Millions of people, including infants, have eczema, a skin condition that causes intense itching. As there is no cure, it is understandable, then, that sufferers would look for the best treatment possible. Dr. Jeffrey Ross Gunter, a dermatologist at SummitMD Dermatology, is often asked about alternative treatments, and he is able to answer these questions so that patients avoid options that don’t work.
“Please be very careful with supplements,” he advises. “It is true that people have said for many years that they can treat eczema. The problem is, however, that there are actually numerous safety concerns when you use them to treat childhood eczema. You could have additional side effects when they’re taken in conjunction with some medicines, and some aren’t as effective as you might have been told. And unfortunately, the manufacturers of some products can make misleading claims, so it is always best to consult with your dermatologist first.”
One supplement eczema sufferers want to know about is oils. “This includes fish oil, evening primrose oil, and borage oil,” says Dr. Gunter. “Their benefit, however, is either minimal or none at all. On top of this, there are some safety concerns. Combining these oils with some medicine, like with aspirin, can slow the clotting of your blood. Less dangerous but still concerning is the diarrhea, upset stomach, or nausea that your child may get if they consume too much of the oil.”
He explains that probiotics are another supplement that is not effective in managing eczema. Probiotics are yeast and live bacteria,” he says. “It is true that they can be used to treat diseases and might improve our health. Even so, they have not been effective against eczema. There are also safety considerations to remember. The effect of taking probiotics can vary from person to person and can worsen some diseases. Before taking probiotics, please consult with your dermatologist first.”
Vitamins and minerals, he says, are beneficial to the human body, but do they help treat eczema? “That depends on the vitamin or mineral you’re taking. Vitamin E can help a little while Vitamin D could be helpful during colder temperatures in the winter. Adults may benefit from using Vitamin B12 cream. Remember, too, that the safety of a vitamin or mineral will depend on how long it stays in the body. Vitamin E, for example, can build up if you take too much of it too often, and that higher dose can be toxic to your system.”
What does help, he says, is a multi-tiered approach. “Good treatment starts with how you take care of your skin. Be sure to not take showers that are too hot since that irritates your skin. Since eczema dries out your skin, using a strong moisturizer throughout the day can help a lot. Know what your triggers are and manage them each day. Watch out for the big ones: stress, heat or cold, and detergents that have fragrances.”
Dr. Gunter states that a dermatologist can prescribe a corticosteroid ointment. “These lock in moisture in the skin and lock out any germs or other substances that can irritate your skin. Medicines like this lead to a stronger management of a patient’s symptoms.”
Above all, Dr. Gunter advises that a patient follow their dermatologist’s treatment plan and that if they would like to take any additional supplements, they get their dermatologist’s approval first. “That way, you’ll know that what you’re taking is safe and effective, and you’ll have both peace of mind and control over your eczema.”
Jeffrey Ross Gunter, MD, FAAD is a board-certified dermatologist at SummitMD Dermatology. He is a graduate of the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California where he was previously a Clinical Professor of Dermatology and Chief Resident of Dermatology at the LAC/USC Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA.