By far the most common type of eczema is atopic dermatitis. Dermatitis denotes an inflammatory skin condition. Where there’s inflammation, there’s surely to be redness, heat, swelling, and pain/distress too. Indeed, eczema is associated with dry skin with rough itchy patches that can scale, thicken, crack, blister, weep, bleed, and crust. There’s no doubt that the rash is insatiably itchy, but it would be more accurate to call it “the itch that rashes”.
Those with eczema have more sensitive skin that gets irritated more easily, and it’s likely that they’re not the only one in their family. Atopy is an inherited disposition toward developing a food or air-borne allergy, which manifests as the “atopic triad” of atopic dermatitis (eczema), asthma, and / or allergic rhinitis (hayfever). It often progresses in a predictable pattern, the “Atopic / Allergic March”, as the hypersensitivity (IgE) reaction typically starts with the skin or gut (resulting in food allergies), then goes deeper to affect the respiratory system.
Symptoms of atopic dermatitis often begin within the first six months of life. 80% of those who get it will experience their first case before they even start grade school, but ½ – ⅔ will “outgrow” it. Eczema has been linked with a genetic defect in the ability to produce filaggrin protein, which compromises the quality of the skin barrier and allows irritants / allergens to penetrate causing an immune cascade. Those with eczema should optimize their diet and skincare routine to nourish and hydrate their thirsty skin and avoid personal triggers. Irritants and allergens can take the form of food, detergents, changes in temperature and humidity, dust, animal dander, metals (nickel, cobalt, etc.), illness/infection, stress and much more!
When eczema flares occur, it may be tempting to reach for a topical steroid (hydrocortisone cream) for quick results, but there is another option, clay! Clay is one of the original nature cure tools, which include the elements of light, air, earth, and water, diet, and exercise. It was first used by Emanuel Felke, the “clay (or loam) pastor”, in the early-1900s in Germany. He believed, like many nature doctors (the forefathers of naturopathic medicine) of his time, that all disease was caused by blockages in the organs of elimination (e.g., skin, lungs, intestines, etc.) leading to a build-up of harmful substances, toxins. These nature doctors would blame poor nutrition, “poisonous” drugs, unhygienic living conditions, bad habits, and hereditary “taints” for creating the blockages and target their treatments toward detoxifying the body/blood, to give power to the individual’s vital force to heal themself. If Felke was presented with a case of eczema, he would treat the whole body (not just the skin) by leveraging “earth magnetism” to help normalize the person’s regulatory functions. When our bodies make intimate contact with the earth, a commensal interchange occurs where diseased matter from the body is removed and replaced with healthy matter. Clay is nutrient-rich and does an exceptional job at retaining moisture and pulling negatively-charged toxins (e.g., poison ivy/oak sap, herbicides, pesticides, heavy metals, etc.). It can help soothe irritation and heal skin lesions, abrasions, and ulcerations both externally and internally.
How to Use Clay — no matter how you choose to apply clay:
Always use a natural high-quality clay
Mix using non-metal instruments, i.e. glass, ceramic, or plastic spoon and bowl
Wash off with warm water and moisturize after
Mix 1 part clay to 2 parts liquid to start (add more clay if thicker consistency is needed)
Plain water, floral water / hydrosol, aloe extract, ACV, etc. could all be used to dissolve the clay
Bentonite / Montmorillonite (very healing and absorbent) or kaolin (least drying) clay is recommended; feel free to explore other kinds
Apply to skin and leave on for ~10-15 mins (or until colour begins to become lighter). For a longer treatment, cover clay pack with plastic wrap (or a cut up plastic bag) for at least 1 hr or overnight, 2x per week
It will impart nutrients and moisture, bind impurities, and stimulate circulation of blood and lymph when damp but can dehydrate and irritate the skin if left to dry completely
Mix 1-2 cups clay in 2+ cups of water and fully dissolve before adding to a tub of warm water
Soak for 15-20 min and thoroughly rinse basin after draining to prevent clogging
Mix 1 tsp food-grade bentonite clay in 8 ounces (1 cup) of filtered water
Drink 1-2x per day, at least 2 hours away from taking medications / supplements
Sensitive skin requires gentle treatment that respects the vital force. Once the obstacles to cure are removed and the conditions for health are firmly established, greater comfort in your own skin is just around the corner!