Updated: Sep 7
When I was a kid I had eczema. It showed itself in burning, itchy rashes on my arms, behind my knees, and occasionally on my thighs. For a long time, the only thing that brought relief was prescription 2.5% hydrocortisone cream.
I didn’t know what caused it on my arms, but I did know that anytime I had moisture behind my knees or on my thighs for any length of time – either from sweat or from water – I would have a flare up. I avoided any type of clothing that would create this problem. Anytime I went swimming, I immediately dried myself off after getting out of the water.
When I was a teenager my mom read a study that suggested dairy – or the hormones and medications given to dairy cows – might be the cause of eczema. Until this point, I thought eczema was something I was stuck with. But this insight brought me hope and started me on a journey to stop the painful itching. It was hard to give up dairy. I was a diehard milk drinker, and actually craved it. But I gave it up cold turkey.
However, drinking milk was the only dairy I gave up. I continued eating cheese, and ice cream, and other products made with dairy. For awhile, I noticed some improvement in my eczema. I still had flare ups, but they weren’t as frequent. And, for awhile, I was satisfied with this improvement. I could live with less frequent flareups, especially if it meant not giving up ice cream.
In my early 20’s my mom started using essential oils. I was fascinated by them, but wasn’t sure how effective they were and since I was living on my own, the cost of the oils was too much for me to gamble with. But my mom let me try some of her oils and I discovered that Tea Tree oil had the same calming effect as hydrocortisone cream on my eczema flareups. I was sold. I hated having a prescription, and hated having to go to the doctor after so many refills in order to get more refills. (NOTE: Most doctors recommend NOT using tea tree oil with eczema. I don’t know why this is, it worked great for me. But be aware of this is you choose to try it.)
I should also note that my diet was very processed at this time. If I cooked for myself at all, it was one of three recipes – mashed potatoes (yes, just mashed potatoes), chicken enchiladas with a white sauce, and a family recipe called ‘Grandma’s Chicken’. Besides those I ate a lot of ramen, mac & cheese, ice cream, chips, fast food, and freezer meals. I also drank quite a bit of soda.
In my late 20’s, and after I got married, I started cooking meals more. I discovered if I had other people to cook for besides myself, I didn’t mind cooking, and my diet became much less processed. I was still having the occasional flare up and realized the eczema cycle was about three days long. I would have the flare up, and three days later it would begin the healing process.
I started wondering if the this rash cycle had anything to do with my monthly cycle, and for awhile I tracked both, but no pattern emerged. Then I decided to see if my eczema was due to any food allergies. I really wanted to know if I needed to give up all dairy. I was ready to commit to going dairy free if I needed to. I talked to the allergist and he said eczema could indeed be caused by a food allergy.
My results showed I was NOT allergic to dairy (Thank you Jesus!) but I WAS allergic to chicken. CHICKEN! What?! I had never heard of such a thing. But I decided to give up chicken for a month to see if there was any improvement. To my surprise, there was. A great deal of improvement in fact.
My flare ups didn’t go away completely, and I didn’t give up chicken completely either. After the month of no chicken, I introduced it into my diet again to see what would happen. I didn’t have a flare up. I started to wonder if it had been a fluke, if maybe the chicken wasn’t the culprit after all. But then I noticed that if I had several meals in a row that contained chicken, I would have a flare up. I started switching up meals, eating more beef and fish, and having the occasional vegetarian meals so I wouldn’t be eating as much chicken.
I also started learning about gut health about that same time. I gave up drinking soda and pretty much anything other than water, coffee, and tea. I started taking probiotics and eating more fermented foods. About a year after making these changes, I realized my flare ups had dwindled to one every two to three months. I also learned that the flare ups I had often coincided with extra stress in my life.
I wasn’t sure what else I could do, so for a time, I settled again. Then I started learning about the chemicals in cosmetics and cleaners. I switched our laundry detergent to Young Livings plant based detergent, switched my shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, and facewash to all natural, plant based products as well. It was about six months after making these changes that I realized I hadn’t had a flare up in that time. SIX months, and no flare up. Not even a hint of a rash on my arms or legs.
That was about five years ago. Since then, my diet has become even less processed, I use all natural cleaners throughout my whole house, I make and use my own soap, and I try to make sure that everything I put in or on my body is good for my body. In those five years, I have had the occasional flare up, (like maybe one a year). But those flare ups all having several things in common.
1. My stress levels are higher.
2. As a result I eat more processed junk food than usual.
3. I get lazy and don’t want to make up a new batch of cleaner so I reach for the chemical stuff. (which we still have because Craig isn’t totally sold on natural cleaners, and our son refused to use anything else when he was still living at home.)
My goal is 90% whole, good for me foods, and 10% processed. I still eat deli lunch meat, hotdogs, cookies, ice cream, chips, candy and other processed foods. I just eat them sparingly. Okay, maybe I eat a little more ice cream than I should, but really, who wouldn't after wondering for years if ice cream was causing you to break out in a rash and then finding out ice cream was innocent?
I’ve learned that my eczema was not caused by only one thing. If you search online for ‘what causes eczema’ you’ll see over and over that doctors still don’t know what causes eczema. For me, I would say it was a mixture of internal and external issues. Exposure to chemicals in daily life, as well as the sugar and non-nutrient rich foods I put into my body.
My journey has made me somewhat obsessed with the nutrients nature has to offer, both internally and externally. It’s why I make our soaps, lip balms, and salves. It’s why I spend countless hours researching ingredients that go into our products before I begin making them. Researching how they’re made and collected and what effect that process has on their benefits to our bodies.
I used topical steroid creams frequently, for years. Thankfully I didn’t have any of the long-term side-effects from it other than a slight discoloration of the skin where I used it on my arms the most (which has now disappeared). But I was never told that long-term use of topical steroids could result in high blood pressure, bone damage and thinning, and Cushing’s syndrome. Now that I’ve learned about these possible side effects, I prefer to steer clear of steroids of any kind. Now, I prefer to reach for natural medicine - food, herbs, oils, vitamins, etc.
The only side effects of tea-tree oil are skin irritation, stinging, burning, scaling, redness, or dryness. Diluting with a carrier oil or lotion usually takes care of those effects – unless you’re allergic to tea tree oil – then don’t use it!
As a side note, if you have an allergy to Tea Tree oil, you most likely have an allergy to Eucalyptus oil too as they have some of the same constituents.
Do you have an eczema healing journey? I’d love to hear it! Have you tried healing eczema and it didn't work? I'd love to hear your story too!