There are numerous prescription creams, ointments, and other forms of medicine that can be used to treat eczema, but how about a more natural approach? Eczema encompasses several patterns of common skin conditions, affecting over 10-18% of children and up to 3% of adults, varying across states and countries. Eczema is characterized by flaky, red, rough patches of skin that can appear thickened and scaled and can be the result of either a genetic disposition to the condition or of environmental factors. Interestingly, research shows that as industrialization and urban living increase, so do elevated rates of eczema. Many people have begun to explore the alternative methods of treatment for eczema like probiotics, natural oils, and even massage.
Complementary and Alternative Medicine Approach to Eczema Treatment
While the majority of the population utilizes pharmaceutical drugs and medicines, there are numerous alternative methods and treatments that have shown their efficacy in eczema treatment through generations of use and value in various cultures. Recently, a spike of patient interest in complementary and alternatives treatments has lead to a surge of clinical studies. While the research behind the efficacy of alternative methods like cupping and acupuncture are less prevalent than that of pharmaceutical drugs, these practices have been refined by many populations and cultures who swear by their uses.
What Is Massage Therapy?
Massage therapy dates back many thousands of years to applications in China, Japan, India, and Egypt. There are many forms of massage like Swedish, deep tissue, and hot stone massages. Massage therapists work to knead the muscles and soft tissues to release muscle tension, decrease soreness and pain, and even work on trigger points, areas that are painful when pressed, all while promoting relaxation in the mind and body. While valued and widely used in many countries, scientific research behind massage therapy is mostly preliminary and/or conflicting; however, there is significant evidence supporting massage therapy’s ability to reduce pain and stress.
How Can Massages Help Eczema?
Studies show that internal and external stressors, like infections or psychological stress, can induce eczema flares as these stressors can impair skin barrier function and promote an allergic response in the skin. Homeostasis, or balance in the body, is largely dependent on the health of the skin in eczema. Because increased psychological stress, stress hormones, and skin barrier dysfunction affect the health of the skin, stress can significantly affect eczema.
Massage therapy is commonly used to reduce physical and mental stress and may be able to improve the symptoms of eczema by lowering the body’s stress. There is limited research on massage therapy’s application to eczema. However, two studies evaluating the effects of massage therapy in young children found an improved clinical condition of a child burn victim as well as a child with eczema who were massaged during application of their topical skin medications. Their improved clinical conditions were marked by reduced redness, thickness, scaling, and itchiness.
Massage Oils for Eczema
In addition to massage therapy, it is also beneficial to use oils for eczema. One study found that natural oils like sunflower oil and coconut oil can help to improve eczema symptoms more than eczema massages alone. These natural oils are processed by various methods like adding chemical compounds, heat, and chemical distillation, but cold pressing is the preferred method, as it is heat and chemical free. This oil processing and refinement method is important because it preserves beneficial compounds like lipids while also limiting harmful byproducts.
Additionally, while many oils have antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties, some oils are more beneficial for use in eczema massages than others. A clinical study found that oils with the following were better for the skin:
- Higher concentrations of linoleic acid than oleic acid
- Lower concentrations of irritating oleic acid
For your eczema treatment, try sunflower oil or coconut oil in your massage to reduce dry skin and other symptoms of eczema.
Should I Try Massages for Eczema?
While there is no definite answer to whether massage therapy directly helps eczema, this method is a natural, low-risk technique that can reduce your stress and relax your body. It is always important to check with your physician if you think your current physical or mental condition may be harmed by massages, for example, if you are pregnant, have bleeding or low blood platelet disorders, or significant wounds. There are multiple forms of massage, so be sure to look into what form matches your needs and condition.
To learn more about natural techniques and alternatives for Eczema treatment, check out:
5 Alternatives to Steroids for Eczema
Is an Elimination Diet Helpful for Eczema?