A-Z

Eczema (young people)

Alternative and complementary therapies, supplements and home remedies for eczema

Alternative therapies (such as acupuncture, herbal medicine and homeopathy) can be used with ‘conventional medicine’ (such as emollients and steroids) as part of complementary medicine, or on their own. Some people we talked to had used alternative therapies or said they were interested in trying them in the future.
 

Aman tried acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine as a child, but didn’t find them helpful in the long-run.

Aman tried acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine as a child, but didn’t find them helpful in the long-run.

Age at interview: 23
Sex: Male
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That was mostly when I was a kid. ‘Cos my parents we-weren’t too happy with, with whatever the results of the conventional therapies were. So there’s, I remember going to [city] to see some Chinese doctors and, and they prescribed me some like herbs and all sorts of teas and different things that they put on the skin. And, I think it would have a small effect, it wouldn't really have anything more than that. I did try acupuncture for, for one or two sessions and again, never really carried it on, but I didn't really see too much effect from it. So, I think the things that’s helped it most has been going to an actual dermatologist where they know a lot about skin and, and know a lot about different types of eczema and the products that are available, because your Chinese doctor doesn’t know that. Your alternative therapist doesn't know that. Your normal doctor doesn't know that and pretty much any of the dermatologists does. So, so that’s the one thing that I’d say has really helped it the most. 
 

Molly’s mum often encouraged her to try alternative therapies and shop-bought treatments.

Molly’s mum often encouraged her to try alternative therapies and shop-bought treatments.

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 4
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She would come home with kind of creams from like health stores and stuff and those like tried and kind of like herbal like pills to take that would like cure from the inside and stuff and like definitely tried them but if, I’d get so frustrated because if I didn't get an initial, an immediate, if it didn’t immediately get any better – I’d just get so angry that it wasn’t fixing it. And just there’s, there’s nothing, to this day there’s nothing that like will, other than the steroid cream, that will overnight fix it. And so obviously none of that was when it was really, really bad because today the steroid cream fixes it overnight but I never, it’s not as bad as it was then so I’d just get so frustrated I wouldn't actually like see through all these hints and tips, that was probably half the problem [laughs].

Did your mum sort of also do online research about eczema and?

Yeh I think that’s probably where she picked it up. Also mum’s really good at chatting so I think a lot of chatting to people and obviously loads of people suffer from eczema so I think, when it was really bad she was talking about it a lot because she was obviously worried about me and anyone, anyone who kind of, had the magic tip or like “Oh this really helped for my son and daughter”, she’d come home with immediately [laughs].
 

Gary tried homeopathy for his eczema but opted for steroids when his symptoms were tough to cope with.

Gary tried homeopathy for his eczema but opted for steroids when his symptoms were tough to cope with.

Age at interview: 23
Sex: Male
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I'm not even quite sure what kind of therapies I took but I remember I, I always took like four or five different kind of this pills and this is one of them is for the liver; one of them is like for the basic for my kind of type, and some of them is for eczema, some are-. They just, they-, I went to the doctor, he gave us the pills. My mother always like just give them to me because I would have for-, I would forget them; I cannot do this one in the morning, midday and evening as well. I would have forgotten least two of them a day, so she was always coming, “Gary, take this one, take this one,” and nothing, there wasn’t, I couldn’t see anything. It didn’t help anything. I was taking those pills and after three, four weeks I was taking them and they didn’t change anything. I was, after a while, I was like, OK, I'm not really believing it, I don’t really believe in homeopathy anymore. I believe that it can help other things because my sister had, when she was small, she was really sick and she always took antibiotics and then she stopped it; she was healthy for a week, then came back and homeopathy cured that one, and I believe in homeopathy but not for eczema. 

OK 

And then they'd say to me, “OK, but if you don’t believe in homeopathy, it's not going to work because it starts from the brain.” But I go like, “If I believe or not believe in steroids, either way it's going to work” [laugh]. Because I don’t care if I believe in steroids or not; if I put the steroids on, it it's going to work. I know homeopathy is something more and Chinese and I need to do it for a long time but start having eczema for four weeks in a row and it doesn’t change a thing. And let's see how other people, how positive they're going to be when they cannot sleep and they're being stressed.
Red-light therapy is different to medical phototherapy and is usually marketed as a beauty procedure. Katie-Lauren heard about it being available at her local gym and tried it there. She says she could see the improvement to the eczema on her wrists within a day and prefers it over other things she’s tried, as using emollients and steroids make her feel sweaty.
 

Katie-Lauren has tried red-light therapy at her local gym. She’s asked her doctors about it but not found their responses very helpful.

Katie-Lauren has tried red-light therapy at her local gym. She’s asked her doctors about it but not found their responses very helpful.

Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
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I went back for the check up and they saw that my eczema had improved and they were putting it down to the cream. But I stopped using the cream when I went on ‘The Red Bed’ so that I could see whether it was the cream or ‘The Red Bed’, because the cream wasn’t working the week before. And I told them about ‘The Red Bed’ and they didn't really know anything about it. They said, it’s not something that they can refer us to do. They could give us advice on what they’ve heard may help, but they can’t professionally tell us to use a ‘Red Bed’. But it’s really helpful. I mean, she, I don’t think she really knew anything about it, so she couldn't really comment on it. I’ve not asked any other doctors about it though, because, well she didn't know and I just felt like no other doctor would know.
Often linked to herbal medicine approaches, some people made their own ‘home remedies’ or used shop-bought ‘herbal’ products (e.g. lavender cream, primrose oil, coconut oil). Recipes for home remedies were often found online. Some examples mentioned were putting porridge oats, natural yoghurt, honey or aloe vera on eczema.
 

Aisha talks about the different home remedies she’s tried for her eczema, especially on her scalp.

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Aisha talks about the different home remedies she’s tried for her eczema, especially on her scalp.

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
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I mean there's a type of honey that’s like really good for sort of all sorts of things. And I've tried that on my head; I've tried avocado; I've just tried normal sort of olive oil, coconut oil, all sorts of things that are quite rich and that are quite really sort of oily and moisturising I've tried. But then, also I have to be wary because I don’t want to put something on my head and then it dry out my scalp which is even worse because then -- like when I wash my hair, I have to wash my hair with cold water because otherwise [laughs] it'll just aggravate it 10 times. And, like I use baby shampoo - that’s the only thing that’s sort of mild enough and even that sometimes, when it's sort of quite bad, stings and then it's just like… and then when you know, when it stings you know that’s it going to be sort of a bit infected and then you have to just whack out the steroid again and it's just a never-ending story really.
Taking supplements (e.g. cod liver oil) and being aware of foods eaten were seen as an addition to eczema management by some (see also diet). This includes avoiding foods which they thought might be triggers. Abid thinks that more attention to diet could be “a huge asset to [conventional] medicine”.
 

Aman talks about ideas on qualities of different foods and the impact it could have on eczema.

Aman talks about ideas on qualities of different foods and the impact it could have on eczema.

Age at interview: 23
Sex: Male
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I think you learn to associate different food types w-with how it affects your skin as well. So, tomatoes, if I’m eating a lot of those they’ll generally bring out a kind of rash or make my skin a little bit worse. So, yeah, there’s a, there’s this Indian concept of hot and cold foods, which I actually think it applies quite well. So things like mangoes and tomatoes and all of these kind of things are quite hot. Even though, I’m not sure whether I believe it too much [Laughs] it’s so different food types affect your body differently as well. And I think as long as you know how, how these foods affect your body then you can kind of keep it in check and keep it in control. 
 

Georgia would like to manage her eczema in a more “holistic” way. She’s taking supplements to see if this helps.

Georgia would like to manage her eczema in a more “holistic” way. She’s taking supplements to see if this helps.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 4
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One of my friends is quite holistic in her approaches to stuff. She’s one of those that doesn’t like taking paracetamol or taking antihistamines for things. And I know her mum’s very into that kind of thing. And I think it is one option I’d like to approach, the holistic avenue I suppose. Cos I’ve always used like medically proven substances and things like that. I’d never thought about using, I don’t know, evening primrose oil or doing a liver flush or something like that which you can do that just throw out bad bacteria that can affect the way your skin reacts to stuff. I’ve started using more things like, taking cod liver oil and evening primrose because they are supposed to help with keeping essential fats within your body. So that will help keep my skin moisturised. I’ve yet to see the difference, but I’ve only been on them for a couple of weeks, so.
 

Abid’s experiences of travelling have made him more interested in ‘eastern medicine’ approaches.

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Abid’s experiences of travelling have made him more interested in ‘eastern medicine’ approaches.

Age at interview: 24
Sex: Male
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I don’t want to talk about the differences in possible western or eastern medicine etc. but some, some have a belief of possibly solving the symptom as a lot of western medicine is assumed to do whereas other ideas of like eastern medicine , you know, the far east etc. after travelling there and actually having some experience with eastern doctors and stuff, you know, “you’ve got eczema okay let me check your tongue”, like where’s the correlation there? But it makes total sense just like ‘Okay I think, I think your diet’s okay but I think maybe you can avoid food that cause inflammation”. “What, what does that mean like I’m not eating anything that’s cutting me or anything like that”, “no not really but what about things like chilli or, you know, things that are just overly spicy things that are possibly too rich”, you know.

I’m like “Oh okay that’s, that’s something that I've not really interpreted before” and that certainly plays a part and I’ve been a bit more conscious and a little bit more underwhelmed when it comes to enjoying food. But yeah those are things that are not really explored I think in, in western medicine or, or with doctors. 
There was a lot of interest in finding out more about alternative therapies, supplements and home remedies amongst the young people. They were interested in hearing what others had tried for eczema, but also getting advice from doctors about these. Sometimes parents and family friends had first told them about alternative therapies or arranged these appointments.
 

Laura saw homeopaths when she was younger. She’s keen to try homeopathy again and wants to talk to her doctor about this.

Laura saw homeopaths when she was younger. She’s keen to try homeopathy again and wants to talk to her doctor about this.

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
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I mean I have been recently to the GP about it just to get some more steroid creams, but I didn’t actually ask at this point because, what I was going to ask was about alternative treatments. I'm interested to see what GPs have, their opinions on homeopaths obviously, and also there's lots of, obviously there's lots of research out there about eczema and, but it's not made it to mainstream medicine yet so, the I was just going to ask them about different treatments but I wasn’t, when I went there, I wasn’t quite I like to research it myself first so I know what we're talking about more. So I need to do that before I went again. Because there are other medicines out there or there is even other techniques. But it's a good idea to get medical professional sort of to, their advice on things.
A few people had done research about alternative therapies, supplements and home remedies online but struggled to know what to trust. Jessica saw different stories on forums about home remedies to clear up vulva eczema. She found some of the suggestions “strange” and that they came out of “just people getting desperate”, so didn’t try any of them. 

Some people were concerned about possible harm. Aisha also worried that doctors might tell her off if she tried out a home remedy that made her eczema worse. There was scepticism about things which promised a ‘quick fix’. Aisha was concerned about others with eczema buying “miracle cures” online or abroad without knowing what was in them.
 

Molly and her mum talked to her GPs about the alternative medicines she was trying around age 16.

Molly and her mum talked to her GPs about the alternative medicines she was trying around age 16.

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 4
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We’d kind of tell them what we were doing every time we went to see them and it was always, 90% of the time frowned upon but like obviously not to a point where they were like “Do not do that, that’s such a stupid idea” but it was never kind of well that, it was always kind of “That’s not what we would recommend but good luck”. the only kind of, as quirky as the doctor recommendations got was like recommending excluding such and such from my diet and stuff but other than that it was just pots and pots of cream [laughs].
 

Ele has tried home remedies she’s read about online but is unsure about how trustworthy the advice is.

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Ele has tried home remedies she’s read about online but is unsure about how trustworthy the advice is.

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 2
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No one’s sort of come out and said I’ve found this, I put this on my skin and it works or and have that corroborated by a lot of people. So yeh I think it is more difficult with online forums and everything than they're really, really useful I mean from the point of yeh just using household items like I saw someone say that putting Manuka honey on your hand can help a lot and then other people would be just like oh no it’s sugar, sugar’s so bad for your skin and it just seems like there isn’t really a…. I think it’s because on, on the internet there is just people there aren’t many medical professionals sort of there saying no don’t do that that’s a silly idea, because of this and present the science behind it, it is just all a lot of guess work it seems.
Being given ‘bad’ or just ‘unwanted’ advice by other people on managing eczema with alternative medicine, supplements or home remedies is frustrating. Other people might not understand the history of all the things tried already or might suggest a product without thinking about how it might make the eczema worse.
 

Anissa talks about the difficulties when other people give advice on managing her eczema.

Anissa talks about the difficulties when other people give advice on managing her eczema.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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With family and friends, like I think it’s quite hard because no one wants to see their family or friend in pain and I think that especially when it’s a skin condition you’ve had for your whole life and you’ve dealt with for the majority of your life on your own, I think you get quite snappy with your friends and family when they’re like, “Have you been drinking enough water? Have you been applying your cream?” And you’re like, “Hold on. [Laughs] It’s my condition.” [Laughs] So I think it is quite hard for them because they just want what’s best and when they’re suggesting new things you should be trying, if you’re reluctant, they’re like, “Well why are you reluctant?” And obviously you’re reluctant because you don’t want it to get worse. But also you’re reluctant because it’s not medically prescribed possibly and stuff like that, and because they’re almost taking control of an aspect of your life which you’re gonna have to deal with for the rest of your life. So you really need to control it yourself because they’re not always going to be there to put things in place and make sure you’re doing them. And it’s, like I don’t feel, like it’s healthy to have support but not healthy to depend on that. 

And that can be quite hard to convey nicely, especially when both sides are just trying to help.
 

Shams is cautious about trying out remedies recommended by other people.

Shams is cautious about trying out remedies recommended by other people.

Age at interview: 18
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 7
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I've always stuck to my doctor's sort of “do this, do that” – I haven’t really tried to innovate for myself. And sometimes I do worry about innovating – there have been times I've tried to innovate, or listen to people who don’t know what they're talking about, and I'll be adamant. It's mainly family members who suggested “try this or try that; this may help; I know so and so who've tried this sort of treatment” and at the end of the day it can backfire. One of them was some sort of almond based cream, and I'm allergic to nuts. I remember smearing it on an area of my skin – it solidified so I had to break it off, wash it off and I thought, 'Oh this might have…' I looked underneath and it was just swollen…and red, and I thought, 'Well this was useless and pointless.' 
Some people preferred making their own home remedies because these could be more “natural” and cheaper than buying a similar product from a shop. Some ingredients were quite expensive though, and the cost of trying lots of different home remedies could add up. Home remedies can be uncomfortable or unpleasant. Aisha tried mashing up avocado to put on her eczema, but it was difficult to wash out when it got on her hair. Sarah put almond oil on her skin at night but it got on her bedding and made it “claggy”.
 

Ele talks about the cost putting her off from trying some home remedies.

Ele talks about the cost putting her off from trying some home remedies.

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 2
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Manuka honey is so expensive and if it didn’t sort of work then it, yeh because I’ve found that sugar doesn’t really help my skin in the past then I’m sort of taking an educated guess that it wouldn’t be great for me. Sort of natural yoghurt seems to work just dunking my hand in a bowl of natural yoghurt but which feels gross, but it’s for the point if you’ve just being pure sugar then I can’t see it really working for me and also putting honey all over my hand, you know, if it didn’t work it would, because it's quite a large area that I would be covering it’s like I’ve just spent so much money on something that I'm now literally washing down the sink and it’s made everything worse.
Overall, people had different views on alternative therapies and home remedies. The appeal for many was for more ‘natural’ eczema treatment as they saw conventional medicine as ‘intrusive’ or ‘excessive’. Some said alternative therapies helped them, but others disagreed. Some people hadn’t tried any alternative therapies and were sceptical about whether they had worked or would be as effective as treatments like steroids. Worries about harm and confusion about what to trust online were key reasons why some people wanted more advice from medical professionals about alternative-complementary therapies and herbal remedies.
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