How to Heal Eczema With Essential Oils
Derived from an ancient Greek word which literally means “to boil out”, eczema is a term generally used for any type of skin inflammation. It can express itself in a number of ways and its symptoms are different from person to person. There are several types of skin diseases that are eczemas, but anyone who suffers from dry, sensitive, and itchy skin is said to have eczema. It can also include symptoms of red and warm skin, dark discoloration, rashes, swelling, blistering, peeling, and oozing.
What Causes Eczema?
It is estimated that up to 30 million Americans are living with eczema. The exact cause of eczema is unknown, but there is some evidence that it could have genetic origins. It has been closely associated with the development of asthma and/or hay fever, called the atopic triad: if one or both parents have eczema, hay fever, or asthma, it’s likely their children will develop one or more of the conditions.
While there is no known cure, people who have eczema may experience periods of remission when the skin is clear. A return of symptoms – or flare-ups – can be induced by environmental triggers. These include:
- Chemical irritants found in soaps, detergents, shampoos, disinfectants, and household cleansers
- Allergens from pet dander, pollens, molds, and dandruff
- Micro-organisms like viruses, bacteria, and fungi
- Swings in temperature from hot weather, sweating during physical activity, and high and low humidity
- Food allergies from eating dairy, eggs, soy, wheat, nuts, and seeds
- Clothing made of wool or synthetic fibers
You can reduce the symptoms of eczema by identifying your individual triggers and avoiding them whenever possible. Wearing soft and natural fibers like cotton, eliminating certain foods from your diet, and washing with mild cleansers are some of the easier lifestyle changes you can make to help prevent eczema.
In addition to environmental factors, there are also physiological and emotional triggers that can elicit eczema flare-ups. Hormone imbalance and natural hormonal changes that occur during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause can cause eczema symptoms to worsen. There is also a significant mind-body connection with all kinds of skin ailments and emotional distress is considered both a trigger for, and a symptom of, eczema. This can be a difficult cycle to break since feelings of anxiety and depression can prompt a flare-up which only compounds negative emotions and leads to an exacerbation of eczema symptoms.
Alternative Treatments for Eczema
Although there are plenty of remedies available to those who suffer from eczema – from topical steroids, phototherapy, immunosuppressants, and over-the-counter creams – a clinical survey found that more than 40% of those polled were dissatisfied with the current state of medical treatments for eczema, reporting that medications are ineffective, expensive, or cause adverse side effects.
The good news here is that natural therapies are gaining ground as individuals look to alternatives and researchers are learning more about the healing properties of plants and herbs. Botanical oils, applied topically, have shown much potential when it comes to reducing skin inflammation while increasing the skin’s moisture barrier. Holistically, essential oils can be used to treat some of the underlying issues at play during eczema flare-ups by combatting anxiety and treating hormone imbalance.
Anti-Inflammatory Essential Oils To Heal Eczema
Warm and spicy, thyme essential oil contains carvacrol, an organic compound that functions as a natural defense against pain, swelling, infection, and inflammation. As the most impressive of all the essential oils tested, thyme oil was found to reduce COX-2 expression by 65%.
Clove is composed of between 80-95% eugenol, a substance commonly used by dentists as an antiseptic and anti-inflammatory to relieve pain and swelling from dental surgeries. Smelling woody, warm, and slightly fruity, clove oil suppressed COX-2 by 40%.
The aroma of the Rosa damascena is flowery, sweet, and uplifting and has long been cherished for its anti-depressant and aphrodisiac properties. As an anti-inflammatory, it also contains eugenol and was effective in lowering COX-2 by 30%.
Eucalyptus oil has many amazing benefits. Fresh and earthy, its main ingredient is eucalyptol which is used commercially in mouthwashes, cough suppressants, and insecticides. In addition to beating back COX-2 by 25%, yet another study revealed that eucalyptus oil is an effective treatment for pain relief and inflammation.
With the fragrance of licorice, fennel oil contains anethole which has powerful anti-inflammatory qualities. In the COX-2 study, it was able to impede the production of this enzyme by 22%.
Derived from an orange native to Italy, bergamot oil smells fresh and citrusy and is well-known for its energizing and mood boosting effects. Lowering COX-2 by 21%, additional research has demonstrated that bergamot oil reduced inflammation by 63% when applied at a concentration of 0.10 mL/kg.
Beyond the six essential oils identified in the COX-2 study, others have been shown to reduce inflammation. Namely:
More geranium in appearance and scent than rose, Pelargonium graveolens is an African flower. Rose geranium oil has been used historically for its soothing effects on the skin, and a 2013 study showed it also is a potent anti-inflammatory. Researchers applied a miniscule amount of oil to inflamed skin and found it reduced swelling by more than 70%.
With calming and sedative effects, chamomile oil is rich, fruity, and sweet. Both Roman and German chamomile oils have similar anti-inflammatory properties. Tested specifically for eczema, topical application with chamomile decreased inflammation, and as a maintenance therapy, it was superior to over-the-counter NSAIDs and steroid creams.
Distilled from the foliage of Melaleuca alternifolia, tea tree leaves were first used by the Bundjalung people of Australia to treat infections, cold symptoms, and skin ailments. While tea tree oil has a myriad of extraordinary uses, it is especially good for promoting healthy skin by allaying acne, sores, itchiness, and inflammation.
Part of the ginger family, turmeric is chiefly composed of curcumin which gives it its yellow color and earthy, spicy aroma. Evidence of curcumin’s anti-inflammatory effects has been well-documented in a number of studies by inhibiting many of the molecules (COX-2 included!) that cause inflammation.
Unlike ground peppercorns that can make you sneeze, black pepper oil is easier on the senses with crisp and piquant notes. Peperine gives black pepper its spicy profile and this compound has also been shown to inhibit the molecules responsible for pain and inflammation.
As one of the most versatile essential oils, lavender is an all-in-one remedy for depression, sleeplessness, pain, poor digestion, and so much more. Lavender oil has also been found to substantially reduce inflammation.
Most of the essential oils (plus so many more!) mentioned above are contained within this glorious Eden’s Garden Supreme Aromatherapy Essential Oils Set. It’s the only essential oil kit you really needed to step up your aromatherapy game.
Alternatively, if you’d like to hand pick each essential oil, then they can all be found on this page on Mountain Rose Herbs.