What is causing my itchy skin? 4 Common Factors

What better way to lighten up for the summer than finally relieving your itchy skin! Permanently. Let’s treat the root cause of your skin concerns so you can show off your healthy glow this summer.

If you are like me and have itchy skin, you have likely spent hundreds of dollars on creams, salves, and miracle remedies, as well as countless hours researching solutions! The internet is a great place for reading reviews on different products, but you won’t find the perfect response to the question. You should be asking: “What is causing MY itchy skin?”

You are unique.
Your skin is unique.
You require a unique and personalized treatment approach.

Itchy skin, or in my case eczema, has affected my life in a way I never imagined to be possible. Prior to knowing I had eczema, I thought I just had sensitive and itchy skin. In middle school the palms of my hands peeled so badly I hid them. I had hives and itchy spots on my abdomen from the buttons on my jeans. I was just itchy ALL THE TIME. My mom tried every remedy possible. Eventually, I just accepted that I had sensitive skin. I think I started calling it eczema in my early 20's when an “Eczema Cream” took the edge off. Then I just brushed my itchy skin and elaborate skin care routine off by saying “oh, it’s just my eczema”. Eczema is never just eczema! I wish I could go back and tell my 10 year old self what I know now. It would have saved me DECADES of itchy skin, poor digestion, severe fatigue, unrelenting anxiety, and body image issues. 

What is causing my itchy skin?

You begin by identifying the symptoms (eczema has a varied presentation) and then work systematically to identify the triggers

For example, my son had a quadruple whammy when it came to his health in the first year of life. He had food allergies (what you put in), contact dermatitis (what you put on), a moldy apartment (environment), and a mother with eczema (genetic predisposition). His poor overall health was reflected on his skin as eczema. You or your children may have the same exposures, but experience other symptoms such as gut issues or asthma.

There are four major factors contributing to itchy skin and eczema in children and adults.

4 Major Factors of Itchy Skin

1. Food Allergies

According to the National Eczema Association up to 30% of children under the age of 5, who have eczema, may also have a food allergy.

Common Symptoms to Food Allergies

  • Hives
  • Itching
  • Flushing
  • Eczema flares
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing

I have had children in my office with a true food allergy to peanuts and dairy only presenting with what appeared to be severe eczema. One of these children had been to an allergist who told the family “it’s just eczema”, but they did not accept this answer. After removing the foods he was allergic to, his eczema cleared up, head-to-toe. 

Common Food Allergies

  • Cow dairy
  • Chicken eggs
  • Soy
  • Corn
  • Peanuts
  • Gluten
  • Shellfish

Less Common Food Allergies

  • Coconut
  • Tree nuts (almond)
  • Duck eggs
  • Citrus fruits
  • Green beans

All children with moderate to severe eczema should be screened for food allergies. Screening can be done by an allergist or by your PCP through a quick blood draw.

2. Food Sensitivities

Individuals who have food sensitivities often do not have symptoms right away. Symptoms may show up days after consumption and build on one another. This makes it very difficult to pinpoint what is causing the reaction.

Common Symptoms to Food Sensitivities

  • Eczema
  • Psoriasis
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Heartburn
  • Brain fog
  • Mood swings
  • Leaky gut syndrome
  • Inflammation of joints

(Dr. Koontz will break down what leaky gut is in her article later this month.)

Many adults have success with pinpointing food sensitivities through an elimination diet. I don’t often recommend this method for children, but it can be beneficial for nursing moms. 

If you or your child have any of the symptoms listed above, you should be tested for food sensitivities. Much like food allergy testing, it can be done in-office and does not always require a full blood draw.

After food sensitivities are identified, it is crucial to remove the foods!  So often I hear,“Nooo not dairy, that’s the ONE thing I can’t live without”. This is a huge indicator that that food is in fact causing inflammation in your body. You must remove it if you want to see results.

Once the foods are removed, it is often indicated to address the integrity of the gut. In my practice, I often recommend collagen powder during this healing phase. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the skin and taking a good high quality supplement will promote healthy skin from the inside out. We are offering 10% OFF Collagen Protein Powder available at the NCNM Dispensary. Call the office to order: 360-734-9500. For more information, visit our website!

3. Skin Care Products and Detergents

Lotions, soaps, shampoos, cosmetics, sunscreens, and detergents can all be contributing factors to itchy skin. Culturally, we are becoming much more aware of the harm that can be caused by the substances we put on our body. One very very very important thing to remember is: just because it is natural does not mean it is safe for you or your child. For example, I slathered my son in coconut oil for 6 months. In my new mommy brain fog, I was so frustrated that his eczema was worse after each use and only cleared up when I switched to CeraVe (a dermatologist recommended hypoallergenic cream). Well, guess who had a coconut allergy… Yeah… Please learn from my mistakes! 

If you keep applying a cream, lotion, or oil and your skin condition (or your child’s) does not clear up, seek advice from your ND, PCP, or dermatologist. It may not be the right product for you. You can schedule an appointment with me

Major Ingredients to Avoid

  • Glycolic acid (dry out and irritate the skin)
  • Salicylic acid (dry out and irritate the skin)
  • Retinol (dry out and irritate the skin)
  • Coconut oil (dry out skin)
  • MCT oil (dry out skin)
  • Ingredients derived from palm oil (dry out skin)
  • Methylparaben or Butylparaben (cause inflammation)
  • Fragrances (trigger eczema)

All products, whether they claim to be natural or not, can contain fillers, fragrances, and chemicals that can trigger eczema or other symptoms. The Environmental Working Group is my go to resource when I want to know if a product has the potential to cause itchy skin. I encourage you to look up all the products in your home!

4. Environmental Allergens

How many of you had really bad allergies this year?? I can raise my hand to that!  Every March I see a big spike in what we would call typical seasonal allergies as well as eczema. It makes total sense. If food allergies can trigger eczema wouldn’t you expect environmental allergies to trigger it as well? Managing seasonal and environmental allergies can be more difficult than food allergies if you don’t know where to start. 

As a Naturopathic Doctor, I have a lot more up my sleeve for managing allergies than Claratin or Benadryl. There are specific herbs and nutrients that can help better manage your body’s response to allergens and further reduce your eczema flares. I encourage you to find a naturopathic doctor near you to develop an allergy support plan. If you are not currently working with a naturopath, you can schedule with me or one of the other NCNM doctors.

Common Environmental Allergens

  • Seasonal pollen
  • Dust mites
  • Pet dander from cats and dogs
  • Mold

Environmental allergy management may include strong encouragement to move out of moldy environments, recommendations for hypoallergenic bedding/covers, and as always, identification of allergens so you know exactly what you’re reacting to.

With the Help of a Naturopathic Physician

I was able to identify what was triggering my eczema flares. I removed dairy from my life and no longer wore metal against my skin. Not only did identifying my triggers give me relief from itching but I felt better. I had so much more energy now that my body wasn’t constantly inflamed. I could think clearly. I felt lighter. And most importantly I was comfortable in my skin for the first time. 

My personal journey through healing my own eczema brought me to Naturopathic Medicine and it was my son’s journey with eczema that inspired me to become a Naturopathic Pediatrician. As adults we are complex, we have lots of contributing factors to our health that have built-up over decades. In naturopathic medicine we are goooood at peeling back those layers, and treating the root cause. If you or your child has eczema do not ignore it! Schedule your visit today

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