautifully as they are safe. A few of my favorite eczema products include Baby Daily Protective Balm (even adults have success with it) or the Counter+ Lotus Glow Cleansing Balm.
Of course, it’s impossible to eliminate all of our stressors. This is why it’s equally important to build stress-management skills and make stress reduction a key feature of your daily wellness routine.
I enjoy and often recommend meditation apps like Headspace and Calm, though stress reduction looks different for everyone. For you, it may be reading for an hour before bed, taking a relaxing walk during your lunch break, snuggling with a pet, or practicing a hobby. Whatever it is, do more of it!
Work with us to help you put all the pieces together
Working with a qualified health practitioner is the best way to clearly identify the root causes of YOUR eczema.
Ready to say “yes” to better health once and for all? Ready to stop the frustration? Apply for a free discovery call to discuss if our program is right for you and to learn how we may be able to help. See what our clients say about working with us on our Testimonials page.
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As a Registered Dietitian and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner, my team and I help clients get proper testing, assist in the process of reading those results using clinical correlation (treating the patient and not just the test results), and give them the proper tools (diet, supplements, and lifestyle) to transform their health.