Eczema, an allergy-related skin condition, is characterized by red, scaly dry patches that are extremely itchy. The disorder is especially common in young adults, children and infants. Dermatologists usually treat it with topical steroids, but I believe these drugs only suppress the problem and may worsen it over time. Steroids can also negatively impact immunity. A new class of drugs introduced recently may be better. In clinical trials, these agents, called topical immunomodulators, or TIMS, appear more effective than steroids with fewer side effects So far, however, only one of these new drugs, tacrolimus, has been approved by the FDA.
My approach, outlined below, does not rely on drugs at all and has worked well for many of my patients:
- Eliminate milk and all milk products from your diet, as well as products that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (often found in snack foods and baked goods) and trans-fatty acids (margarine, vegetable shortening).
- Take 500 milligrams of black currant oil twice a day (half that dose for children younger than 12). It contains gamma linolenic aid (GLA), an essential omega-6 fatty acid that promotes healthy growth of skin, hair and nails. You should begin to notice positive changes in six to eight weeks.
- Apply aloe vera gel (from a fresh plant or buy lotions or moisturizers containing aloe) or calendula cream to the affected areas of your arm.
- Experiment with lotions and salves containing chaparral (Larrea divaricata), a desert plant used topically in Mexican folk medicine for skin conditions.
- Visualization and hypnotherapy can have a significant positive impact on allergy-related skin conditions. And try to relax - stress can make the condition worse. Explore relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises and yoga.
In addition, be sure to bathe or shower as quickly as possible, and use a non-perfumed moisturizing soap. Apply a thick moisturizing cream immediately after patting yourself dry - don't rub your skin when you towel dry your body.
(You also may want to look into hot spring water - many Japanese doctors believe that daily mineral soaks can relieve eczema symptoms. If you happen to live near a hot spring, go for a dip to see if it helps.)
Andrew Weil, M.D.