In my herbal dermatology practice, I see a lot of patients who are grappling with the challenges of skin conditions. People with severe acne can also have anxiety and social challenges, people with dermatitis on the face worry about their work and social life. I had a skin condition myself when I was pregnant where the itching was so bad it would drive me out of my mind!
But nothing compares with the challenges a family faces when a baby has eczema. Many babies scratch incessantly, struggling to break out of swaddles and mittens to try to get at the itch. They’ll rub their heads against the crib mattress to alleviate itching of the scalp, often leading to little bald spots at the back of the head. Most of the time, babies and small children with eczema are unable to sleep. This means the parents are sleep deprived, too. With everyone’s nerves frayed, it can be near impossible to analyze and understand the things that are actually triggering eczema episodes. I’ve had parents tell me they cry every day just watching their baby suffer.
I focus on a holistic approach, using herbal medicine to address each baby’s eczema according to the precise look of their skin and their overall constitution. In most cases, I start out only using topical herbs in the form of teas that are added to the bath, followed by an ointment or cream. We have over 300 herbs in the clinic, and I’ll put together herb blends that are extracted into teas that are prepared into vacuum-sealed pouches. Parents simply open the pouches and add the liquid to the bath. After the bath, herbal creams, balms or salves are used. In severe cases, I recommend herbs to be taken internally in addition to this topical protocol.
In addition to telling you about our approach with Chinese medicine, I’d also like to point out a few other things that may be helpful when approaching healing eczema naturally.
For eczema that oozes or weeps, I prescribe topical herb powders – or baths, washes or compresses followed by a bland cream. Be careful not to put any thick, occlusive ointments on oozing eczema – it will only make things worse. Home treatments can be done by making calendula or chamomile tea and using that as a wash. Chamomile is a ragweed, so do not use this method for babies with ragweed allergies. And be sure to spot test absolutely anything that goes directly on your baby’s skin by testing a small area first.
For eczema that’s red, dry, and flaking, it’s essential to moisturize as frequently as possible using natural, botanical emollients. Emollients provide insulation from water loss and should be used frequently throughout the day. Sunflower oil is one of my favorite oils as a broad recommendation. It is very well tolerated by most babies, and is a good option for eczema. Research studies have shown that olive oil and virgin coconut oil reduce staph infections in eczema patients. In these studies, the oils were applied directly on the skin with nothing else added. I also recommend oils like evening primrose oil and borage seed oil, because of the benefit of their essential fatty acids.
Topical products with mineral oil and petroleum should be avoided. These substances damage the microbiome of the skin, as they prevent oxygen from getting to the deeper layers of the skin.
For many, but not all of my eczema patients, I recommend creams rather than oils or ointments. The benefit of creams is that they penetrate more deeply into the dermal layer of the skin. The drawback is that they need to be made with preservatives in order to prevent mold. Pure oils don’t get moldy – but as soon as you mix water-based ingredients with oils to make a cream, preservatives are a must. In some cases, they can be irritating to the skin. Which leads me to my next point…
My best advice regarding at-home topical treatments is to start out using the most simple and bland oils first. Once you get a sense for oils your child tolerates well, then you can start introducing bland creams. The next step would be to incorporate creams with more active ingredients like herbs or essential oils. It’s the nature of eczema to be constantly changing and evolving – with periods of flares and remissions. So it can take time to accurately assess the best approach to treating eczema topically.
You can learn more about our Chinese medicine approach to treating babies with eczema here.
For more information on things you can do at home, check out more of my articles on the topic…