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Prescription meds can help ease the itchy, redness of eczema, but what about natural, alternative remedies like olive oil?
Olive oil is a multitasker: It’s heart-healthy, vitamin-packed, and can even hold its own as a salad dressing. But if you have eczema, will this pressed creation have your skin singing “olive you”? Probably not.
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Is olive oil good for eczema? Here’s what the science says:
Research suggests that olive oil is somewhere in between unhelpful and flat out harmful when it comes to treating eczema. One study shows that olive oil doesn’t have the right levels of linoleic acid to oleic acid to give you any relief for an eczema breakout, while another study shows olive can even increase skin redness.
The short answer? No, there’s no evidence that olive oil is good for treating eczema.
Even though olive oil has lots of fatty acids that can superficially moisturize the skin, caring for eczema is like a middle school poster: It’s what’s on the inside that counts.
With eczema, the skin barrier is damaged, leaving the skin sensitive and prone to dryness. Skin can feel red, itchy, and can break out in a scaly or bumpy rash.
Atopic dermatitis (the most common type of eczema) dehydrates the top layer of the skin by increasing transepidermal water loss (TEWL).
When the natural barrier of your skin isn’t working the way it should and is getting rid of too much water, you have to repair this barrier to help calm an eczema outbreak.
For a natural oil to get that done, it needs to have a high ratio of linoleic acid to oleic acid. This acid balance helps the oil penetrate the top layer of the skin and help repair that delicate barrier.
Olive oil doesn’t have high enough levels of linoleic acid to help you out, and it could even make eczema worse. One study found that olive oil irritates the skin of eczema patients, does nothing to repair damage, and increases redness. You might just want to keep it in the kitchen.
Applying olive oil
While applying a few drops of olive oil to eczema-affected skin isn’t linked to any serious health problems, it won’t do you much good. It provides superficial hydration, but doesn’t do the real work of repairing the skin barrier and can even increase redness.
Drinking olive oil
There aren’t any clinical studies about sipping olive oil to treat eczema, but we do know that olive oil has anti inflammatory properties.
There’s some evidence that incorporating it into your regular diet can lead to better general health and possibly calm the eczema-related inflammation. So even though it won’t stop a flare-up, it could help reduce flares in the long term.
There isn’t one foolproof treatment for eczema, but there are a bunch of natural oils backed by science that might work for you:
- Sunflower seed oil. Made of mostly oleic and linoleic acids, sunflower seed oil is shown to improve hydration and help balance the natural skin barrier without causing redness.
- Jojoba oil. An ingredient showing up more and more in skin care, this natural oil helps repair damaged skin barriers and may aid absorption of topical drugs.
- Argan oil. With daily application, argan oil can help heal the skin barrier and lock in moisture. Plus, it helps improve skin elasticity and softness.
- Safflower seed oil. Made from a spiky, yellow flower, safflower seed oil is easily absorbed, helps maintain hydration in the skin barrier, and has promising anti inflammatory effects.
- Coconut oil. A small study found coconut oil more effective than olive oil in treating eczema. Coconut oil also contains a fatty acid that can fight off staph infections. Since eczema patients are a bit more likely to get a staph infection, this is a big plus.
- Rosehip oil. Forget rose thighs, it’s all in the rosehips. The rosehip is just below the petals where the seeds are, and oil from this region of the plant makes for a great anti inflammatory and hydrating treatment.
If oils aren’t your jam, there are a variety of other natural eczema remedies that can get you through a flare-up, no prescription needed:
- Bleach baths. Okay, hear us out. This sounds nuts but it is a highly recommended eczema treatment. Just pour 1/2 cup of bleach into a bath full of warm water. Sit in the bath for 5 to 10 minutes, then rinse with clean water. Though experts aren’t exactly sure why this works, it can go a long way for relieving discomfort.
- Oatmeal baths. If you’re not up for bleach baths, you can cozy up to some gentle grain. Oatmeal is a naturally soothing ingredient that can calm itchiness and irritation on eczema flares. Try making an oatmeal paste from oats and water and placing that on the affected areas. Let that sit on the skin for 5 to 10 minutes, then rinse with clean, warm water.
- Wet wraps. For intense flares, wet wraps can reduce itching and pain using gauze or cotton fabric (just make sure it’s completely clean). After a bath, wet the gauze or fabric in warm water. Then, wrap the material around the affected area. Wrap a dry layer of gauze or cloth, then put on some comfy PJs and head to bed. You can keep the wrap on for a few hours or you can go all night long.
- Moisturize. If you don’t like moisturizing with oils, that’s fine! Just be sure to moisturize with something. Pick a lotion you love and slather it on, but keep in mind that fragrances could be irritating. Be sure to moisturize at least after every shower and, if you have eczema on your hands, lotion up after every time you wash them.
- Soft clothes. Fabric choice is key when dealing with eczema. Wool or synthetic fabrics will irritate the skin so opt instead for soft fabrics like cotton or silk. And who doesn’t want an excuse to wear the comfiest pants possible?
- Shorter, cooler showers. With eczema, you want to do everything you can to hydrate the skin, and, even though you literally just stood under running water, hot showers actually dehydrate the skin. The heat sucks moisture away and leaves you feeling drier. Instead, keep the temperature warm to cool and try to limit shower time to 5 to 10 minutes.
- Check your triggers. Everyone has different eczema triggers that tend to bring on a flare-up. For some, it’s specific foods, for others it’s stress. If you can find out what your specific triggers are, you have the power to avoid, or prepare for, an eczema flare-up.
- Use a humidifier. Increasing the overall moisture of the air can help increase the moisture of your skin. Eczema gets irritated by dryness, so sleeping with a humidifier on (or running it all day in dry climates) can help.
- Probiotics. More research is needed, but there’s some evidence that balancing gut bacteria can help with eczema. Probiotics help increase the level of good bacteria in the gut, which generally helps relieve inflammation. A probiotic won’t give any immediate relief, but it could improve your eczema overall.
- Vitamin D. A small study found vitamin D supplements helped improve eczema in 80 percent of its patients. Now, this study was on children and quite small, but it means that there could be links between vitamin D and atopic dermatitis. Especially if you have flares in winter or live in a cloudy climate, a vitamin D dose could help.
You may think olive oil is delicious, but if you have eczema, your skin wouldn’t agree. Though olive oil can help moisturize healthy skin, it doesn’t have the right acid balance to repair the skin barrier and can cause increased redness if you have atopic dermatitis.
You’ll likely have better luck trying argan oil, coconut oil, or sunflower seed oil. By adjusting your fabrics, knowing your triggers, and staying moisturized, there are many natural ways to handle the symptoms of eczema.