Eczema, Psoriasis and Dry Skin

By Jamie Bussin and Dr. Emily Lipinski ND 

When I was young I suffered from not one, but two types of eczema. One was pretty manageable – a bunch of weird bumps that would spread across my knuckles pretty much every summer as a result of exposure to the sun. The treatment worked wonderfully, but was kind of awful – a tar-based ointment that was greasy and smelled awful. The second was more complicated: very dry skin that got red and irritated, exacerbated by changes in temperature and humidity. The only thing that provided relief from the itch, pain and unsightliness was a topical steroid cream, which when used in the long term thinned out my skin. Thankfully I grew out of both conditions as I went through puberty. But to this day I get the rare flare up when it’s cold and wet outside and the air is dry inside.

It got me wondering if there are any natural solutions to dry itchy skin, or in more extreme situations eczema or psoriasis.  On Episode #109 of The Talk Show and Podcast, I discussed this with naturopath Dr. Emily Lipinski. This is an encapsulation of that discussion.

The least serious condition is dry skin. Frequently triggered by weather conditions, you should start with a cream that can act as a skin barrier which would include a wax or oil component as opposed to just a moisturizer. “So from a natural standpoint, we can think really basically. Using coconut oil or olive oil on the skin can be helpful. They’re basic, they’re clean, and most people have them in their house.” says Emily

Another one of the most moisturizing natural substances that can be used is honey. Honey on the skin is extremely moisturizing. However, it’s very sticky. There are some products on the market that are infused now with honey for its deep, deep moisturizing properties. And, for example, if you really suffer from chapped lips, using a little bit of honey on your lips before you go to bed can really take care of that. There are no added chemicals, and it also tastes good! If you’re concerned about bacterial build up from using a natural food product like oil or honey topically consider storing it separately, in your bathroom, away from the stock used in your food preparation. 

Eczema is an extremely common condition. Some people outgrow it, like me, during puberty.  Others don’t get the condition until they hit adulthood or even later into the years. Eczema is an atopic condition. Individuals with allergies or asthma are much more likely to have eczema. It is linked to the way your body responds to allergens. It’s linked to an immune response called an IgE response, which causes histamine to be released in the body. 

According to Emily, “Because there is that allergic component to eczema we do have to look at the condition from the inside out. Like dry skin, what we eat benefits eczema. Corticosteroids, a typically prescribed treatment for eczema, have an anti-inflammatory effect. But when we think of the diet and what we’re putting into our bodies to help reduce inflammation, that’s also going to make a big difference. So we know that things like fish oils and probiotics and having a diet that’s low in certain inflammatory foods, such as high consumption of conventional red meat and trans fats and fast food and so forth, can make a huge impact on eczema. For those who have very severe forms of eczema, reducing foods that cause histamine release can benefit eczema. There is an eczema specific diet. It’s a very bland diet but I have seen tremendous results in some people that have very severe forms of eczema.”

The eczema diet typically does not allow for any coffee, red meat, refined foods, citrus fruits, sugar, or alcohol. Tannins and certain molecules in the skin of fruits can trigger reactions. So fruits such as pears and apples would be allowed, but you have to peel the skin.

Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition which has a plaque-like look. It’s often confused with eczema because it tends to appear on the same areas… the elbows, the knees, the back of the knees just like eczema does, but it does look a little bit different. It can be itchy or painful. Psoriasis is essentially autoimmune, so the immune system’s essentially attacking the skin. Like eczema, corticosteroid creams are used topically. But because it’s an autoimmune condition, psoriasis is typically a lifelong condition. According to Emily, those suffering with psoriasis should try to do what they can to help reduce the inflammation from a dietary standpoint, from a supplemental standpoint and/or from a mind-body standpoint. 

Regarding mindfulness, Emily says; “We know that stress can be a major trigger for autoimmune conditions and in fact even with eczema. Many of my patients report that stress is what predisposes them, especially in adulthood. If they suffer from eczema, they know if they’re really stressed out they’re bound to start getting a little bit itchy or see eczema pop up. We know this is also true for any autoimmune conditions, especially psoriasis. I’ve had a patient tell me that their skin is like a body thermometer. They know that they’re too stressed out when they see the psoriasis plaques come up on their body. So using things to help with stress from a mind-body perspective, like mindfulness, meditation, like deep breathing, making sure you’re working on your work-life balance, can also very much benefit the immune system and because of that can also reduce the severity of the psoriasis.”