What Are Common Natural Remedies for Atopic Dermatitis?
People with atopic dermatitis (eczema) may try remedies from complementary and alternative medicine, such as botanicals (from plants), to help them manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.
What is complementary and alternative medicine?
Alternative medicine is a term that means any medicinal products or practices that are not part of mainstream medicine. Alternative medicine is also defined by its use as an alternative to traditional medical care. Complementary medicine is used in combination with traditional medicine. Patients are encouraged to talk to their doctor about all therapies and practices they are using to manage their symptoms.1,2
Coconut oil has emollient properties, as well as having antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Many studies specifically use virgin coconut oil (VCO, Cocos nucifera), which has not undergone chemical refining, bleaching, or deodorizing.
How does virgin coconut oil work?
Researchers have studied the use of VCO on atopic dermatitis. They have found the coconut oil can provide improvement in the severity and symptoms of atopic dermatitis, particularly dry skin (xerosis), itching, and improving the skin’s barrier function. VCO acts as an occlusive, coating the skin to slow the water loss that happens due to the damaged skin barrier in atopic dermatitis. Virgin coconut oil also seems to address the chronic inflammation caused by atopic dermatitis and acts as an antibacterial, reducing the bacteria present on the skin that can lead to infection.2-4
Sunflower seed oil
Sunflower seed oil (Helianthus annuus) has demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties and skin barrier restoring effects. The major lipid in sunflower seed oil is linoleic acid, which is believed to decrease inflammation.
How does sunflower seed oil work?
Clinical trials of sunflower seed oil on atopic dermatitis have found it enhances the skin barrier recovery and can be a cost-effective moisturizer for people with atopic dermatitis. Sunflower seed oil has also been shown to have fewer side effects than olive oil, which can cause redness, and sunflower seed oil improves skin hydration. A clinical trial that studied the use of a 2% sunflower cream found that it provided significant improvement in disease severity and quality of life compared to hydrocortisone cream.2,4
Cardiospermum halicacabum is also known as balloon vine, and ointments and creams are made from its extract. The vine grows abundantly in India and has been used for years in Ayurvedic medicine and Chinese medicine. Cardiospermum ointments have anti-inflammatory and antipruritic (anti-itching) effects.5,6
Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis) is a plant with a moisturizing effect and seems to speed wound healing. Aloe vera gel also has properties that are harmful to certain types of bacteria and fungi. However, clinical research on the use of aloe vera in people with atopic dermatitis is limited.5,7
An emu is a large bird that is indigenous to Australia. The oil comes from the bird's fat and has been promoted as a product that can cure many conditions. As an oil, it does have moisturizing properties. It may also have anti-inflammatory properties, but few research trials have been conducted to prove claims of its use for skin conditions and other oils have similar properties at lower prices.8
Calendula officinalis is the formal name for the marigold flower. The extract from these flowers have been used in folk therapy as remedies for burns, bruises and skin inflammation of various causes. Calendula cream has anti-inflammatory effects, but research on its use in atopic dermatitis is limited.9