Eczema is a common condition that affects 21% of children and 11% of adults in Singapore. Despite its prevalence, an eczema diagnosis can be distressing because many people struggle with emotional stress on top of physical discomfort due to the high visibility of skin conditions.
Read on to learn more about eczema, what causes it, and the different home remedies and treatment options available.
What is eczema?
Eczema refers to a group of conditions that results in the skin becoming irritated, inflamed and itchy. The term “eczema” is often used interchangeably with “atopic dermatitis”, however, atopic dermatitis is actually the most common and severe form of chronic eczema.
While eczema affects both the young and old, it usually develops in babies. Baby eczema tends to start from the cheeks before spreading to the torso and the rest of the body. While most people experience an improvement as they get older, others with severe eczema may find that it persists into adulthood.
Besides atopic dermatitis, other common types of eczema include dyshidrotic eczema and discoid eczema.
While eczema is not life-threatening nor contagious, its symptoms can be dreadful to deal with. Common symptoms of eczema include:
- Itching, which tends to worsen at night
- Dry and scaly skin
- Red, brown or grey patches on skin
- Small raised fluid-filled bumps on skin
- Thickened or cracked skin
- Raw and sensitive skin
The exact cause of eczema is unknown, but there are several factors that seem to correlate with a person’s risk of developing eczema, including:
- Having allergies, hay fever, and/or asthma
- Having a compromised immune system
- A cold, urban living environment with higher exposure to pollution
In addition, here are some common eczema triggers that can result in or worsen a flare-up of symptoms:
- Irritants, such as soap and detergent
- Allergens, such as dust, sand, pollen, fur, or certain foods
- Fabric materials, such as wool and polyester
- Hormonal changes, such as during pregnancy or a few days before period
- Skin infections
- Dry skin
Book your teleconsultation with one of our doctors vis the Homage app, and you can get the prescribed medication delivered to your home.
Natural Remedies of Eczema
Since eczema is chronic, the goal is usually not to cure eczema, but to control its symptoms and prevent flare-ups. Here are 19 natural remedies you can try at home to manage eczema symptoms:
1. Aloe vera gel
Given that aloe vera is moisturising, antioxidant, antimicrobial, immune-boosting and wound-healing, it is no wonder that aloe vera gel can alleviate the symptoms of eczema.
Applying aloe vera gel after cleaning the affected skin with unscented soap and water can help to moisturise dry skin, minimise the risk of skin infection, and aid the healing of broken skin.
2. Apple cider vinegar
Soaps, shampoos, cosmetics and even tap water can affect your skin’s pH levels, which is why soap is a common eczema trigger. Apple cider vinegar, a mild acid, may help to restore your skin’s pH levels.
A simple way to use apple cider vinegar to treat eczema is to add it to your lukewarm bath water, soak in it for 15 to 20 minutes, then rinse off with cool water. You can also create a moisturiser, facial toner, hair oil, and wet wrap containing apple cider vinegar.
3. Cool compress
The itching that comes with eczema can be unbearable, but scratching does more harm than good and damages your skin further. Applying a cool compress by placing a clean damp cloth on the affected area of skin can ease itching.
4. Lukewarm showers & baths
Frequent, hot baths and showers can dry out your skin, triggering an eczema flare-up. Take short, lukewarm showers or baths instead, and pat yourself dry gently instead of rubbing hard. Remember to also apply moisturiser afterwards.
A small amount of bleach mixed into bath water can kill the infection-causing bacteria on our skin, easing inflammation, itching, and scaling. To create a bleach bath, simply add half a cup of household bleach into a full tub of water. Soak in it for 10 minutes, then rinse off with cool water.
Take note that chlorine may be problematic for some people, so it is best to consult with your doctor before trying this remedy and/or test it out on a small area of skin first.
6. Colloidal oatmeal
Colloidal oatmeal, or Avena sativa, refers to finely ground oat grains known to have skin-healing properties. You can add it to your bath and soak in it, or apply it as a paste on your skin.
While colloidal oatmeal is safe to use for most people, those with an allergy to oats should avoid it. Manufacturers often process oats with wheat, so those with a gluten allergy should take extra precaution as well. Alternatively, you can try baking soda in place of colloidal oatmeal.
7. Coconut oil
Besides the moisturising properties from the fatty acids it contains, virgin coconut oil may help to combat infections and inflammations. You can apply coconut oil to your skin directly several times a day, especially after a bath or shower and before bed.
Make sure to only use cold-pressed virgin coconut oil for your skin. Those who are allergic to coconuts should also avoid this remedy.
With its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial properties, honey may be able to ease and reduce the symptoms of eczema. To use honey for eczema lesions, apply a thin layer of medical-grade honey to the affected area and cover it with a gauze or bandage overnight. Gently remove the dressing and clean the area in the morning.
If it is your first time trying this remedy, make sure to do a patch test first to ensure you are not allergic to honey.
9. Tea tree oil
There are many potential benefits of using tea tree oil for treating eczema, including reducing inflammation, healing wounds, fighting bacteria and viruses, and relieving itch.
While it is generally safe to use tea tree oil on any external area of your body, make sure to use them safely as high concentrations can have adverse results instead. Most tea tree oil products are sold in low concentrations of 5% or less, but if you are using pure essential tea tree oil, make sure to dilute it by mixing a few drops into a carrier oil such as coconut or almond oil.
To be safe, always do a patch test first. You should also check with your doctor before applying tea tree oil on your skin to ensure it does not interfere with any ongoing forms of eczema treatment.
Some foods can cause inflammation, while others fight it. As eczema is a condition linked to inflammation, some people find that eating certain foods worsens or improves their eczema symptoms.
Reducing your intake of inflammatory food and adopting a diet rich in foods that fight inflammation can help soothe eczema symptoms. An anti-inflammatory diet includes food like:
- Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel and sardines
- Fruits, such as strawberries, blueberries, and oranges
- Leafy greens, such as spinach and kale
- Olive oil
- Nuts, such as almonds and walnuts
Harsh soaps can irritate our skin and worsen symptoms of eczema. Our skin’s natural pH is 4 to 5, while the pH of soap is 9 to 10, which can result in a pH imbalance and dry out our skin.
Here are some tips when showering: Choose a mild soap that is super fatted, non alkaline, and free of sodium lauryl sulfate and exfoliating particles. Make sure to rinse off completely to avoid any soap residue after bathing. Be gentle on the skin when showering or bathing and do not use a washcloth, sponge, loofah, or scrub that might scrape your skin and irritate it further. Dry off gently by patting rather than rubbing, and moisturise immediately to seal in moisture.
12. Detergent and softener
Laundry detergent tends to contain harsh chemicals, such as lathering agents, that can dry out the skin and worsen eczema. Fabric softeners also often result in fragrances and other chemicals lingering on clothes, irritating your skin.
If you suspect that this might be an issue, try switching your detergent to one that is milder, fragrance-free or colour-free, and skip the fabric softener altogether.
13. Avoid extreme temperatures
Hot temperatures can trigger the prickly, itchy feeling on our skin and cause perspiration, which may encourage the growth of bacteria and other skin irritants. Meanwhile, cold winters tend to have dry air, resulting in dry skin which can worsen eczema symptoms.
During hot weather, wear loose and breathable clothing, stay hydrated, bring soft paper wipes to stay dry, and stay in the cool indoors as much as possible, especially during the hottest hours of the day. During cold and dry winters, use a humidifier, wear the appropriate gears (take note to avoid using materials that may irritate your skin, such as wool), and moisturise frequently.
If severe eczema is causing major inconveniences and affecting your day-to-day life, an extreme measure will be to move to a place with a different climate.
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Moisturising has been mentioned multiple times in this article, but it cannot be stressed enough. Besides the frequency of moisturising, using the right moisturiser is key. Avoid lotions that contain fragrances and other potential irritants.
15. Sunflower oil
Virgin sunflower seed oil can help your skin retain moisture and has anti-inflammatory properties that may alleviate the symptoms of eczema. Simply apply it onto your skin twice a day. However, avoid this remedy if you are allergic to sunflower seeds.
Preliminary findings from a study conducted by Northwestern University has revealed that pressing on a specific point on your arm may help to reduce itching caused by eczema. To find this acupressure point, place your right hand over your left elbow while your left arm is bent, then feel for the top of the forearm muscle. Massage this spot for 3 minutes while taking deep breaths.
While more in-depth and large-scale studies are required to confirm these findings, the initial findings are promising and there’s no harm trying it out.
17. Avoid high-intensity exercises
During an eczema flare-up, body heat and perspiration can worsen the itch and symptoms. While it is still important to exercise to stay healthy, there are some measures you can take to reduce the aggravation:
- Work out in an air-conditioned area indoors or when the temperature is cooler outdoors
- Hydrate adequately
- Take frequent breaks to let your body cool down
- Keep a towel close to wipe off sweat as you work out
- Wearing light, breathable and loose cotton clothing
- Shower shortly after your exercise session
18. Avoid scratching
Itchiness is one of the hardest eczema symptoms to deal with, and telling you to avoid scratching is much easier said than done. However, scratching can trigger the release of inflammatory substances and worsen the itch. It can also lead to broken skin, increasing the chances of an infection.
To minimise the damage from scratching, always keep your nails trimmed. You may also want to wrap up the affected area and wear gloves to sleep.
Stress, which often leads to inflammation in the body, is a common eczema trigger. If you find yourself under stress, try some relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing and yoga. Different techniques work for different individuals, so find something that works for you.
A generally healthy lifestyle of having a balanced diet, getting plenty of sleep, and regular exercise, can also help to reduce the chances of an eczema flare-up.
Remember: Whenever you are trying out new products and remedies, always test a modest amount on a small area of skin first, in case of allergy or irritation. If in doubt, always consult your doctor.
Other ways to treat eczema
Eczema can be quite persistent. If home remedies do not work, it is best to consult a doctor for expert medical advice. Your doctor may suggest one or more of the following eczema treatment:
- Topical eczema creams may be prescribed to manage the itching and repair skin.
- Antibiotics cream or oral medication may be prescribed if you are fighting a bacterial infection from an open sore or broken skin.
- Oral drugs that control inflammation may be prescribed, but are not suitable for long-term use.
- Light therapy may be recommended for people whose skin does not react well to topical medication.
- Counselling can benefit those who are frustrated or embarrassed by eczema.
Do note that not all forms of treatment are suitable for everyone. Discuss with your doctor about the potential side effects and your suitability for each treatment option.
Prevention is better than cure
While home remedies and treatment can help to relieve eczema symptoms, a better long-term strategy is to identify the triggers and avoid eczema flare-ups altogether.
Take note of your dietary intake and any other irritants you may come across. If it helps, you may even use a journal to record exposure to potential triggers and keep track of eczema flare-ups. Once you have identified the triggers, take measures to prevent it from causing an eczema flare in the future. For example, if perspiration is a trigger, always carry soft paper wipes with you to stay dry and shower shortly after a workout session.
Eczema can be frustrating to deal with, but with patience, discipline, and the right support, you will be able to gain a better understanding of your body to prevent eczema flare-ups. If in doubt, always speak to a doctor to formulate a plan that works for you.
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- Lai, L. (2018, September 27). Half of eczema sufferers in Singapore have condition for life, survey finds. The Straits Times. https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/half-of-eczema-sufferers-in-singapore-have-condition-for-life-survey-finds
- Lee, K. C., Keyes, A., Hensley, J. R., Gordon, J. R., Kwasny, M. J., West, D. P., & Lio, P. A. (2012). Effectiveness of acupressure on pruritus and lichenification associated with atopic dermatitis: a pilot trial. Acupuncture in medicine : journal of the British Medical Acupuncture Society, 30(1), 8–11. https://doi.org/10.1136/acupmed-2011-010088