Do you struggle with eczema or perioral dermatitis but do not want to use corticosteroid creams to relieve the itching and burning? Then you've come to the right place – here's how I relieve my eczema symptoms naturally and safely.
Steroid Cream Was My Little Magical Tube
I have struggled with eczema since I was a teenager and used to always rely on corticosteroid creams like Elocon. It was like my little magic in a tube that I even carried in my purse to nix the outbreaks that I always got on my hands, wrists, neck, elbows, and knees. I applied it liberally and whenever necessary, over and over, for the past 18 years or more. When I was pregnant with my second child, I started getting what looked like eczema around my eyes and mouth and under my nose. I whipped out my magic little tube and creamed them all (for 9 months straight, makes me shudder now to know I was doing that while pregnant!). It kept the rash at bay and then went away after my son was born. But during my third pregnancy, the face rash came back with a vengeance. I was applying the cream like my life depended on it, with the expectation it would disappear again after the baby was born.
But it didn't. And I forgot my tube at the hospital when I was giving birth, so the rash flared up, and I looked like I had poison ivy all around my eyes, nose, and mouth. I was embarrassed, itching, and burning, and I couldn't wait to get home and get my magic cream. Once home, the rash calmed down but wouldn't go away this time as it had before.
My dad had discovered he was gluten intolerant a year before this (with the advice from his eye doctor, of all people) and ate a gluten-free diet which kept his eczema away. So, I set my mind to going gluten-free just a few weeks after my third baby was born. I knew it wouldn't be easy, but I wanted to end my battle with eczema once and for all.
My Skin Was Addicted to Steroids
So I went gluten-free, but it didn't occur to me to stop using the cream. Lack of sleep, I guess, so I continued using it until I realized I was still using it, and my eczema hadn't cleared up. I stopped using the cream to see just how bad my eczema actually was, and my face EXPLODED in the worst rash I have ever seen on a person. At one point, one of my eyes was almost swollen shut, and I didn't want to leave the house because it looked so bad. I literally looked like I'd been burned or got injured in a chemical explosion (okay, maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration, but that's certainly how I felt).
Like many, I turned to Google for answers and found many people had relief with apple cider vinegar (fantastic! I already love that stuff), oils like jojoba and coconut, essential oils like lavender, tea tree and rosemary, removing all toxic chemicals from their beauty regimen, and diet changes like removing gluten, alcohol, and sugar. Wow. I had already removed all chemicals like SLS (sodium laureth sulfate), so at least that was done. So, I started using honey, coconut oil, and apple cider vinegar on my raw skin and changed my toothpaste (SLS is in that, too). But my skin was still detoxing, so the rash got even worse.
I went to my dermatologist in desperation on the worst day, which was about a week after going cold turkey, and even they were shocked. The doctor told me my skin had been addicted to the steroids since I overused it, and now it was going through withdrawals. He said I had two options – antibiotics (even though it's not a bacterial problem), going back on the cream and gradually easing off over the course of a month, or waiting it out. I was still nursing, so strong antibiotics were out (plus, I didn't want them anyway). The kicker, according to him, to wait it out was that it could take up to six months. SIX MONTHS of living like a hermit from embarrassment? I ignored his advice and turned back to Google for help (I now have a naturopath and wish I would've then because he could've helped me!).
I found several websites dedicated to warning people about the dangerous side effects of steroid creams, and their experiences were way worse than mine. Some had the rash for a year or MORE after going off the cream. I guess I was one of the lucky ones because my withdrawal symptoms were gone after about six weeks.
My mom and I found a ton of information on dealing with it naturally, a lot of it coming from earthclinic.com. She wrote up a summary for me from a ton of different sites (she used to be an R.N., so she was VERY helpful), and I set out to clear up my skin. Here's the all-natural regimen I used: (includes affiliate links to Amazon for your convenience):
- Apple Cider Vinegar: I applied raw, unfiltered, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar (where to buy) with a cotton ball three times a day. It was diluted by about half, and I increased the dilution as the rash started to dry up and clear up. This was by far the most effective method for me – it really dried up the rash but did burn.
- Miracle Oil: I bought a bottle of Miracle Oil (where to buy) from my neighborhood health foods store that has a combo of tea tree and lavender essential oils with jojoba and hemp seed oils to create a potent little concoction that eases eczema, poison ivy, insect bites, cuts and scrapes and more! I applied it after the apple cider vinegar for relief, but sometimes even it was too strong for my raw skin.
- Jojoba Oil: When my skin was too raw for any of the above treatments, I used plain jojoba oil ( because it is easily absorbed into the skin and closely matches the sebum of the skin. It was soothing and calmed the horrible itching that comes with perioral dermatitis. (where to buy)
- Discontinued the use of makeup and didn't wash my face at all, not even with my oil cleansing method. I did wear makeup once for my in-laws' 50th wedding anniversary party, but it was a non-toxic concealer I bought at my health food store.
- Ate a gluten-free diet and also eliminated alcohol, dairy, and limited sugar.
After three weeks, I could finally go out in public without embarrassment, and I was doing much better. It was completely gone in about six weeks. This website was also helpful for me to learn about the condition – Zizia Dermatology.
Side Effects of Corticosteroid Creams
What I didn't understand was the side effects of what I was taking – that by temporarily altering the function of the cells and tissues underneath the skin, corticosteroid cream can cause skin atrophy and even stretch marks where the skin breaks down. If used around the eyes, it can cause glaucoma and cataracts (YIKES!), and I was regularly using it around my eyes – DOUBLE YIKES!. And if overused and used on large parts of the body (both of which I have done before), it actually inhibits the body's ability to produce cortisol, causing adrenal suppression. I shudder to think how often and for how many years I have used this toxic cream and the effects it's had on my body. My hope is that my body is resilient and can heal itself. (Source – nationaleczema.org)
My one plea, one request, is that dermatologists be very clear with their patients that this cream is NOT to be abused – it is powerful and dangerous, and patients deserve to know. At least I can do my part to share my story in the hopes that it will help someone else.
Going Gluten-Free Was Not Enough – Leaky Gut Syndrome and the GAPS Diet
I never knew just how bad my eczema was until I discontinued the cream. My hands are constantly covered in it, even on a gluten-free diet. Removing the gluten has helped to give me more energy and improve my mood, but I believe I might be battling a condition called “leaky gut syndrome” and am going on the Specific Carbohydrate and Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) diets as outlined in the books, “Breaking the Vicious Cycle and “Gut and Psychology Syndrome.” I'm currently getting help from my naturopath to get some answers and to implement the diet. You basically go on an anti-inflammatory diet, removing all foods that can cause inflammation, like gluten, dairy, some starches (like rice and potatoes), and sugar.
UPDATE – the GAPS diet is working! Going gluten-free was not enough for me as I did have leaky gut syndrome. I know it sounds like I made it up, but Google it! I promise I didn't. It's where the lining of the gut is damaged, and particles of undigested food and toxins leak out into the bloodstream, causing widespread inflammation. Inflammation is the root cause of many ailments and diseases. I was very overwhelmed to start it, so I skipped the intro part and went to the full GAPS diet. Once I removed sugar and all grains from my diet (I was already almost dairy-free), my eczema started to clear up. Now I only get outbreaks on my hands when I cheat and eat something with sugar or grains. The only dairy I'm eating is that which is allowed on the diet – Colby and cheddar cheese, but in small amounts. I drink a lot of coconut milk, too. Nuts also really bother me (even when they are soaked and fermented), which is an indication to me that my gut lining is still not healed and sealed, so I plan to start the intro diet in the next week or so. I wrote more about it in my post, How I Switched from Processed Food to Real Food and the GAPS Diet.
Just remember – eczema is an internal problem, not external! Creams can ease the discomfort and itching, but they will never cure. As I'm trying to figure out the right diet to cure my case, I do have a few go-to natural solutions to ease the itching, which I will share in the next post, part 2 – stay tuned!