My mother taught me it’s impolite to discuss physical ailments with others, but I’m going to break her rule and talk about my eczema. If you’re not planning to read any further, let me say that purified lanolin and coconut oil have rescued me from this scourge.
Now, when I say “eczema” I’m not talking about dry skin. Dry, flaky skin is just that: skin that’s a little dry. Slather some lotion on it, and it will perk up and become smooth and pleasant.
Eczema, on the other hand, is skin that’s ailing. It’s very, very unhappy, and it lets you know about it in no uncertain terms. It itches, it flakes, it turns red and keeps one awake at night because it’s just so darn uncomfortable. Cover it with the wrong lotion, and it will bite you.
Eczema Sneaks Up On You
I never had any skin problems until after my third child was born. My husband (not a medical professional) surmises that pregnancy resets one’s physical chemistry. I dunno, but I do know that a few months after my third child’s birth, eczema crept into my life, and it has never left.
At the time, I didn’t even know what eczema was. I thought it was dry skin. I developed itchy red patches on my eyelids that wouldn’t go away, so I went to a dermatologist. Classic eyelid eczema, she said. She gave me a steroid cream that cleared it up. Problem solved.
Except it wasn’t. My eczema began to spread all over me. It hit my elbows and knees and the back of my neck. Back to the dermatologist I went, but to a different one this time. He told me my eczema was caused by my allergies. He prescribed more creams and unguents, stronger and, as I later learned, dangerous. I researched the medicines he prescribed and found that most were damaging to skin if used for a long time. Some were linked to cancer.
I threw all the prescribed goos, except for 2% hydrocortisone cream in a mineral oil base, into the trash.
Hand Eczema is Nasty
Shortly thereafter, I developed eczema on the palms of my hands. If you’ve ever had poison ivy, you’ll understand what this felt like. My friend Andrea explained it best: Itching is a type of pain.
I had to wear gloves all day every day to protect my itching, oozing, raw skin, even during the summer. After a while, I could barely use my hands, and that was a serious problem since I had young children at the time.
Back to the dermatologist I went and home I came with yet another prescription for even stronger steroid cream. That lovely prescription cream was superfood for my hand eczema, which gobbled it up and thrived on it. The eczema grew worse by the day. That medicine went into the trash. I didn’t know what to do next.
Eczema Hates Hot Water
Years before, when my husband and I were weeding our garden, we pulled up some very healthy weeds, which turned out to be poison ivy. We realized our mistake a few days later when enormous welts appeared on our wrists that itched beyond imagination.
The doctor I consulted told me to soak my wrists in hot water (as hot as I could stand) before administering hydrocortisone to the itchy welts on my skin. The hot water, he said, would open the pores of my skin and allow the histamine (that’s what creates all the miserable itching) to evaporate, thus cooling the itching.
(Okay, this may not have been his exact explanation, but it’s what I recall all these years later.) I remembered this little tip when I was dealing with my hand eczema, so I soaked my hands frequently in hot water which helped ease the itching for a short time.
Purified Lanolin to the Rescue
I happened to have a tube of purified lanolin in my medicine cabinet. On a whim, I rubbed a small dab of it into the palms of my hands after soaking them in hot water. Miracle of miracles, my hands felt better, so I continued doing it. After a few months, the combination of hot soaks and lanolin completely cleared up my debilitating hand eczema.
In the meantime, I removed anything from my house that might contribute to my hand eczema. I’d already replaced all household cleaning products with “natural” versions, but I still used “natural” dish detergent to hand-wash dishes and “natural” detergent-based liquid hand soap.
I replaced the detergent-based hand soap with unscented castile bar soap and the dish detergent in my kitchen with Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap, diluted 50% with water. (If you don’t dilute Dr. Bronner’s soap, it clogs up your soap dispenser. The clogs of soap shoot halfway across the room when you press the dispenser, creating a mess you won’t want to deal with.)
I also switched to fragrance-free natural laundry detergent and used less than half the recommended amount. For a time, I used soap nuts to clean my clothes, but eventually I went back to using fragrance-free natural detergent, which hasn’t bothered my skin.
Many Remedies, No Cures
My hand eczema disappeared, but random patches of eczema stuck around, growing worse in summer. I used 2% hydrocortisone cream on occasion when the itching kept me awake at night. I tried other potions and lotions, but nothing except 2% hydrocortisone helped stop the itching.
I read somewhere that pouring a half cup of household bleach into a bathtub full of hot water and then soaking in it for half an hour a few times a week, would cure eczema. I tried that, twice. It might work, it might not, but bleach is too toxic a chemical to soak in, even diluted, for any length of time, so I abandoned that very un-natural approach. The two bleach soaks I did do, did not ease my eczema, but is it possible more soaks would? I’ll never know.
I continued to battle eczema with many oils and remedies, but nothing worked for long. In the end, the only substance I’ve found that’s kept my eczema at bay is coconut oil. I supplement it on occasion with 2% hydrocortisone cream, available by prescription only. (You can buy 1% hydrocortisone cream over the counter, but it doesn’t do much for eczema.)
Coconut Oil Works for Me
Coconut oil is that white stuff you cook with. It’s cheap and readily available. I buy virgin organic coconut oil in glass bottles. It’s solid at room temperature, but it melts quickly. It’s edible and perfectly safe for your skin as long as you’re not allergic to coconut. In fact, it’s used in skin and hair care products.
The problem with using coconut oil on eczema is that you have to be patient. Steroid creams like hydrocortisone relieve swelling and itching almost immediately, but coconut oil takes its time. It’s hard to wait, but if I rub coconut oil into my skin multiple times a day for a few weeks, the eczema finally admits defeat, scuttles off, and stays away for a long time.
I’m guessing coconut oil kills the bacteria that triggers outbreaks of eczema and reduces the resulting inflammation and itching, but that’s just an educated guess. Coconut oil, derived from coconuts, is about 50% lauric acid, which has been shown to be an effective treatment for acne vulgaris. Coconut oil is also a proven antifungal and anti-inflammatory. Does it cure eczema? Likely, no. But in my case, it’s been helpful.
Seek Help from a Professional
My eczema still flares up now and then. When that old nemesis creeps back into my life, I smear it with coconut oil for a few weeks, sometimes longer, and eventually, it slinks off from whence it came. If I’m in a big hurry for it to go away, I hit it with 2% hydrocortisone cream, but I try not to, as long-term use of steroid creams can damage skin.
I’m not suggesting you try using coconut oil or purified lanolin on your eczema, should you, poor dear, be afflicted by this unpleasant skin condition. These natural ingredients are not cures or even treatments. I’m simply recounting my experience borne of a decade and a half of battling this demon eczema. Please, if you have a medical problem, including eczema, consult a licensed health professional for advice before trying any remedy, natural or not.