In this guide, we will answer common questions about eczema, some keys to help identify this condition, and how cannabis extracts like CBD can help alleviate the symptoms and discomfort of the disease.
If you’ve never seen or been personally affected by an eczema outbreak, it can be difficult to understand the struggles associated with this disease. Suffering from eczema can be emotional, embarrassing, and frustrating. It is a devastatingly misunderstood and difficult to treat skin condition, and many people just learn to live with it without understanding what is causing it, or what they can do to ease the symptoms. Oftentimes, forms of eczema are mistaken for psoriasis or skin cancer, causing unnecessary stress and delaying potential treatment time. It’s important to correctly diagnose eczema in order to treat it effectively. Here are the basics to understanding eczema and treating it naturally with CBD from cannabis.
What is eczema?
The exact cause of eczema is undetermined, although genetics seem to play a big part. Eczema makes up a group of conditions that manifests itself on the skin with symptoms like redness, itchiness, pigmentation changes (hyperpigmentation on otherwise fair skin, and darker skin typically loses pigment), small blisters, and the thickening, cracking, and/or crusting over of the skin. Although this condition is typically long-term, the symptoms recur sporadically, and they can appear on any part of the body including hands and feet, face and scalp, or behind the knees.
What causes eczema flare-ups?
Eczema symptoms are believed to be linked to an overactive response by the body’s immune system to some kind of irritant. Depending on what type of eczema you have, outbreaks can be physically triggered by exposure to substances like harsh soaps, hot water, or environments that are either too hot or too cold for the skin. Allergies appear to play a big part as well, so pet dander or seasonal hay fever can exacerbate eczema. Stress is also associated with eczema outbreaks.
Is eczema contagious?
A severe eczema outbreak can look scary, but this condition is not bacterial, viral or fungal. However, because eczema often includes open, wounded sores on the skin, it is susceptible to skin infections from outside viruses, bacteria, and fungi.
How common is eczema?
Eczema is most commonly diagnosed in infants, affecting anywhere from 10-20% of babies under age one. About 1-3% of American adults suffer from some form of eczema. It is not a life threatening condition, however chronic cases require special care and treatment to keep symptoms under control.
Is eczema linked to other diseases?
Many medical researchers have claimed that people with eczema are at a significantly higher risk of heart disease and heart attack, but a recent study showed that this belief is likely due to the fact that heart disease can be directly linked to psoriasis. While the two conditions share very similar symptoms and clinical similarities, they work differently at a molecular level. This study concluded no association between eczema and heart disease. Eczema symptoms can, however, manifest as a result of other preexisting conditions, such as Irritable Bowel Disease and Crohn’s, so it is important to pay attention to other symptoms you might be experiencing.
Can eczema be cured?
Some children outgrow their eczema, further solidifying the belief that it is linked to an overactive immune response. As children grow, so do their immune systems, and it is thought that eventually the immune system will regulate, allowing the body to fight off irritants that exacerbate the symptoms of eczema. About 60% of children who develop eczema will battle symptoms for the rest of their lives. Although there is no known cure for eczema, there are many things we can do to help alleviate the symptoms and lower the number of outbreaks.
Interested in learning more about living well with eczema? Check out Do Not Let Eczema Hold You Back.
Common Types Of Eczema And How To Identify Them
Atopic dermatitis is the most common type of eczema. “Atopic” refers to an allergy, and this particular form of eczema is part of what doctors call the atopic triad, meaning it typically comes with two other diseases. The other two diseases associated with atopic dermatitis are asthma and hay fever, and most people who have atopic dermatitis suffer from all three. Atopic dermatitis manifests itself with cracked/dry/thickened skin, open sores (from itching and cracking), painful burning sensation, and redness.
Contact dermatitis is a term for a form of eczema that flares up via physical contact with outside irritants. Repetitious actions like frequent hand washing or handling rough materials are common catalysts for outbreaks. Allergy-triggering irritants like poison ivy and certain cosmetic ingredients can also activate eczema symptoms. Contact dermatitis is typically found on the hands, as they are most likely to be exposed to these types of substances.
Dyshidrotic eczema, or dyshidrosis, manifests itself on the hands and feet with cracked, scaly skin. The palms and soles become covered in tiny, fluid filled blisters that are itchy and painful. Its symptoms can be chronic and debilitating, and have been known to be unresponsive to many common treatments. Dyshidrotic eczema has often been misdiagnosed as shingles or other skin conditions, so it is recommended to exercise caution when attempting to treat this. Considered to be a more rare form of eczema, dyshidrosis has been linked to seasonal allergies, having constantly wet or damp hands and feet, and stress.
Oral antihistamines are occasionally recommended to treat eczema as they may reduce the itch, however they don’t have any other healing properties. Antihistamines are often recommended for children because of their sedative effects, and are prescribed more to help the child sleep through the uncomfortable symptoms at night. Most common eczema medications come as topical steroids in the form of creams and ointments . These medications can be effective, but they are also extremely harsh. Even with care and proper dosing and administration, side effects can include things like:
Steroid treatments can also disrupt the hormonal balance in the body, which can lead to other serious conditions. Medications like these are being recommended to many people with eczema, including children. While steroid eczema creams are considered safe, their long list of side effects can hinder many parents from treating their child’s condition. In an attempt to avoid a long list of potential side effects, many eczema sufferers go on the hunt for natural eczema treatments. At-home eczema remedies can be found all over the internet, and while many of them offer mild relief from symptoms, they are not all going to be strong enough medicine for this stubborn condition. More recently, as medical marijuana is being pushed into the limelight, a larger amount of research is being done on cannabinoids in the skin care industry. To understand if and how properties of the marijuana plant can soothe and even treat symptoms of eczema, it’s important to first understand how it works with the human body.
Learn just how powerful medical marijuana can be on tough eczema cases here: From Prescriptions to CBD: Finding a Treatment for Eczema.
It may surprise you that even in recent decades, scientists are uncovering previously unknown systems and functions of human biology. That’s right: your grade school textbook wasn’t totally accurate.
In the late 1980s, a team of scientists were contracted to study the specific properties in cannabis, with the sole purpose of finding the harmful aspects of the plant, all while ignoring any inquiry or relevant data suggesting its benefit. These scientists isolated specific chemical compounds unique only to the cannabis plant, labeled them as “cannabinoids,” and studied them in depth, particularly in regard to how they affect the human body. In this process, they accidentally discovered an entirely unknown human system which only responds to and reacts with cannabinoids. They called this the Endocannabinoid System (ECS), and this complex networking system was found throughout the brain, body, and on the surface of the skin. The ECS is responsible for regulating a handful of vital human functions, including (but definitely not limited to):
Scientists were also surprised to find that this system didn’t only respond to outside cannabinoids like those found in the marijuana plant. They found that our bodies naturally produce our own cannabinoids (called endocannabinoids), and through this process they discovered just how vital cannabinoids actually are to human function and homeostasis. The ECS is made up of cannabinoid receptors, which are what the cannabinoid molecules bind to when they are expressed into this system via phytogenic cannabinoids (plant-derived) or endogenous (endocannabinoids). Each cannabinoid reacts with these cannabinoid receptors in different ways, resulting in different effects. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), for example, is the most prominent cannabinoid found in recreational marijuana. Because THC molecules bind perfectly with the cannabinoid receptors, it instigates a psychoactive effect in the brain, giving the user that “high” or “stoned” feeling. The intoxicating effects of THC is largely the reason this molecule is so highly sought after. Cannabidiol (CBD) molecules, on the other hand, do not fit perfectly into the cannabinoid receptors. Instead, they interact with the receptors, promoting more positive communication between cells and encouraging a boost in activity throughout the endocannabinoid system. This creates a domino effect, sparking all the benefits CBD has to offer throughout the body via the bloodstream.
What benefits do cannabinoids have for eczema?
Want more in-depth information on CBD and eczema? Check out The Science of Using CBD Oil for Eczema.
Treating Eczema From The Inside And Out
More and more people are opting for natural eczema remedies, oftentimes just to avoid the side effects associated with common medical treatments. Although the symptoms appear on the surface of the skin, treating eczema from the inside of the body as well as the outside is a powerful way to battle outbreaks. Possibly one of the most appealing factors to cannabis-derived natural eczema treatments are their safety and versatility: there are dozens of different products to choose from in the cannabinoid skin care industry, anywhere from topical creams to oral medication and even time-release patches. Whether ingested or used topically, CBD has very few minor side effects and has been proven to be safe for children, which is a breath of fresh air next to the list of side effects that typically come with most eczema treatments.
Because we have cannabinoid receptors on our skin, topical CBD cream as a natural eczema treatment is highly recommended. CBD’s anti inflammatory properties are not only ideal for calming and soothing the uncomfortable symptoms that come with even mild eczema outbreaks, it also protects the skin against infections, helps rebuild healthy skin cells, and promotes quicker cell regeneration. CBD oil is moisturizing on its own, however combining it with some type of emollient will give you top-notch relief from pain/itchiness. Eczema emollients are specifically designed to leave a barrier on the skin, trapping moisture in and keeping germs out. If you want to fight your eczema with even more power, adding an oral CBD supplement can help hinder eczema outbreaks and sooth symptoms of the condition as well. CBD can stay in your system anywhere from 3 days up to a week, which allows it to work around the clock, encouraging positive activity and balance within the endocannabinoid system. Combating eczema topically with CBD and also allowing CBD into your bloodstream gives your body double the fighting power against eczema symptoms.
Choosing a cannabinoid product for your eczema doesn’t have to be hard, although it can take some time and research. Use caution when finding a company to purchase CBD oil from: because of the heavy regulation put on cannabinoids, some companies sell synthetic or low grade CBD oils containing little to no medicinal qualities. Find a company with good reviews, solid, evidenced-based research, and great customer service to help answer all your questions. As with any herb or medicine, it’s important to consider any possible contraindications to other medications you might be currently taking. Talk with your trusted medical professional if you have any concerns or questions, and most importantly listen to what your body is telling you: you are well on your way to eczema relief.
Ready to start treating eczema with cannabinoids? Read this first: What You Need to Know About CBD for Eczema.