Natural Dermatitis Treatment
Dermatitis is a general term that covers a wide array of skin problems with a variety of known causes. It usually shows up as itchy, dry skin or a rash of swollen, reddened skin.
It can develop anywhere on the body but is often experienced on the hands, and feet. On the face, it is often confused with perioral-dermatitis, which is really a form of rosacea, similar to acne. If you think you have perioral dermatitis please click here.
What causes it?
There are two broad types of dermatitis: atopic dermatitis (eczema) and non-atopic dermatitis (contact dermatitis). An allergic reaction causes eczema; contact dermatitis is caused by skin irritation. Establishing the exact type of dermatitis you have and its causes can take a bit of detective work.
To make matters more confusing, you can have both and people with asthma, eczema and hay fever are more likely to develop contact dermatitis more frequently than others without these conditions. (If you have eczema you won't be surprised to be told you have sensitive skin). Dermatitis also runs in families too, suggesting a genetic component.
There is also much evidence that psychological factors, especially stress, can also have an effect. Diet, gut problems and a poor gut bacteria profile are also implicated.
Dermatitis can be fleeting, appearing for short periods and then disappearing, or chronic, with a long-lasting impact. As with any skin condition, dermatitis can affect self-confidence, and in extreme cases, lead to anxiety and depression.
A natural approach
To treat the effects of dermatitis, some people will apply a topical treatment like an anti-inflammatory steroid cream. These can be extremely effective and work very quickly. However, users may experience some negative side effects, especially if they are used for long periods of time. Many of our customers have found that a combination of our soothing calendula products and natural day-to-day moisturisers intensively hydrate and repair skin often reducing the need for steroid creams.
A cream alone may not be enough. Read on for our holistic strategy to deal with dermatitis naturally.
Dermatitis and skin's natural barrier function.
A topically applied cream will never be the answer alone, but if it has great emollient qualities it will improve skin barrier function. We are absolutely convinced that natural plant oils are the best emollients, because they contain the same fatty acids your skin would use, and our customer reviews seem to back that up.
When you understand the workings of your skin, you will see that the outer layer of your epidermis (stratum corneum) is your first line of defence against pathogens and allergens from the outside world. If this defence is compromised, all sorts of nasties can infiltrate and cause inflammation of the skin.
The stratum corneum doesn’t just keep nasties out; it holds moisture in. When skin dries out, microscopic cracks can form in the stratum corneum. This can lead to even more moisture escaping and more cracks forming, creating a vicious circle. Dry skin and infiltration by allergens can then cause a flare-up. The resultant scratching can cause even more damage, accelerating a minor flare-up into a damaging downward spiral.
Repairing your skin barrier function can help break this cycle - and the key to this is emollients, which fill in the microscopic cracks - but prevention is better than cure. To help prevent dermatitis moisturising with plant oils that contain the very same fatty acids your skin uses to seal the stratum corneum.
We recommend using these plant oils as cleansers too by way of the oil cleansing method, especially on the face and any particular problem areas of the body. They can replace soaps and detergents which strip the natural oils from your skin exacerbating dry skin problems.
Of course, we all do need soap to some extent, but using natural soaps that are particularly gentle and contain moisturising ingredients like Shea Butter is better than body washes laden with potentially irritant surfactants like sodium lauryl sulphate.
Some experts recommend Calendula to mitigate and prevent dermatitis, but there are few studies to back this up. One study did conclude that 'Calendula is highly effective for the prevention of acute dermatitis of grade 2 or higher and should be proposed for patients undergoing postoperative irradiation for breast cancer and another discussed how 'Calendula could serve as safe and effective treatment for the treatment of diaper dermatitis in infants'
Of course, it's rare to find studies proving herbs and supplements will improve medical conditions because these ingredients can be used by anyone (they are not patentable) and so there is not enough profit in them to make large scale trials a reasonable business expense. Generally, only pharmaceutical products have enough potential profit to warrant large scale trials.
Dead Sea Salt
We hear great reports from people with all sorts of inflammatory skin conditions using dead sea salt in their baths.
A cream alone (prescribed or over-the-counter) will never be the answer. If you are struggling to manage chronic dermatitis it is really important to begin by investigating the potential triggers. Specific things to consider are whether your dermatitis could be caused by a food allergy, an environmental factor or psychological issue.
We recommend that you keep a diary, where you record the foods you eat, substances you come into contact with like cleaning products or beauty products, and your emotional state - providing information on whether you feel stressed, happy or had an argument etc. Women may find it useful to note their menstrual cycle too. This record can help you spot any patterns between symptoms and flare-ups. Over time, this method can be highly effective at helping you to identify key triggers of your dermatitis.
Dermatitis can occur at any point. Just because you have had contact with a substance for a long-time you should not rule it out as a potential cause. Prolonged exposure to a substance can result in ‘sensitisation’, which means that you can suddenly become allergic to it overnight. To make matters worse, sensitisation can often cause reactions in other parts of the body - not just where the exposure occurs, so don't rule out a rash on your legs being caused by a substance your hands are in contact with every day.
It can be helpful to seek help from a nutritional therapist or a herbalist. Be sure to find one who specialises in skin conditions. These sort of practitioners can offer a holistic approach, they will sit down with you for an hour or so to help you look at all the contributing factors, time which you GP will not be able to give you. Many of them can also run allergy tests.
Dermatitis and skin irritants
Harsh chemicals used at work, cleaning products in the home and irritant substances in beauty and skincare products can all cause dermatitis. These are the usual suspects. See our skin irritants page for more details. We recommend switching to natural products and protecting the skin when you have to use anything harsh. You can wear gloves or protective clothing or use a barrier cream like our Zinc and Calendula Cream.
Of course you could be allergic to something that seems very benign, a natural substance or something other people use happily. (It is rare, but some people are allergic to calendula). So don't rule anything out.
You should also consider that essential oils nearly all contain some known allergens which must be disclosed on product ingredients labels. We are in no doubt that essential oils are less irritant than artificial fragrance, however if you are very sensitive you may want to consider avoiding fragrance altogether. Lyonsleaf disclose all known allergens and we have created a range of fragrance free products.
You can also become suddenly sensitised to a substance that you have handled for years, so don't rule something out because it's always been fine. To make matters worse, when sensitisation occurs dermatitis can appear somewhere else on the body - not at the point of contact.
Dermatitis and water damage
Excessive exposure to water will cause the skin barrier to break down and can cause dermatitis. This is often a problem for people with their hands in water a lot like cleaners and hairdressers. We particularly recommend our Zinc and Calendula Cream as a protective natural barrier cream.
Diet and dermatitis
Even if you don't suspect a particular food allergy, you can always help yourself by eating well. Following an anti-inflammatory diet rich in nutrients, omega 3 fats, probiotic foods and low in refined grains and sugar will inevitably help.
If you have the slightest inkling of any problem with your gut you should try and fix it. Skin problems often originate in the gut especially if they are systemic (all over the body) or if you cannot find other obvious triggers. Read our pages on leaky gut and foods for healthy skin for more information.
Stress and dermatitis
Stress is recognised as a trigger for many skin conditions. It's now believed that heightened immune system response is created when we are in fight or flight mode. This immune response may cause allergies and sensitivities to suddenly flare up.
Surprisingly, following a low GI diet can really help you manage stress better. To understand a bit more about this read our fight or flight and blood sugar page.
Your body can get into the habit of operating in flight or fight mode - a pattern that can be hard to break. If you think excessive or chronic stress is making your skin condition worse, consider ways to remove yourself from stressful situations, or look for other ways to manage your stress levels. Think about finding time for relaxing or taking part in creative activities, yoga, meditation, walking or gardening. Sometimes, it’s worth taking some time to do whatever you love doing. It may be the best prescription for you.