How to Use Fish Oil to Relieve Seborrheic, Contact, and Atopic Dermatitis

Dermatitis is an -itis or inflammatory condition of the skin. The most common kinds of dermatitis encountered in day to day life are seborrheic dermatitis, causing a build-up of oily sebum in the skin, and contact dermatitis, itch and irritation usually triggered by contact with detergents, plant latex, or nickel.

Using Fish Oil for Seborrheic Dermtatitis

Seborrheic Dermatitis
    Seborrheic Dermatitis on the Scalp of an InfantPhoto by Starfoxy

Seborrheic dermatitis causes itchy, flaky, red, and inflamed skin on the face, scalp, arms, and torso. The culprit in seborrheic dermatitis is the overproduction of the skin oil sebum, which in moderate amounts lubricates the skin and prevents sags and wrinkling. Yeast on the skin feed on the sebum and release irritant by products as they digest it.

The nutritional factors that contribute most to overproduction of sebum are B vitamin deficiencies and imbalances between omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids. If you take riboflavin, B6, and B12, your skin's immune system is better able to fight the yeast that feed on sebum and release irritating byproducts. If you take fish oil, your own body produces fewer irritant chemicals that make the effects of yeast infection even worse.

How can you get rid of seborrheic dermatitis naturally? In a baby, it is important never, ever to use a mediated shampoo. In babies and toddlers up to the age of three, find formula or a children's supplement that contains the B vitamin biotin and then be patient. Usually biotin supplementation makes the difference in children under the age of three. Here are key considerations for adults.

  • If you choose to use a steroid treatment (such as Elocon, Lidex, or Temovate), your doctor will probably tell you that it is very important to stop using the steroid just as soon as symptoms improve. Using the steroid for too long weakens the immune system of the skin, and allows the yeast to grow back, starting symptoms all over again.
  • It is very important to keep your skin clean while you are getting rid of the yeast to avoid reinfection. But you don't want to wash your skin so often that it dries out, providing an additional food source for the yeast.
  • Take a complete B-vitamin and 1,000 mg of essential fatty acids from fish oil every day. (Three capsules of Xtend Life or 2 capsules of New Vitality is enough, but other brands may require you take many more capsules to get the same amount of essential fatty acids.) These nutritional supplements strengthen your immune system to fight the yeast without causing additional inflammation in the process.
  • Follow an anti-fungal diet. An anti-fungal diet is not just a low-sugar diet. It is also a meat-restricted diet. Cured pork products, smoked meats, smoked fish, any kind of fish or cheese with a distinctive aroma will have biogenic amines that are digested from the food, circulated through the bloodstream, and concentrated in the skin. These proteins cause a low-grade inflammation that continuously irritates the skin. Flakes of skin provide additional food for the yeast infection that causes seborrheic dermatitis.

Fish Oil for Contact Dermatitis

Dermatitis Caused by Poison Ivy
    Dermatitis Caused by Poison IvyPhoto by Larsonja

Contact dermatitis is a prolonged allergic reaction of the skin to a foreign substance. When the skin is exposed to the allergen, there is immediate reddening, itching, swelling, and pain that may last for weeks after the offending substance is taken away. The most common form of contact dermatitis is irritant contact dermatitis, triggered by contact with solvents (such as alcohol, turpentine, acetone, xylene, or esters), metalworking fluids, alkalis (such as drain cleaner or lye soap), or the sodium lauryl sulfate in shampoos, toothpaste, and soap.

Allergic contact dermatitis is not as common as irritant contact dermatitis; although it is the form of the disease most of us know the best. Allergic contact dermatitis can be triggers by exposure to poison ivy, poison sumac, poison oak, balsam of Peru, nickel, gold, or chromium. Photocontact dermatitis occurs when substances left on the skin are activated by sunlight to form irritants. This happens with certain dyes derived from coal tar, including the some of the synthetic red and yellow dyes used in making food. You are only likely to get a rash from dyes you spill directly on your skin, not from dyes you consume in prepared food.

All three forms of contact dermatitis cause blisters, whelps, and wheals on the skin. And common home remedies for contact dermatitis can actually make the problem worse.

  • Calamine lotion acts by causing pain so you don't feel an itch. It does not relieve inflammation. It only masks it.
  • Hydrocortisone cream relieves irritation, but it also breaks down collagen. This can leave the skin thinner, more fragile, and more easily irritated the next time you come in contact with the allergen.
  • Zinc oxide, the white cream that is also used to prevent sunburn (you may have seen zinc oxide on a lifeguard's nose), is a genuinely natural and non-toxic ingredient. However, it can clog pores, which is a problem for people who have acne.
  • Some products designed to treat contact dermatitis contain ingredients that actually can cause contact dermatitis. Don't treat your skin with creams or lotions that contain spearmint, eucalyptus, the preservative methylisothiazolinone, cinnamic acid, kawa (or kava) extract, or sodium silicate, all of which can cause the contact dermatitis the product is designed to treat.

The most important step in treating any kind of contact dermatitis is to make sure the skin is no longer in contact with the irritant chemical. It also helps to take 2 or 3 capsules of a high-quality fish oil like Xtend Life or Nordic Naturals on a regular basis to reduce inflammation. You need enough fish oil to give you 1,000 mg of DHA + EPA a day. That's about 3 capsules a day of these brands, although to get this level of essential fatty acids from some other brands would require up to 15 capsules a day.

Laboratory tests with animals find that supplementing the diet with fish oil reduces the rate at which white blood cells infiltrate the skin to release inflammatory chemicals and the thickness of the area of inflamed skin. Having omega-3's in your diet will accelerate healing and minimize new attacks, but taking fish oil is not like taking an antihistamine. The effects of fish oil are long-term. They take several days to several weeks to be obvious.

What About Fish Oil for Eczema?

Eczema on Baby's Back
    Eczema on Baby's BackPhoto by Nathalie Donne

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is also an allergic condition of the skin, but it is an allergy that manifests itself from the inside out rather from the outside in. Eczema is commonly associated with food sensitivities, most often to cow's milk and soy. Even breastfed babies can develop eczema when their mothers are experiencing it, by receiving the allergen in breast milk.

The first step in treating eczema is removing the offending food that causes ongoing symptoms. Unfortunately, this food is usually something that is eaten every day, and even though milk is the most commonly offending food, just one in twenty people who has eczema only has an allergy to milk. A better approach is to reduce inflammation by balancing omega-6 essential fatty acids and omega-3 essential fatty acids.

Both groups of fatty acids are essential. If you don't get any omega-6 fat at all, your skin will break out as badly as it does when you get too much. Children need at least 1-2 teaspoons (5 to 10 grams) of omega-6 rich plant oils every day, and adults need at least 1-2 tablespoons (15 to 30 grams). Sources of omega-6 fats include corn oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil, hemp oil, and flaxseed oil (which is also a good source of omega-3 fats). Avocados, most nuts, pumpkin seeds, and whole grains also contain omega-6 fat.

To balance the omega-6 fat, one needs omega-3 fat. The omega-3 fat in flaxseed oil can be used by the body to make the EPA and DHA it needs to fight inflammation, but up to 90% of this fat is lost in the conversion process. Fish oil provides ready-made EPA and DHA to balance omega-6 fats to keep inflammation in check.

How Much Fish Oil is Needed?

For both children and adults, enough fish oil to provide at least 1,000 mg of DHA plus EPA a day is recommended. Children can get this amount of omega-3 essential fatty acids from four Nordic Naturals Chewables. Adults can get this amount of omega-3 essential fatty acids from three capsules of Xtend-Life Omega 3 DHA Fish Oil or Nordic Naturals every day.

Other Supplements Also Help

  • Zinc can "tone down" an overactive immune system. Just 3 mg a day for infants over six months, 5 mg a day for children up to the age of eight, 10 mg a day for older children and teens, or 15 mg a day for adults is enough to prevent deficiency. Zinc gluconate is preferred, but other forms of zinc are also acceptable.
  • Many people tolerate milk products better if they contain active cultures of Bifidus, Lactobacillus, or the healthy forms of Streptococcus. You can get these from yogurt made with active cultures (the label has to say "active cultures") or by taking probiotic supplements.
  • The Ayurvedic herb coleus, standardized for its content of the active plant chemical forskolin, is useful for many adults who have eczema. A typical dosage is 50 mg of 18% forskolin extract 3 times a day. Women who trying to get pregnant should avoid this herb, since it can interfere with ovulation.

What about the plant oil EPO, also known as evening primrose oil? This product is better on you than in you. Dab EPO directly on the skin to relieve inflammation. EPO is expensive, so you may want to be careful to apply it only where it is needed on the skin.

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