Also Listed As:  Skin Disorders, Dermatitis
Signs and Symptoms
What Causes It?
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
Treatment Options
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Following Up
Special Considerations
Supporting Research

Dermatitis (also called eczema) is an itchy inflammation of the skin. There are many types of dermatitis.

Signs and Symptoms
  • Itching, pain, stinging, or burning
  • Blisters, thick or scaly skin, red skin, sores from scratching

What Causes It?
  • Allergic reactions (for example, to poison oak or ivy)
  • Low humidity or soaps and detergents
  • Chemicals, such as nickel and cobalt
  • Working with chemicals or wetting hands often
  • Genetic make up

What to Expect at Your Provider's Office

Your health care provider will try to determine the cause of your dermatitis and make sure you have dermatitis and not a similar disease, such as psoriasis, skin cancer, or some psychological conditions.

Treatment Options
  • Some corticosteroids, such as prednisone, are taken internally to reduce swelling. Others, such as hydrocortisone, are applied directly to the skin to relieve discomfort.
  • Antihistamines relieve itching; some may also help you sleep.
  • Antibiotics, either topical (to put on your skin) or in pill form, are prescribed if there is an infection.

Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Following nutritional guidelines and using herbal support may help reduce inflammation and hypersensitivity. Hypersensitivity associated with stress and anxiety may be helped by mind-body techniques such as meditation, tai chi, yoga, and stress management.


Note: Lower doses are for children.

  • Eliminate or reduce exposure to environmental or food allergens. Common allergenic foods are dairy, soy, citrus, peanuts, wheat (sometimes all gluten-containing grains), fish, eggs, corn, and tomatoes.
  • Reduce pro-inflammatory foods in the diet including saturated fats (meats, especially poultry, and dairy), refined foods, and sugar.
  • Increase intake of fresh vegetables, whole grains, and essential fatty acids (cold-water fish, nuts, and seeds).
  • Flaxseed, borage, or evening primrose oil (1,000 to 1,500 mg one to two times per day) are anti-inflammatory. Children should be given cod liver oil (1 tsp. per day) or omega-3 oils (fish oils).
  • Beta-carotene (25,000 to 100,000 IU per day), zinc (10 to 30 mg per day), and vitamin E (200 to 800 IU per day) support immune function and skin healing.
  • Vitamin C (1,000 mg two to four times per day) inhibits histamine release. Rose hips or palmitate are citrus-free and hypoallergenic.
  • Selenium (100 to 200 mcg per day) helps regulate fatty acid metabolism and is a cofactor in liver detoxification.
  • Bromelain (100 to 250 mg two to four times per day) helps reduce inflammation.


Herbs may be used as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, teas should be made with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers; 10 to 20 minutes for roots.

Flavonoids, a substance found in dark berries and some plants, have anti-inflammatory properties, strengthen connective tissue, and reduce hypersensitivity. The following flavonoids may be taken in dried extract form.

  • Catechin (25 to 150 mg two to three times per day), quercetin (50 to 250 mg two to three times per day), hesperidin (50 to 250 mg two to three times per day), and rutin (50 to 250 mg two to three times per day).
  • Rose hips (Rosa canina) are also high in flavonoids and may be used as a tea. Drink 3 to 4 cups per day.

The following herbs support skin healing and lymphatic drainage; use in combination as a tincture (15 to 30 drops three times per day) or tea (2 to 4 cups per day). Peppermint (Mentha piperita), red clover (Trifolium pratense), cleavers (Gallium aparine), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and prickly ash bark (Xanthoxylum clava-herculis).

Sarsaparilla (Smilax species) helps heal hot, red, inflamed skin, and gotu kola (Centella asiatica) is good for dry, scaly, crusty skin. Use 3 ml sarsaparilla and 2 ml gotu kola tincture daily, or 3 cups tea per day.

Oregon grape (Mahonia aquafolium) or red alder bark (Alnus rubra) taken as tincture (20 to 30 drops three times a day) helps the liver process waste.

Creams and salves containing one or more of the following herbs may help relieve itching and burning, and promote healing. Chickweed (Stellaria media), marigold (Calendula officinalis), comfrey (Symphytum officinale), and chamomile (Matricaria recutita).

Peppermint leaf tea may be cooled and applied to relieve itching and burning. An external menthol ointment can also help.


Some of the most common remedies used for dermatitis are listed below. Usually, the dose is 3 to 5 pellets of a 12X to 30C remedy every one to four hours until your symptoms get better.

  • Apis mellifica for hot, swollen vesicles
  • Rhus toxicodendron for intense itching and burning
  • Urtica urens for burning, stinging pains


Acupuncture may help restore normal immune function and reduce the hypersensitivity response.


Massage may help reduce stress, which makes dermatitis worse.

Following Up

Carefully avoid whatever gives you dermatitis and prevent infection and scarring by not scratching.

Special Considerations

Check with your provider before using any medication if you are pregnant.

Supporting Research

Bartram T. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. Dorset, England: Grace Publishers; 1995:144.

Habif TP. Clinical Dermatology. 3rd ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby-Year Book; 1996.

Middleton E, ed. Allergy: Principles and Practice. 5th ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby-Year Book; 1998.

Morrison R. Desktop Guide to Keynotes and Confirmatory Symptoms. Albany, Calif: Hahnemann Clinic Publishing; 1993:29, 326, 394.

Rakel RE, ed. Conn's Current Therapy. 50th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: WB Saunders Co; 1998.

Scalzo R. Naturopathic Handbook of Herbal Formulas. 2nd ed. Durango, Colo: Kivaki Press; 1994:36.

Schulpis KH, Nyalala JO, Papakonstantinou ED, et al. Biotin recycling impairment in phenylketonuric children with seborrheic dermatitis. Int J Dermatol. 1998;37:918-921.

Stewart JCM, et al. Treatment of severe and moderately severe atopic dermatitis with evening primrose oil (Epogam): a multi-center study. J Nutr Med. 1991;2:9-16.

Review Date: August 1999
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Richard A. Lippin, MD, President, The Lippin Group, Southampton, PA; Anne McClenon, ND, Compass Family Health Center, Plymouth, MA; Sherif H. Osman, MD, President, Medical Staff Harford Memorial Hospital, Falston General Hospital, Bel Air, MD; David Winston, Herbalist, Herbalist and Alchemist, Inc., Washington, NJ.

Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.

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