Atopic Dermatitis

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atopic dermatitis

Eczema is a skin rash that is also referred to as atopic dermatitis, inflammatory skin condition and contact dermatitis. This is generally a chronic disorder that involves scaly itching skin that may be dry or weepy. This condition can range from mild to severe and can fluctuate throughout the seasons or even throughout the day. Itching these lesions can lead to bacterial infections. The itching itself can drive a person mad!

This article briefly explains eczema symptoms and then gives you a thorough look at how to use a natural treatment for eczema using home remedies for eczema. 

Who Does Eczema Affect?

This diagnosis often appears in infants but certainly affects older children and adults as well. It is common for those with atopic dermatitis to also have other inflammatory conditions such as seasonal allergies, hay fever or asthma. A person diagnosed with atopic dermatitis when they were an infant may experience relapses or outbreaks at various times in their life. (Think of this as their weak link and an area they can focus on strengthening throughout their lives.)

Eczema Causes

Western medicine does not cite a specific cause for atopic dermatitis but recognizes that it may be due to genetics, dietary allergens and irritants.

Western Treatment

Western medical treatment for atopic dermatitis is often topical steroids. If infection is present then antibiotics are also used. The person may also be referred out to get various allergy tests.

Eczema and Stress

Many of the people I have worked with have a strong emotional component to this condition. Atopic dermatitis appearing as a rash on face, neck or hands can leave people feeling vulnerable. Compassionate care for this potentially disfiguring problem is an important part of the overall protocol. Also many people experience more frequent or severe occurrences when they are experiencing a lot of stress. Relaxing nervines can be an important part of the overall treatment strategy.

Eczema Remedies

The best treatment for eczema is the one that addresses the root cause of the problem and not simply uses herbs to suppress the symptoms.

From a traditional herbalist perspective this is often an inflammatory condition indicating too much heat and congestion in the body. Overall the treatment strategy will be to detoxify and drain the entire system. Topical remedies can help ease discomfort but this is an internal and systemic problem, not merely an external one.

Importance of Digestion and an Eczema Diet

I often see atopic dermatitis and eczema present with digestion difficulties, most notably constipation. Getting the bowels moving regularly is an important first step in addressing this condition.

Healthy digestion is intertwined with a healthy diet. Have you considered which foods cause eczema? An elimination diet may be necessary to identify exactly which foods cause eczema for you. Most often I see gluten and casein (dairy) as the culprits.

I am often asked if a person needs to remove offending foods from their diet for the rest of their life. It depends. After intensive gut healing therapies you may or may not be able to consume these foods without a reaction.

Other dietary considerations are eating a plethora of fresh vegetables, avoiding processed foods and getting an appropriate amount of healthy fats. Foods high in antioxidants such as dark berries and spices like oregano and turmeric should be accentuated in the diet.

Herbs for Eczema

Again, the best herbal cure for eczema is the one that addresses your individual root problem. In traditional herbalism there are multiple types of eczema and multiple reasons why someone might get eczema.

The following categories of herbs for eczema are the ones I most commonly use with people searching for a natural treatment for eczema.

  • Alterative herbs
    One way of viewing atopic dermatitis is that the skin is carrying a heavy burden of elimination because other systems of elimination are backed up. Alterative herbs support specific elimination pathways of the body. Depending on their specific action they may clear a congested liver, encourage urination, support the lungs for increased breath (and release of CO2), open the pores in the skin, move the lymph and move the bowels. By creating a clear running river of elimination in our bodies we avoid becoming a stagnant mucky pond.

  • Adaptogen herbs
    Adaptogens help the body deal with stress. In general these are toning and building therapies and are especially valuable for those with deficiency symptoms or where stress is playing a major role.

  • Anti-inflammatory herbs
    High in flavonoids and other methods of regulating inflammation, these herbs can quell the systemic inflammation often associated with atopic dermatitis. All of these herbs have a special affinity for the skin.

  • Diaphoretic herbs
    Diaphoretics can be used to release the periphery and encourage elimination through the skin. A person’s specific condition needs to be evaluated before attempting this type of therapy to avoid exacerbating the condition. Depending on the person, relaxing diaphoretics (e.g., Sambucus nigra) or stimulating diaphoretics (e.g., Monarda spp.) may be used.

  • Relaxing nervine herbs
    Helpful in supporting the nervous system, these herbs promote a sense of calm.

Supplements to consider:

  • Probiotics (loading doses)
  • Omega 3’s (EPA/DHA)
  • Evening Primrose oil
  • Vitamin D3
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C

atopic dermatitis

Topical treatments for healing and relieving itching

Depending on the manifestation of the skin problem these herbs could be used as a salve, poultice, infused oil, wash or cream. In general we don’t use oil-based products on wet or weepy types of eczema.


  • Healthy relationship with stress. Readjust priorities if necessary, yoga, tai chi, breaks throughout the day, time spent in nature.

  • Using natural body butters immediately following showers/baths for dry/itchy conditions.

  • Short term green vegetable fast.

  • Avoid all harsh chemical cleaners, laundry detergents, soaps and shampoos.


With chronic skin conditions it is a good idea to start with milder treatments and slowly increase in dosage and/or slowly move to stronger herbs. Skin diseases are notorious for getting worse before they get better. A sudden or unexpected increase in symptoms may sway someone from continuing a regimen. If the condition gets worse it should only do so temporarily and then improve dramatically. Otherwise the treatment plan may need to be re-evaluated.

Chronic atopic dermatitis may take a year to fully resolve. While symptoms will continue to improve throughout the time period there is long-term work needed to address digestion and the immune system, two underlying causes for this manifestation.

Because your body is every changing, herbal therapies will need to be reformulated as your symptoms change.

Rosalee is an herbalist and author of the bestselling book Alchemy of Herbs: Transform Everyday Ingredients Into Foods & Remedies That Healand co-author of the bestselling book Wild Remedies: How to Forage Healing Foods and Craft Your Own Herbal Medicine. She's a registered herbalist with the American Herbalist Guild and has taught thousands of students through her online courses. Read about how Rosalee went from having a terminal illness to being a bestselling author in her full story here.  

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