Eczema is the most common pediatric conditions that I treat in my Chinese medicine practice. It's no surprise so many patients are seeking to heal eczema since over 30 million people in the U.S. suffer from this skin condition. Most of these cases begin before the age of five.
For years, I was personally plagued with dishydrotic eczema – itchy blisters on my fingers and hands that started from years of bar tending. Both of my children developed eczema as babies – my daughter is pictured above.
Eczema can range from annoying to debilitating with itchy patches of red, irritated, rough and even scaly or oozing skin. When left untreated or suppressed, many of these patients will eventually develop allergies, asthma, or other autoimmune conditions.
Unfortunately, dermatologists and other western doctors have no cure for eczema. Their best treatments usually involve topical steroid creams that – often ineffectively – suppress the skin inflammation.
The good news is that Chinese Medicine can identify the root cause of eczema and offers safe, natural treatment that I have seen work time and time again.
Backed by research
Medical research supports what Chinese Medicine practitioners have known for centuries: Chinese medicine can alleviate and heal eczema – both the symptoms and the root cause.
In a preliminary study done at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, 14 children suffering with eczema were treated with herbal tea, herbal creams and acupuncture. Patients with severe symptoms saw improvements in as little as three months of treatments, and after 8 months, symptoms were reduced to very mild.
Results of a study conducted in Japan on adult patients has also yielded strong positive results for Chinese medicine and improvement in eczema symptoms. 87% of patients were symptom free after 3 to 4 months of treatment, and 12% were substantially improved.
How Chinese medicine does it differently
Chinese medicine is a true holistic medicine, meaning that it looks at the whole picture of a condition and addresses all of the component parts.
Eczema, like most skin conditions, is usually a reflection of an imbalance occurring INSIDE the body. This may be occurring even if you seem otherwise perfectly healthy.
Chinese medicine identifies several key patterns that typically come into play with eczema…
In Chinese medicine we refer to digestive weakness as ‘Spleen Qi deficiency.' Common symptoms may include gas, bloating, digestive allergies or sensitivities, constipation, diarrhea, poor appetite, fatigue, brain fog, or excessive worrying.
When it comes to eczema and other skin conditions, I almost always have found there to be a significant digestive component – even in the absence of digestive symptoms. This is because healthy digestion is at the epicenter of good health. In fact, it's been shown that the skin, gut, and brain all come from the same embryonic cells. (source) Eczema can act like a canary in a coal mine, letting us know that the digestive system could use some support.
It's also interesting to note that children are born with relatively “weaker” digestion, and are therefore more susceptible to conditions such as colic, reflux, food allergies, and eczema from birth. Add factors that further upset their delicate balance such as antibiotics or conventional formula, and their bodies are practically inviting eczema.
How to address digestive weakness to heal eczema:
- Avoid antibiotics which can obliterate healthy gut flora
- Supplement with high quality probiotics and probiotic foods (especially for babies who are formula fed)
- Consume plenty of homemade bone broth, which can help to heal and strengthen digestive function
- Avoid large amounts of cold, raw foods (smoothies, ice cream, and even salads) which can further weaken digestive function
Suppressed immune function
In Chinese medicine we refer to a weak immune system as ‘Wei Qi deficiency', which essentially means that the body's defensive energies are not working optimally.
We see this weaker immune function with eczema because the body is both hyper-sensitive to triggers (whether from food or the environment) and is also ineffectively responding to these triggers resulting in heat and dampness trapped in the skin (red and oozing rashes).
How to support healthy immune function to heal eczema:
- Healthy immune function starts in the gut, so follow the tips recommended for healing digestion, also apply to immune health.
- Determine triggers such as food allergies/sensitivities, environmental irritants, and synthetic skin products which can overwhelm an already taxed immune system.
- Avoid processed, packaged, and fake foods.
- Eat plenty of high quality, saturated fats such as coconut oil and ghee or butter.
- Supplement with a high quality fish oil which contains omega-3 fatty acids that help to reduce inflammation in all the cells in your body.
Trapped heat and dampness
The red skin and oozing blisters typical with eczema are described in Chinese Medicine as trapped heat and dampness.
The way to resolve this imbalance is by choosing foods and herbs to drain and vent heat (without damaging the digestion by consuming too many cold, raw foods).
From a dietary perspective, bitter foods like dandelion and other dark, leafy greens are fantastic for clearing heat and toxicity.
Chinese herbal formulas are particularly helpful, because the multiple herbs in a formula can clear heat and dampness without creating more imbalance in your body.
Stressed nervous system
Especially for adults but also for kids, stress (a.k.a. ‘Liver Qi Stagnation') plays a significant role in exacerbating eczema.
The simple answer to this is to not be stressed. But a more practical solution is to implement a stress management plan that can include any number of de-stressing activities like acupuncture, exercise, or taking time each week to spend time with a friend.
The longer you suffer from eczema and other health conditions the more likely the stress and imbalance will start to take a deeper toll on your system, potentially leading to adrenal fatigue and more devastating health problems, so by addressing eczema from the root, you are investing in your long-term health.
How long will it take to heal?
The rule of thumb with using any holistic treatment is that for every year you've had a condition it takes about a month to treat. While this is only a loose guide, it will help you to set expectations.
While it is certainly possible to apply these principles through food and lifestyle, if you find that the healing process seems to stall-out, don't distress. Reach out to an experienced Chinese medicine practitioner who can help you to trouble-shoot your treatment plan and add herbal treatment to enhance your progress.
Get The Eczema Cure
I see and talk to so many folks that are completely distressed about eczema for themselves or their child. My heart goes out to each one, and I am so happy to be able to share the methods that have worked for hundreds of patients including myself and both of my children.
For more comprehensive information on healing eczema with food, supplements, and the principles of Chinese medicine, be sure to check out my ebook: The Eczema Cure where I guide you through a 4-part action plan to resolve eczema from the inside out.
Click here to get The Eczema Cure now.
What's helped you heal eczema? Or…What hasn't? Let us know in the comments below!
paul dillon says
Thank you so much! This article resonated with me so well. I’ve been searching the internet countlessly for help with eczema and always lead to steroid treatments or home remedies that never worked. Ive spent loads of money and nothing ever helped. Reading the article and understanding my body has an underlining issue and getting to the root of the problem just hit home for me. I needed to get this blog post in my inbox today it was as if the universe was calling especially since I’ve got a bad flare up at the moment. I do eat a lot of raw foods, cold raw foods too like smoothies and salads.
I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to post this information. I am super excited to try the suggestions you’ve given. I will surely be sharing this on my Facebook page to hopefully reach others who may be wondering if living with blistered itchy hands is normal.
I agree 100%. I started using a product called GoYin which is a 2,000 year old Asian recipe for healthing. It is made up of herbs and plants. I took 1 oz. everyday and the ezcema on my hand cleared right up. I gave it to my 3 year old who had it on her body, and her ezcema was gone in a couple of weeks, and it hasn’t come back.
I wish my pediatrician was knowledgeable in Chinese medicine! My son has eczema which she told me was because of the weather. Through trial and error, we discovered trapped heat is the number one trigger for him, followed by food sensitivities. Great article and suggestions, I will be adding more bitter greens to his soups from now on. Thanks Emily!
In your experience, which fruits and vegetables are better for treating the heat & dampness? My daughter has mild eczema. I bought your book and am also taking her to a holistic doctor.
Thanks for sharing your experience.
Brandy Morris says
Wow….I stumbled onto your website from a shared facebook link about your homemade sunscreen. I started reading the eczema article and was blown away to see that you had dishydrotic eczema too. I’ve had it for years on my feet, tried multiple steroid creams and even saw a holistic doctor who recommended various oils and magnesium but nothing has ever worked. If your methodology/book got rid of your eczema I am sold. My husband and I recently went wheat free. Does your methodology work with that approach or can it be manipulated to work with a wheat free diet? Upon your response, I’m ready to buy the book!
In your experience, which fruits & vegetables are better to deal with the dampness & heat.
Would you recommend giving gelatin for a toddler?
Hi Archana – Thanks for your comment. While I go over this in more detail in the book, dark leafy greens, bitter greens and dandelion greens are especially effective. Hope that helps!
This is such a great article. This is the exact way I treated my eczema 2 years ago and it worked so well! 6 months of acupuncture (2-3 times per week), chinese herbs, and avoidance of heat- forming and dampening foods worked wonders. Thank you for sharing this with others!
My scalp is dry, flakey, itchy, sometimes sores, and i was wondering if reading the eczema cure would be worth while? I know you can have eczema on your scalp and i have very mild spots every now and then on my skin. I use all chemical free, gluten free, everything free beauty products and eat a mostly clean diet all the time. So i wasn’t sure if this could be eczema, but it burns when i sweat, itches all the time, etc. Just want to find the right foods to avoid/eat that will help heal it! Thank you!
I had this problem for years, and it seemed to come and go. It has finally healed now that I am grain free and sugar going on 18 months. I am also taking great steps to cleansing and healing the liver. All skin problems generally stem from a congested liver, and clogged colon. Try dry brushing, detox baths, fermented foods, water or coffee enemas, etc, etc. Gentle detox methods have helped me.
Is it possible to have eczema on your scalp?? I eat a clean diet and use chemical free, gluten free, everything freee makeup and shampoos and can not get relief. Wanted to see if this book was worth reading in order to heal my scalp!
Hi Emily – Thanks for your comment. If you’re looking to heal your eczema from the inside out, the Eczema Cure will outline which real foods will help you do so.
My daughter is 9 months old with pretty bad eczema and I suspect her trigger is her formula. The pediatrician suggested a hypo-allergenic formula but it is highly processed and not organic. I give her fish oil, have given her bone broth and recently started her on probiotics with the reuteri and rhamnosus strands.
I can’t do much about the formula until she turns 1, and I am wondering without removing the trigger, is there a way to get her some relief? We do dandelions, bitter and dark leafy greens as a family and I can certainly introduce them to her as well, but because it is so bad I wonder if it will be enough to help her.
Is she too young for the chinese herbs are her age?
Hi PG – Thanks for your comment. It sounds like you’re on the right track, and it’s great that you are doing everything you can to treat it while she’s young. If you would like to learn more about treating eczema, I’ve outlined how Chinese Medicine can help with healing in the Eczema Cure.
Thank You Emily, for your response. I will look into the Eczema Cure.
Emily, I just purchased and read your ebook and found it very informative for adults, but I’m not sure how it applies to babies. I have a 6 month old exclusively breastfed baby (born vaginally) with pretty severe eczema. My family and I eat (now and while I was pregnant) a diet of whole foods, almost everything organic, and plenty of fermented foods. I tried an elimination diet where I basically ate fresh, grass fed meats, vegetables and fruits for 3 1/2 weeks and her eczema didn’t get better. Per your book, I am going to try getting her in the sun more for Vitamin D and giving her some probiotics. Do you think my diet should still be evaluated to help her heal or should I start giving her some of the healing foods you outlined in your book? How long, after changing my diet, should it take to see improvement in baby’s skin? Thanks!
Hi Chelsea – If you would like, please set up a free 15 minute consultation with so I can answer your question in more detail. http://www.emilybartlettacupuncture.com/distance-consultations
Hi Emily. I am seeing a CM practitioner for fertility and liver qi stagnation, my bbt were extremely low so she is working on warming up my body, which has worked. A side effect has been eczema breaking out on my hands. Is there anything I can do?
Hi Marie – Thanks for your comment. Your practitioner should be able to help address these issues, but the Eczema Cure guide could also help supplement your course of treatment.
For those that went the steroid route it is common to get Red Skin Syndrome. If you find your eczema worsening and/or spreading it could be an addiction to the cream your doctor prescribed. Go to itsan.org to find out more about RSS. Many who think they are suffering with eczema have RSS. Get off the steroid/cortisone creams and you will heal 100%, but the withdrawl is long and hard. I am one of those that tried everything to get rid of my eczema, and all along I was addicted to my steroid cream, therefor my body made eczema for more steroid cream.
In your book on eczema you recommend two strands of probiotics that are specific for healing the gut/skin. L. Reuteri and L. Rhamnosus GG. I have a six month old who suffers from eczema with chronic bacterial infections and (what i believe is) leaky gut. On your website you list the Klaire Lab brand, but I do not see those two specific strands. Please advise. Thanks in advance!
Hi Rachel, you don’t necessarily need these two strains of probiotics but they have been shown to be helpful for eczema. You can find them separately as well if you can’t find them in one branded product.
Does the book address histamine problems because I tried the Gaps diet and my eczema got way worse! I completely believe in nutrient dense food but I found I cannot eat bone broth or fermented foods because they are high histamine foods, so I want to make sure I can eat what the book says before I buy it.
Emily Bartlett says
Hi Gena, often when you are flushing out your system, you will find your eczema will get worse before it gets better. The book does recommend nutrient dense food, probiotic rich food and bone broth.
Hi ! I have some eczema that started under my wedding and engagement ring 3 months post partum. it went away by itself after 6 months. so i assumed i was just nutrient deficient. now i have it back since 10 weeks into pregnancy. same problem? I fear it will only get worse, as the pregnancy and post partum go ahead. and it is only light now. I eat very healthy, so i really would like to hear your advice. i tried buying your book on the eczema cure but the window clothes automatically when i want to check out. How come it’s not possible to buy it on amazon ? a print would be nice ! Thanks
Emily Bartlett says
Hi Bernadette, I believe a new link for the book has been sent to you by now. The book has everything you need to know about healing any possible gut issues. Sometimes eating healthy isn’t enough and you need to find the trigger causing the disorder. I hope that helps.
My six year old girl, from birth onward showing the eczema symptoms, now she is in atopic stage, we are treating with Ayurveda medicine, before we used almost all the steroid creams, but no result. it will effect only in the particular period after that doctor will change. Currently her itching is very high and acute, so blisters are formed in the foreleg and knee ankles.
Is it possible to treat with Chinese herbs and how it is effective for my six old child in this acute condition.?
Emily Bartlett says
Hi Aneesh, I would suggest you look at this book I wrote on The Eczema Cure. Other than that, finding a Chinese Health Practitioner would be advisable as Chinese herbs can definitely help! xoxo Emily
Jacina Coyne says
Acupuncture, herbal prescription & dietary changes; specifically avoiding:
2. Highly processed foods
5. Fermented food (alcohol, vinegars etc)
6. Strong or pungent spices (ginger, black pepper, onion & garlic etc.)
7. Spicy food (chilli peppers)
8. Deep fried foods
11. Red skinned fish and all shellfish
16. Extreme temperatures