So many eczema warriors have tried everything under the sun, hopping from one dermatologist to another, accumulating enough creams to open a shop, and yet nothing seems to work. It is so exasperating. It is because eczema and immune system are intimately related, eczema is not just a superficial skin problem. It is actually a manifestation of some underlying issue from deeper within the body. To heal eczema, it has to be from the inside out.
What conventional eczema treatments do
Eczema affects 20% of the world’s children, and 3% of adults. This debilitating chronic skin condition leaves sufferers and their caregivers baffled, as the steroid creams prescribed by doctors only work for short periods of time, after which the rashes and itching come back once the creams are stopped.
Often, their eczema flares return with a vengeance, compelling doctors to up the potency of the steroids, or up the dosage, in a bid to get rid of these symptoms. This can lead to a condition called topical steroid withdrawal (tsw), or red skin syndrome, as the body becomes overly dependent on steroid applications to curb the rashes and itchiness. Without the steroids, the whole body flares (yes, full body, in serious cases), and it becomes a horrific, out-of-control monster.
What these steroid creams actually do, is to simply suppress the inflammation, instead of addressing the root cause of the inflammation. Steroids are a synthetic drug that acts like cortisol, which is a hormone naturally produced by our body to carry out various fundamental functions, from regulating metabolism and our immune system, to acting as an anti-inflammatory agent and helping our bodies cope with stress. It is never a good idea to mess around with nature.
The consequences of disturbing the natural hormonal balance of our body are too great for anyone to bear: an immune system that is further compromised than what it already was initially, agitation to the adrenal glands, loss of body temperature control, and many other upheavals to the core level functioning of our body, which are mostly not understood by science yet.
But it is real, as can be vouched by many tsw warriors, including my two eczema warriors. Thankfully they have come a long way in their healing, through natural means and healing from the inside out.
How are eczema and immune system related
The close relation between eczema and immune system cannot be stressed enough. Eczema is caused by an overactive immune system, as the body reacts to disturbances and imbalances, including
- food allergies and sensitivities – dairy, gluten, eggs, corn, and food additives like preservatives, flavour enhancers, food colourings, etc. the list goes on. There are people who are sensitive to even the healthiest foods, like tomato, mushroom, okra, cucumber, etc. as these are high salicylate foods.
- environmental allergies and sensitivities – dust mites, pollen, pollutants in the air, contaminated drinking water, etc. can all contribute to a person’s heightened immune response, especially one who is prone to allergies. There can even be undesirable substances in our personal care products, as well as cleaning products that we use around the house, all these could be triggers for the sensitive person.
- compromised gut health – when a person’s gut health is not optimum, with weakened digestive system combined with porous, leaky gut, there may be some undigested foods that manage to pass through the small intestines and enter the bloodstream. The body sees them as foreign invaders, so activates its overworked immune system yet again.
All these inflammation present themselves on the skin, as it is the body’s largest organ, also considered by the body as non-vital to survival. To protect the tired elimination vital organs like the kidneys, livers, and intestines, the body chooses the safer path to eliminate the excessive wastes – through the skin. Sometimes if that is not enough, then through the lungs as well. That is why eczema warriors are prone to asthma too, not only is the skin affected, the lungs are also taxed and weakened.
This recent study has shown that an allergic immune response is linked to shortened lipids in the skin, leading to a defective skin barrier, as moisture is not kept in, and irritants are not kept out. But I like to view it positively, as the body trying to push the irritants from the inside to get out more effectively. Because the body knows to detox and heal itself.
To heal eczema from inside out, you will at the same time be strengthening your immunity. Clean out your diet, that is the most important thing anyone can say to you.
- Flood your body with real, natural and wholesome foods, to make up for the years of fast food and potato chips abuse. As a first step, anything that is real food is much much better than processed junk. Focus on the fruits and vegetables. If taking this step does not help your eczema improve significantly, then you may have to look into anti-inflammatory foods and low salicylate foods (covered below).
- Processed foods are not just empty calories, they are full of harmful additives, from preservatives and flavour enhancers to food dyes and emulsifiers. Throw out ALL those processed foods, or donate them to some food bank. By taking this step, you are helping yourself control those cravings. When you feel hungry at home, it is so easy to grab that chocolate bar and make some excuses which you would later hate yourself for. When you have nothing but carrot sticks and apples to munch on, it makes eating clean a much more realistic and achievable goal.
- If the above two steps are not enough to give significant relief from your eczema rashes and itching, look into shifting your diet towards anti-inflammatory foods. Eliminate the most common allergens for eczema: dairy, gluten, eggs, soy, corn, nuts, shellfish, etc. Removing these potential triggers all at once is the preferred way. If your eczema subsides, then one or more of them must be the culprit. After giving your body some time to settle in the calm and non inflamed state, you may slowly reintroduce these foods one at a time, with close monitoring, so that you gain knowledge of which foods are causing your problems.
- If all the above 3 steps do not give you much relief from eczema, salicylate may be the issue. Salicylate is a naturally occurring chemical, found in some fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, which are meant to protect these plants against insects, bugs and other critters that try to eat them, by acting like pesticides. Many eczema warriors are actually sensitive to salicylates without ever realising it. So it is definitely something worth looking into. Examples of high-salicylate foods include avocado, raspberry, coconut (including its oil), honey, some seeds and nuts, and the nightshades category of vegetables.
- Probiotics – after the fire of inflammation has been put out, it is then time to heal your gut, by repopulating it with all the good bacteria that will help digest your food properly, so that you get the most out of all the nutrients. Personally I would go for natural sources of probiotics, like kombucha, kefir, and fermented foods. But of course there are also capsuled or powdered forms that are great in their bioavailability too.
- Detox – at the same time that you are cleaning out your diet, also look into detoxing your body of all the past accumulated toxins. Find some safe detox regime that speaks to you, it could be juicing, smoothies (check out our green smoothie detox recipe), apple cider vinegar baths, ginger baths, or some herbal detox teas. It will give your body a great boost as it tries to heal itself.
- Supplementing – sometimes eating the cleanest diet is still not enough, as our body uses lots of energy in digesting foods. If you could find some product (like this berries gel) which makes the essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals very easily assimilable, then it could add a punch to your system, sending in those powerhouses of the body’s healers and building blocks in a high enough concentration to make a difference.
For eczema warriors, the skin barrier has been compromised. Thus, it is equally important to take care of environmental triggers, as well as what goes onto our skin.
- Be aware of allergens that can trigger your eczema flares, and try your best to stay away from them. For instance, dust mite, pollen, polluted air, mould, etc.
- Personal care products come into direct contact with our skin, which, if absorbed, can enter our body system much quicker than ingestion, which has to go through the digestion system, taking a few hours. That is why I have now learnt to place the same emphasis on what we put on the skin, as what we put into the mouth. Check out our favourite product from Dr Bronner, and why we will not use most other brands anymore.
- Creams and balms to relief the eczema rashes, itch and open scratch wounds should be all natural as well, for exactly the same reason. To treat infected eczema, we use stuff containing zinc or sulphur, or garlic water, ginger water baths. Here are some balms that we recommend, made of all natural ingredients.
- We extend our philosophy to natural cleaning around the house, because whatever we use to clean the floors, toilets, table tops, glass, and even the clothes, are all going to ultimately come into direct contact with our skin. So we make our own dishwashing liquid, laundry powder and softener, and all the other cleaners we use around the house are made of simple ingredients like vinegar, baking soda, and the very versatile Dr Bronner’s Castile soap. We are also huge fans of microfiber cloths, which allow us chemical-free cleaning of most dust and dirt, bacteria, and even some viruses.
- Get some sun – many eczema warriors that I know have reported great relief from their eczema condition when they get to spend some time in the sun! But do be mindful to apply your sunscreen (it should be all natural ingredients too!).
- Sea water or chlorinated water – your eczema skin typically loves one of them and hates the other, that is the case for most eczema warriors. So you have to figure out which is the preference of your own skin, and try to get more exposure to that. Sea water has salt which is soothing for many people with eczema. Chlorinated water is able to kill many germs and bacteria, and hence get rid of any impending infection.
When the immune system is weakened or under chronic stress due to being persistently bombarded by all the various allergens and triggers that the body is sensitive to, something has to give, and for eczema warriors, the skin is the organ that gives. We are the blessed ones, as the body knows that vital organs cannot fail.
With internal issues presenting through the skin, we have the chance to address the root causes, and make things right. Only if we listen to the body’s signal that something is wrong, instead of smothering the cries for help. Work on the immune system, and eczema will resolve itself. Eczema and immune system, that’s how strongly related they are.