Eczema is a complicated condition: every sufferer has their own experience of eczema, with their own unique set of triggers and challenges, so it’s very hard to make generalisations about it!
What one person can tolerate on their skin or in their diet, will trigger a flare in another. However, there is, officially, a correlation between food and eczema.
The National Eczema Society says that “Food allergies are considered an official comorbidity (related health condition) of atopic dermatitis alongside asthma, allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and depression. Researchers have found that up to 30 percent of people with AD also have food allergies.”
However, there’s not a straightforward relationship between eczema and food. Even if you never ate a triggering food ever again, your eczema wouldn’t disappear. It might reduce considerably, but that will depend on whether you’re exposed to other triggers, and what effect they have on your skin.
Let’s look first at the difference between food intolerance, and food allergies, to try to understand how eczema reacts to what you eat.
Intolerances and allergies
Having a food intolerance means your body has trouble processing that food; you may experience digestive issues such as bloating, diarrhoea, or tummy aches.
If you’ve got a food allergy, your body reacts immediately to whatever you’re eating with an extreme and often dangerous immune system response, in the form of hives, anaphylaxis, shock, vomiting or swelling.
The situation if you’ve got eczema is a bit more complicated, because foods can trigger an immune system response in the form of an inflammatory reaction in the skin. A reaction like this is often pretty immediate after eating the problematic food, occurring within a few hours of a meal. It’s somewhere between an intolerance and an allergy, and the severity of the response can vary hugely between people, and even vary for individuals depending on their circumstances at the time.
What foods are most likely to cause a reaction?
Even though everyone is different, there are foods that cause problems for a significant proportion of people who also struggle with eczema.
The most commonly problematic foods are:
- Dairy (cows’ milk generally, though some people also react to goats’ milk as well)
- Soy (including soy products such as soy milk, tofu, soya flour etc)
- Fish (white fish, tuna, mackerel etc)
- Shellfish (prawns, oysters, mussels etc)
- Tree nuts (hazelnuts, cashew nuts, walnuts etc., but not necessarily coconut or shea nuts)
But the kinds of reactions that eczema-sufferers tend to get aren’t really either allergies or intolerances, because they generally happen when someone is already struggling with super sensitive, flaring skin. Many eczema sufferers find that they can cope perfectly well with foods (or other triggers, like skincare ingredients) if they’re otherwise well, and their skin is going through a good patch; it’s the extra sensitivity of an ongoing flare that can make eating something a problem.
So, as with any advice about eczema, look at what’s going on for you before cutting anything out of your diet; if you’re struggling anyway, it might be worth going for an extra cautious approach, not just with what you’re eating, but what you’re putting on your skin or what you’re doing generally. If you’re having a clear period, it may be perfectly possible to eat whatever you like!
Here are some points to consider if you’ve got eczema and are wondering how it connects with food!
- Keep a trigger diary to map any flares with what might have caused them
- Look especially at the top triggers for eczema: dairy, eggs, soy, gluten, nuts, seafood etc
- Remember that even if you’ve eliminated dietary triggers, your eczema may still react to dust or stress, for example
- Eat for health, rather seeing it as cutting out bad things: eat plenty of leafy veg, salads, fermented foods, seeds, and berries, even if you can’t eat other things.
- It’s probably wise to reduce or eliminate dairy and simple carbohydrates for long-term wellbeing
Recommended products for eczema-prone skin:
Balmonds Skin Salvation
with hemp and beeswax
Balmonds Daily Moisturising Cream
with shea butter and calendula
Balmonds Intensive Facial Oil
with rosehip, calendula, lavender & chamomile
If you require medical advice we recommend you always contact your healthcare professional.
If you or someone you are caring for seems very unwell, is getting worse or you think there's something seriously wrong, call for emergency services straight away. For general medical advice, please contact your healthcare professional, this article does not contain or replace medical advice.
Do not delay getting help if you're worried. Trust your instincts.