Eczema doterra: Can Essential Oils Help Eczema and Atopic Dermatitis?
Can Essential Oils Help Eczema and Atopic Dermatitis?
Essential oils are natural oils extracted from plants, and they give plants their unique scent. As such, manufacturers commonly use essential oils in perfumes, flavorings, and aromatherapy, Merriam-Webster notes.
About 90 essential oils are safe to use on the skin and there are at least 1,500 possible combinations you can try, according to a review published in May 2017 in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. When you apply them directly to the skin, essential oils may offer unique benefits, including anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects, thanks to their plant compounds. Tea tree oil, for example, may be an effective anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial topical treatment for a variety of conditions, such as acne and edema (swelling), according to a past review.
Thanks to these potential benefits, essential oils are an appealing treatment option for people with inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema or atopic dermatitis.
Eczema is a group of skin conditions that include atopic dermatitis, and though there are many different forms of eczema, each shares the characteristic red, itchy, inflamed skin, according to the National Eczema Foundation. Atopic dermatitis is a chronic type of eczema, and those who have it need to manage their symptoms daily to avoid uncomfortable — and sometimes painful — flare-ups. Some people turn to essential oils to calm inflammation and in hopes of staving off infection.
The Importance of Diluting Essential Oils
According to the essential oils brand Doterra, you may be able to apply an essential oil directly to your skin without a carrier oil. Those oils, which are categorized as neat and do not need a carrier oil, include lavender and sandalwood. Yet others, such as cinnamon, thyme, and oregano, must be diluted with a carrier oil such as almond, coconut, or jojoba. The website also advises diluting oils such as peppermint, ginger, and black pepper before using them on sensitive skin, which is a common concern for people who are managing eczema.
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The Potential Health Benefits of Essential Oils for Eczema
Before you try essential oils for any type of eczema, it’s important to know the risks and potential benefits.
“Some [essential oils] can be helpful for their moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties for those suffering with atopic dermatitis,” says board-certified dermatologist Samer Jaber, MD, a member of the American Academy of Dermatology and founder of Washington Square Dermatology in New York City.
For example, a past review suggests that topical application of borage oil, extracted from the seeds of the Borago officinalis plant, may improve symptoms in people with relatively less severe atopic dermatitis. Borage oil contains a hefty amount of omega-6 fatty acids, which play an important role in maintaining skin structure and function, and contribute to the anti-inflammatory benefits seen in some people with atopic dermatitis, according to a review published in December 2017 in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences. Still, it’s unclear whether borage oil is safe and effective for long-term use in people with eczema and atopic dermatitis, so researchers need to conduct more studies on this essential oil.
Tea Tree Oil
Topical tea tree oil may also be beneficial for people with eczema, though the research isn’t conclusive. A past study found that topical tea tree oil reduced allergic contact dermatitis, a type of eczema that results when the skin comes in contact with an allergen, by 40.5 percent. That said, whether these effects would apply to atopic dermatitis remains to be seen.
Thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, tea tree oil may also help prevent the growth of skin bacteria or fungi, according to a past review. This may be especially helpful for people with eczema and atopic dermatitis, as excessive scratching during flare-ups can cause the skin to break, making it more prone to damage.
A past study found that topical application of German chamomile oil lowered histamine levels (a chemical released following allergen exposure) and frequency of scratching in mice with atopic dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis is often associated with allergies, so any treatment that calms allergic skin reactions may help ease the characteristic itchiness of atopic dermatitis. But these findings may not translate to human health. Researchers need to conduct more studies in humans to confirm these benefits.
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The Potential Health Risks of Essential Oils for People With Eczema
In spite of the promising research, essential oils may be risky for people with eczema and atopic dermatitis. “It’s important to be careful which essential oil is used, as some can irritate the skin and have the potential to make atopic dermatitis worse,” Dr. Jaber warns.
It’s tough to say which essential oils to avoid, as the manufacturing process itself may cause the essential oil to irritate the skin. According to the National Eczema Foundation, heat and chemicals added during the essential oil extraction process can create skin-irritating compounds, which may make essential oils a bad choice for people with eczema and atopic dermatitis.
Regardless of whether you are living with eczema, there is also concern that essential oils may cause hormonal changes. “Over 65 essential oils contain compounds that are hormone disruptors,” says Lauren Ploch, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Augusta, Georgia.
Hormone disruptors, known as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), are natural or manufactured substances that mimic or oppose hormones made in the body, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Repeated use of essential oils containing EDCs may lead to unwanted hormonal changes.
For example, past clinical research found that repeated use of topical lavender oil and tea tree oil likely caused three adolescent boys to develop breast tissue, a condition, the Mayo Clinic notes, is known as male gynecomastia. A study published in the January 2016 issue of the Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology & Metabolism found similar results in three boys who were chronically exposed to lavender.
To help lower the risk for exposure to EDCs, be sure to dilute your essential oil before using it on your skin. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences notes that as dilution increases, the risk for EDC exposure decreases.
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Why It’s Critical to Talk to Your Dermatologist Before Using Essential Oils for Eczema
At the end of the day, some studies suggest essential oils like borage oil and tea tree oil may help ease inflammation and lower the risk of skin infection, but we don’t know how well they work for this skin condition.
What’s more, some essential oils may irritate the skin and make eczema and atopic dermatitis symptoms worse.
Contact eczema or dermatitis, unlike an irritation eczema, stems from an allergy to a specific ingredient or chemical, according to the National Eczema Foundation. This can cause itchy blistering rashes on the skin. Talk to your doctor if you are concerned about developing contact eczema from essential oils. They may recommend performing a patch test on a normal area of skin first to see if you develop a reaction.
Dr. Ploch advises people with eczema and atopic dermatitis to avoid essential oils, as they have a weakened skin barrier, which allows substances like essential oils (and their potential hormone disruptors) to be absorbed more easily. “There are [no essential oils] that I would deem safe in this at-risk patient population,” she adds.
Your best move is to chat with your dermatologist, allergist, or other healthcare provider to find out if essential oils are right for you. For more information on eczema and atopic dermatitis, visit the American Academy of Dermatology.
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Essential Oils for Eczema Treatment: Do They Work?
If your severe eczema is not responding to traditional treatments, you may be wondering what other options you have. In addition to the therapies a doctor prescribes, you may be looking to try alternative or complementary medicine.
One type of complementary therapy you might be curious about is the use of essential oils. Essential oils are highly concentrated extracts distilled from various plants. They’re used in aromatherapy or diluted with a carrier oil for topical use.
Eczema causes red, itchy, and dry rashes that range from mild to severe. Persistent scratching due to severe eczema can cause damage to your skin, putting you at risk for skin infection. Finding a way to successfully manage this condition can prevent complications.
Here are some essential oils that can potentially ease eczema symptoms.
Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil comes from the leaves of the tea tree plant. It’s used for a variety of skin conditions, including:
- athlete’s foot
- head lice
- nail fungus
- insect bites
Tea tree oil has been proven to be an effective antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory treatment.
In a 2010 study, researchers compared various herbs and minerals for treating contact dermatitis and found tea tree oil to be the most effective.
However, in another study, undiluted tea tree oil has also been found to cause contact dermatitis for certain individuals who are allergic to one or more components of the oil.
Tea tree oil is strong. There’s a risk of skin irritation. Always dilute it with a carrier oil, such as fractionated coconut oil, sweet almond oil, or argan oil, before applying it to your skin.
Another important safety precaution: You should never swallow essential oils. If ingested, they can be toxic. Also, it’s best to do a skin patch test before using any essential oil.
Peppermint oil is considered to have numerous health benefits, such as the ability to relieve indigestion and calm nausea. Some people claim it can also be applied topically to reduce itching.
This oil is highly concentrated. Like all essential oils, you should mix it with a carrier oil before using it. However, because this oil is so highly concentrated, you may want to use a larger amount of carrier oil.
Use a few drops at first to avoid any irritation. Never apply it to your face. Avoid using it on the chest of infants or young children, as it can be harmful if they inhale it.
There’s very limited research on peppermint oil and its effects on eczema, so be cautious about using it. Talk with a doctor before trying it.
Calendula oil comes from the calendula, or marigold, flower.
One small study showed that calendula has anti-inflammatory properties when applied to the skin and can reduce swelling and pain. There isn’t any research on calendula oil specifically for eczema, so it’s not certain that it can ease your symptoms. To be safe, talk with a doctor.
A 2010 study investigated the use of borage oil for soothing eczema-prone skin. Borage oil contains a fatty acid that bodies convert into a hormone-like substance with anti-inflammatory properties.
Some people claim to have seen improvements in skin inflammation. But study results are mixed. More research is needed to determine if borage oil is effective at reducing eczema symptoms.
In addition to the essential oils listed above, there are other plant-derived oils available that could help treat severe eczema. These can be applied to your skin or used as a carrier oil for essential oils.
Jojoba oil comes from seeds of the jojoba plant. It’s used as an ingredient in many body care products, like shampoos, lotions, and facial cleansers.
Some research suggests that jojoba oil is also anti-inflammatory and can be used to soothe the skin and calm irritation, but more research is needed.
It’s also a powerful moisturizer. Jojoba oil closely resembles human sebum, an oily substance secreted by your skin and hair.
Some people claim that coconut oil has various benefits, whether you cook with it or apply it topically.
Coconut oil has some antimicrobial properties, which can reduce the chances of a skin infection. It’s also anti-inflammatory, so it may be able to provide relief from dry, cracked skin caused by inflammation.
In a 2013 study involving 117 children with eczema, applying virgin coconut oil topically for 8 weeks resulted in improvement of their skin.
Still, this single study does not mean that coconut oil can improve your case of eczema. Some people may have an allergy to coconut oil. Always talk with a doctor before applying anything new to your skin.
Sunflower seed oil
Sunflower seed oil is another carrier oil that some people claim has anti-inflammatory properties. This makes it helpful in reducing dryness and boosting skin hydration.
Sunflower seed oil is also a source of the antioxidant vitamin E. Some research has shown that vitamin E can reduce signs of skin inflammation. This may make it helpful for eczema, but more research is needed.
If you buy an essential oil, use it as directed. Essential oils should never be ingested. You must dilute them with a carrier oil before using them topically. Essential oils can be:
- applied to your skin
- diffused into the air for aromatherapy
- added to a bath
It’s also important to note that some essential oils are toxic to pets. If you or someone else is pregnant, some essential oils may be dangerous to inhale.
If you’re curious about trying an essential oil, talk with a doctor first. They can help you determine if using essential oils poses any concerns, such as making your condition worse.
Also, if you use an essential oil and see signs of redness, itching, burning, or stinging on your skin, contact a doctor and immediately discontinue use, as you may be having an allergic reaction.
Even though essential oils may provide relief for your severe eczema, use these oils with caution. Some people experience irritation due to allergic reactions or sensitivities after applying the oils. Essential oils are also not safe to swallow.
More research is needed to determine if these oils truly help relieve eczema symptoms.
If you’re using an essential oil for the first time, do a skin test. To perform a skin test:
- Apply a small, diluted dab to a patch of skin.
- Look for signs of a reaction, like stinging, burning, or redness.
Some of these essential oils and botanical oils are linked to reducing inflammation and boosting moisture, making them potentially helpful for eczema-prone skin. But there is not enough research yet to support this.
Use essential oils with caution, as they can sometimes lead to irritation or an allergic reaction. Always talk with a doctor before applying anything new to your skin that they have not recommended.
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