Eczema — or atopic dermatitis — is an inflammatory skin condition that causes dry, itchy, and inflamed skin.
Though there is not a specific eczema diet, avoiding certain foods while supplementing with a range of anti-inflammatory foods is the best way to tackle this frustrating skin condition.
This article identifies foods to avoid — and eat. We also recommend specific supplements at the bottom of this page.
Symptoms and Risk Factors
Eczema symptoms are typically acute or chronic. Flare-ups occur as a response to stress and weak immune system functioning.
Symptoms can clear up; however if an underlying issue is not resolved, most individuals experience recurring flare-ups. (InformedHealth.org, 2013)
Symptoms often include:
- Red, swollen skin
- Patches of dry skin
- Peeling, flaky skin
- Skin color/texture changes
- Burning, irritated skin
- Oozing, weeping from cracked skin
Risk factors can increase the chances for some individuals to develop eczema. Risk factors for eczema include:
- Genetic predisposition
- The inability for the body to produce enough oil
- Poor immune system functioning
- Exposure to environmental toxins
- Living in a colder climate
Foods to Avoid
Certain foods have been found to trigger symptoms of eczema. (Katta & Schlichte, 2014)
This is especially true in individuals who may have a food intolerance or food allergy. The most common food allergies seen in individuals that can cause eczema symptoms and eczema flare-ups are:
- Dairy products
- Citrus fruits
- Gluten-containing grains — wheat, barley, rye and triticale
- High histamine foods such as fermented foods, canned/preserved foods, leftovers, cured and deli meats
Processed foods, which are usually high in preservatives and artificial ingredients, can be an issue, as well. Sugar has also been found to trigger eczema flare-ups.
This is because sugar causes an increase in insulin, which can cause inflammation. (Basu, Yoffe, Hills, & Lustig, 2013)
Speak with your doctor about allergy testing. If the results are negative, but symptoms persist, there could still be an underlying food sensitivity.
Before eliminating foods from your diet, monitor your diet for common allergens. Also, notice if symptoms worsen after eating them.
This should be done for 4 to 6 weeks.
Foods to Eat
Eating a diet high in anti-inflammatory foods can help in reducing eczema symptoms. Some examples of anti-inflammatory foods are:
Fish oil contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. These acids are great anti-inflammatories. Take 250mg daily to meet dietary recommendations.
Plant-based flavonoids such as quercetin
Quercetin is a strong antioxidant as well as an antihistamine. This means it can reduce inflammation as well as histamines in the body. Examples of quercetin are:
- High-quality proteins - fresh meat, seafood and poultry
- Vegetables in a variety of colors
- Nuts and Seeds
Though there isn't a specific eczema diet, there are several other diets that often help address symptoms. Some of these diets are challenging to implement and can have their drawbacks. It is always best to work with a qualified healthcare practitioner for best results.
These diets are:
On this diet, there is an emphasis on eating foods which are fresh and unprocessed such as:
- Olive oil
- Red wine
- Nuts and seeds
This diet focuses on eliminating foods that tend to increase inflammation such as foods which are processed or contain chemicals.
Foods high in fiber are vital on this diet, as well. Foods on this diet include:
- Olive oil
- Whole grains
- Organic meat, poultry
Autoimmune Paleo Diet (AIP)
This diet emphasizes eating fresh, unprocessed foods and removes many allergenic foods such as eggs, nuts, and soy. Caution with histamine-containing foods is essential for this diet.
Foods allowed include:
- Grass-fed meat
- High-quality oils such as avocado, olive, tallow, lard, coconut
- Non-seed spices
- Fresh herbs
This diet is based on dyshidrotic eczema, which can be triggered by foods containing nickel and cobalt.
This is because nickel and cobalt can worsen symptoms often seen in dyshidrotic eczema. Unfortunately, this diet is reported as rarely being successful and is also difficult to sustain.
Such foods include:
- Whole wheat
- Whole grain
- Dried fruit
- Baking powder
- Canned foods
With this diet focus on consuming foods high in vitamin C. Vitamin C keeps the body from absorbing nickel and cobalt.
This is one of the most popular diets for individuals diagnosed with food allergies.
If you have not been tested for food allergies and are not aware of what your eczema triggers are, it is extremely important to keep a detailed food journal through this diet.
This is because once you have eliminated specific foods or food groups from your diet and start to reintroduce them slowly, you will likely be able to notice better what is triggering your eczema flare-ups.
The Paleo AIP diet or a vegan diet that removes similar foods would be a good place to start the process.
Though diet can be a great way to curb symptoms and prevent flare-ups of eczema, other treatment options may still be needed.
There are plenty of over-the-counter options that may help from creams to lotions that can soothe the skin and help to combat extreme dryness.
Supplements are another great way to help control eczema, as well. Supplements to discuss with your healthcare practitioner include:
A high-quality probiotic
Most of the evidence for using probiotics in cases of eczema is for prevention of eczema in infants. With that being said, taking a high-quality probiotic can improve immune system functioning, which is vital in combatting eczema.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3's can help lower inflammation throughout the body.
Vitamins A, C, D and E
These have various benefits such as immune regulation and skin health.
Vitamin A can be toxic in high doses — always discuss with your healthcare practitioner and discontinue if pregnant
Zinc is a powerful immune modulator that is also excellent for skin health.
Evening Primrose Oil
Many people with chronic skin conditions have a deficiency of various fatty acids.