5 Home Remedies for Managing the Itch of Atopic Dermatitis – Everyday Health

Try these alternative therapies as a complement to your treatment plan for eczema.
For many people dry, itchy skin is the main — and most troublesome — symptom of atopic dermatitis, a type of eczema. But scratching can irritate skin and make the condition worse.
Following your treatment plan is the best way to manage atopic dermatitis symptoms, but if you’re still struggling to find itch relief, a solution may literally be close to home.
“Eczema can be difficult to treat, as the skin barrier is altered and needs to be repaired and protected from further damage,” explains Beth Goldstein, MD, who practices at Central Dermatology Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
A complementary home remedy can often assist with this process and result in less itchy, dry, flaky skin, according to Dr. Goldstein.
“Many of my patients over the years will prefer to avoid steroid treatment for eczema,” because of the side effects, she says, and experiment with complementary and alternative treatments. The hope is that natural and home remedies will work in tandem with dermatologist-prescribed treatment to keep symptoms under control.
“These remedies may not quite do the trick but are reasonable to try,” Goldstein notes.
Here are some of the remedies for atopic dermatitis recommended by dermatologists:
Coconut oil is an excellent moisturizer, because it is rich in triglycerides,” explains Hadley King, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City. “One of its main constituents is lauric acid, which imparts antibacterial and antifungal properties. Coconut oil also has antioxidant properties.”
According to the authors of a review of existing research published in August 2018 in the journal Pediatric Dermatology, coconut oil is commonly used by people with dermatitis and has been shown to be an effective moisturizer that helps with dry, itchy skin. Another option is sunflower seed oil, which helps stimulate the body’s natural ceramide production internally, ultimately improving the skin barrier and heading off eczema early on, the review authors say. Studies have shown that the use of topical sunflower seed oil preserves the stratum corneum — the skin’s outermost layer — and improves hydration without causing erythema (reddening and irritation of the skin).
Similarly, tea tree oil boasts antifungal, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties that can help alleviate atopic dermatitis symptoms, the authors of the Pediatric Dermatology study say. In fact, in several studies, topically applied tea tree oil has been shown to be more effective in eczema relief than zinc oxide and clobetasone butyrate creams.
However, some people may be allergic to tea tree oil so it’s best to sample a little on the inner part of the forearm for a few days and see if you experience a skin reaction before applying it to the rest of your body.
Conversely, olive oil has been shown to exacerbate existing atopic dermatitis and should be avoided, the researchers say.
“Oatmeal has been used for centuries as a soothing agent to relieve itch and irritation associated with various dry skin conditions,” says Dr. King. “Colloidal oatmeal is a natural complex of lipids, proteins, peptides, and starches that soothes, nourishes, and moisturizes the skin.”
A study published in March 2020 in the journal Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology found that colloidal oatmeal cream can improve severe eczema symptoms and related feelings of itchiness.
“What makes it effective at soothing the skin are the cellulose and fiber from the oats,” explains King. “These make a skin-softening emollient that is effective against irritation and redness that comes from conditions such as eczema.”
Honey has antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties that can be effective when applied to the skin, according to King.
“It’s a humectant, so it helps to hydrate the skin, and it aids in wound healing by maintaining a moist wound environment and providing a protective barrier,” she says. “Honey’s organic acid content provides gentle exfoliation.”
While there has been limited research regarding honey’s effectiveness in helping control the symptoms of eczema in general and atopic dermatitis specifically, there are some small pilot studies that hint at it being a great home remedy. A small study published in June 2017 in the journal Immunity, Inflammation and Disease found that applying manuka honey to eczema lesions improved the skin and resulted in less irritation.
If you have atopic dermatitis, the skin’s pH — the balance in levels of acidity and alkalinity — is elevated, causing irritation and dryness. Apple cider vinegar’s acidity may help restore the skin’s natural pH balance and ultimately improve atopic dermatitis symptoms when added to a bath or applied to the skin using a wet wrap.
According to a study published in the May-June 2020 issue of the journal Anais Brasileiros de Dermatologia, higher skin pH in atopic dermatitis contributes to an impaired epidermal barrier and may be resolved with acid- or alkaline-based treatments. But a separate study, published in June 2019 by the journal Pediatric Dermatology, found that apple cider vinegar soaks provide only temporary relief from atopic dermatitis symptoms and may cause skin irritation. Talk with your doctor or dermatologist before using vinegar on your skin.
While there are limited studies on the potential benefits of aloe vera in atopic dermatitis, some research suggests that its antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties could help alleviate symptoms. A study published in January 2020 in the Journal of Genetics and Genetic Engineering found that aloe vera can help manage and treat eczema with little risk of it further irritating the skin. If using aloe vera, look for a product containing the highest concentration of the extract from the medicinal plant, the researchers recommend.
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