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What Dietary Supplements Are Used by Individuals with Atopic Dermatitis?

Dietary supplements are ingestible products that contain ingredients that are intended to add nutritional value to the diet. Dietary supplements may be one or a combination of vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, metabolite, extract, or a substance to increase the total dietary intake. They come in a variety of forms, including tablets, capsules, liquids, or powders.1

The relationship between diet and atopic dermatitis (AD) has been the subject of research for many years, in part because of the increased risk of food allergies among people with AD, especially children. Several studies have evaluated the potential benefits of various dietary supplements on people with AD, including probiotics, evening primrose oil, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and others.


Probiotics, also called “good bacteria,” are defined as live microorganisms that are similar to the beneficial bacteria found in the human gut. Probiotics are believed to help restore the gut environment in delivering beneficial bacteria into the gut and may influence the immune response.3,4

Research studies on the use of probiotics in people with AD have found limited evidence to support their use. A variety of probiotic strains have been studied, and the effect of probiotics on AD is small and does not seem to impact the severity or frequency of AD. The American Academy of Dermatology does not recommend the use of probiotics as a treatment for AD.4

Evening primrose oil

Evening primrose is a plant with yellow flowers that bloom in the evening. The oil from the plant contains the fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Some research on the use of evening primrose oil on AD has found that the supplement may benefit people who do not use high potency corticosteroids. Evening primrose oil reduces the symptoms of itching, crusting, inflammation, and redness after use for 4-8 weeks. However, the improvement is reduced in those who use potent steroids. However, other research trials have shown mixed results or no benefit to the use of evening primrose oil. One study found that high doses of evening primrose oil improve symptoms of AD, while low doses provide less benefit. More studies are needed to determine whether evening primrose oil may be a beneficial adjunct to treatment for some people with AD.3-6


DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is an omega-3 fatty acid. Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids that play a role in several functions in the body, including muscle activity, blood clotting, digestion, and cell division and growth. DHA is naturally found in seafood and shellfish, and DHA is available in fish oil supplements.3 Research trials have found that DHA may provide a benefit in decreasing the severity of AD, however larger trials are needed to fully support the use of DHA and to understand how it works.7,8

Vitamins and minerals

Vitamins and minerals are essential substances needed by the body to function properly and develop normally. It is generally recommended that people aim to obtain the needed vitamins and minerals through healthy eating that includes a variety of foods, but supplements are available and may be used to support nutrition.3

Several studies have looked at the effect of various vitamins and minerals on AD, but there is not enough data to merit any recommendation. Promising results have been suggested in vitamin D and vitamin E supplementation, as well as a topical B12 cream, however additional research is needed.4,6

Written by Emily Downward | Reviewed October 2019
  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Accessed online on 5/3/17 at
  2. Mahajeri S, Newman SA. Review of evidence for dietary influences on atopic dermatitis. Skin Therapy Letter. 2014;19(4). Accessed online on 5/3/17 at
  3. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Accessed online on 5/3/17 at
  4. Sidbury R, et al. Guidelines of care for the management of atopic dermatitis. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2014;71(6):1218-1233.
  5. Morse NL, Clough PM. A meta-analysis of randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials of Efamol evening primrose oil in atopic eczema. Where do we go from here in light of more recent discoveries? Curr Pharm Biotechnol. 2006 Dec;7(6):503-24.
  6. Vieria BL, Lim NR, Lohman ME, Lio PA. Complementary and alternative medicine for atopic dermatitis: an evidence-based review. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2016 Dec;17(6):557-581.
  7. Koch C, Dölle S, Metzger M, et al. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplementation in atopic eczema: a randomized, double-blind, controlled trial. Br J Dermatol. 2008 Apr;158(4):786–92.
  8. Han SC, Koo DH, Kang NJ, et al. Docosahexaenoic acid alleviates atopic dermatitis by generating macrophages via a TGF-beta-dependent mechanism. J Invest Dermatol. 2015 Jun;135(6):1556-64. doi: 10.1038/jid.2014.488. Epub 2014 Nov 18.