Eczema: Use plant medicine for symptom support
Suffering from eczema is unpleasant and often frustrating as you find treatments that offer relief. This chronic, itchy skin condition affects affects 1 in 5 people in New Zealand and can appear in different forms and stages. The most common form of eczema is called atopic which is very common in children, but can also affect adults.
The cause of eczema
Direct causes for atopic dermatitis or eczema are still relatively unknown but it’s accepted that it arises due to a complex interaction of genetic and environmental factors and irritants. Current research is investigating the role of the immune system.
It’s common for eczema to run in the family. If you have eczema, you also often experience hay-fever, food allergies and asthma - although it's thought there are no direct links to these conditions, despite misconceptions that there are.
How do you know if you have eczema
There is quite a variation in the appearance of eczema between individuals. From time to time, most people have acute flares with inflamed, red, sometimes blistered and weepy patches. In between flares, the skin may appear normal or suffer from chronic eczema with dry, thickened and itchy areas.
Eczema can present itself anywhere on the body however there are some common places such as cheeks, wrists, elbows, knees, hands and feet. The location can move around, depending on age too. Ethnicity can play a role as to where eczema presents.
Children are more susceptible to eczema than adults and the good news is that it is common to “grow out of eczema”. In saying that, how symptoms are managed can have a lasting effect.
What can you do?
You’ll likely notice that certain things can irritate your skin immediately and cause a flare of eczema. It’s important to identify irritants and reduce your exposure. Common irritants include:
- Harsh clothing detergents
- Coarse fibres
- Cosmetic and perfumes
- Prescribed and over-the-counter treatment creams
- Dusty environments.
Look for products designed for sensitive skin and that are hyper-allergenic. Natural products will be less irritating than synthetic products due to the nature of their ingredients.
Another thing to do is to keep skin from drying out. Dry skin is a sign of barrier loss and can make eczema harder to control. To keep skin moisturised, natural moisturisers and skin barrier creams can be effective with regular use. There are certain times of the year, like winter or summer, when your skin is prone to drying out, so be mindful of a preventative approach during these times. Avoid over-washing your hands or skin, particularly with harsh soaps. Avoid chlorine swimming pools.
Common eczema treatments
Treatment includes a combination of identifying and avoiding irritants that cause a flare up, protecting the skin’s natural barrier, topical creams and targeted immune support.
Conventional treatments include prescribed emollients (moisturisers) and topical steroid creams. Sometimes management can include antibiotics, antihistamines and in severe cases, immune-suppressive medication.
While these can be effective for some, many eczema sufferers find a synthetic treatment regime to be harsh on their bodies and not an ideal long-term solution, often reporting that synthetic creams tend to stop working after a while.
An effective plant medicine approach
There are some key medicinal plants that are used successfully to manage eczema flare ups and build the skin’s natural protection barrier. Typically, these medicinal plants are made into a tincture then mixed with a natural base cream to create a topical treatment.
A natural, plant medicine cream is a sustainable option as it is gentle and does not irritate the skin further. Prescribed and over-the-counter steroid creams are synthetic and can irritate the skin due to their harsh ingredients – which is counter-intuitive.
As well as topically, plant medicine can be taken internally to balance and support the immune system. This is an approach often overlooked as the focus is on the skin however can be an important part of managing eczema successfully. Learn some key immune-boosting medicinal plants here.
Plant medicines for eczema flare-ups
Traditionally, licorice has been used to help skin flare-ups in eczema. This is due to the flavones present; in particular glycyrrhizin. A randomized double blind, placebo-controlled study showed that the use of a standardised 2% licorice gel (on patients who were clinically diagnosed with mild to moderate atopic eczema), saw a reduction in redness by over 60% and a reduction of itching by 72%.
Chamomile is effective due to its anti-inflammatory action. Chamomile has shown that it is comparable in efficacy to hydrocortisone cream, and slightly better than 0.5% hydrocortisone in treating atopic eczema (Patzelt-Wenczler et al. 2000).
Calendula and chickweed are beneficial for their anti-inflammatory and soothing actions. Chickweed can assist to decrease and relieve inflammation and itchiness caused from dry skin and eczema.
Therapeutic baths may also provide some relief to soothe irritated and inflamed skin, by including essential oils like Chamomile or Lavender and a bag of oatmeal suspended in a muslin cloth.
Our solution for eczema
Artemis founder and medical herbalist, Sandra Clair, developed a topical cream for skin conditions like eczema, the Itch Calm Cream. This powerful cream combines traditional plant medicine to ease discomfort from irritated and itchy skin. It’s steroid-free and has antiseptic properties, which is helpful during eczema flare-ups if areas become raw and weepy.
Try Itch Calm Cream for soothing and non-aggravating relief.
Safety and precautions
These medicinal plants have been used for thousands of years by humans and have an excellent safety profile. They are regarded as safe by many regulatory bodies worldwide, including the World Health Organization (WHO), British and European pharmacopoeias (official medicine registries), Australia, and Canada.
No adverse effects are expected however remember to always consult with your medical practitioner if your condition worsens.
See our full range of traditional plant medicines to see the remedies we've formulated to keep you well.