No one knows exactly what causes the red, itchy skin condition called eczema. But we do know a few things that exacerbate eczema: stress, irritants like laundry soap, prolonged exposure to water, and contact with allergens. The itching caused by severe eczema can be extremely distressing. Doctors may prescribe heavy-duty immune-suppressing creams such as Elidel or Protopic, but worries about the risks posed by these drugs have led many people to seek home remedies.
I am a 51-year-old female plagued with persistent eczema. The skin on my hands was always red, itchy, cracked, and often bleeding. My hands were always covered with bandages or gauze. Dermatologists prescribed cortisone creams of increasing strength. None of them were helpful over the long term. Hand cream for dry skin was totally useless. Five years ago I went to an allergist for an unrelated problem. When he saw my hands, he was concerned that the open sores put me at risk of infection. He suggested taking borage oil. I tried taking one capsule of borage oil after breakfast and one before bed. Within a few months the eczema on my hands had disappeared completely, and the condition is now only a minor annoyance. I control my dry skin with ordinary hand cream. I hope this tip will help others.
Borage oil is rich in a fatty acid called gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). The oil comes from the plant Borago officinalis, also known as star-flower. We are delighted that you got such relief, but not everyone will benefit. A placebo-controlled study suggests that borage oil is ineffective for eczema. The researchers conclude, “It seems unlikely that dietary supplementation with gamma linolenic acid is beneficial in management of atopic dermatitis.”1
I have had eczema ever since I was a child. I have used many steroid creams over the years, and while they help a bit, in bad bouts the creams were not soothing and just kept away the worst irritations. I have been going to a young dermatologist who advised me to use CeraVe Moisturizing Cream (not lotion). I can’t rave about it enough. Immediately after bathing I put it on, and 24 hours later, when I shower again, I can feel that the cream is still there. I have only had to use one prescription cream a few times since starting with this more than a year ago. Keeping my skin hydrated seems to do the trick for me.
CeraVe moisturizer contains no fragrance to irritate the skin, but it does contain ceramides. These are natural fatty compounds found in cell membranes. People with eczema frequently have abnormally low levels of ceramides in their skin. Moisturizing can help keep eczema from itching and may boost the effectiveness of topical steroids when you do need to use them. Another interesting product is CamoCare Soothing Cream (www.camocare.com). It contains a chamomile-derived oil that has anti-inflammatory properties.
My eight-year-old son has eczema. We have been alarmed by the recent studies about Elidel increasing the risk of cancer. We also do not want to go back to topical steroids because they might thin his skin too much. Are there any other treatments that we can consider?
Besides using a good moisturizer to keep the skin from drying out, you may want to consider DermaSmart undergarments and pajamas (www.dermasmart.com). This special fabric is supersoft and non-irritating. A firefighter told us that he developed eczema after exposure to mold in an older fire station. When he put on his protective gear the itching nearly drove him crazy. The DermaSmart T-shirt and pants reduced the irritation and itching.
Joe Graedon & Terry Graedon, The People’s Pharmacy: Quick & Handy Home Remedies, published by National Geographic