There are many lifestyle changes you can make to help manage eczema —from picking the right moisturizer to tweaking your shower routine—so diet is an obvious factor to consider. But don’t clean out your pantry just yet. Experts have not yet found clear evidence that your diet choices can cause or exacerbate eczema symptoms, like dry, itchy skin.
One notable exception has to do with food allergies. Some 37 percent of children with moderate to severe eczema have some type of food allergy, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, compared to just 8 percent of general population of children.
The most common food allergies among people with eczema are dairy, nuts, and shellfish, according to dermatologist Suzanne Friedler, MD, of the Mount Sinai Hospital and St. John’s Episcopal Hospital. Just don’t confuse eczema symptoms, like rashes and flaky skin, with allergy symptoms, like hives. For eczema patients with food allergies, eliminating those foods from your diet should also help minimize eczema symptoms and flare-ups. But there’s no proof that eliminating these foods from your diet if you don’t have allergies will make a big difference.
Some people with eczema attempt elimination diets, in which you completely cut out certain kinds of food for weeks at a time to see if there’s a change in eczema symptoms. Dr. Friedler doesn’t recommend these as a matter of course, but if you do suspect that certain kinds of foods are aggravating your skin, keep a food diary to spot potential eczema triggers, she suggests.
Though relatively rare, another allergy that can trigger eczema symptoms is nickel. You’ve probably heard of children being allergic to jewelry made of nickel, but this metal actually shows up in the diet, too. Nickel can leach into foods through the soil, cans, manufacturing equipment, faucets, and cookware. If you have a nickel allergy, a nickel-free diet, which involves lifestyle tweaks like avoiding canned goods or not cooking in stainless steel cookware, may help treat your eczema symptoms.
You may have heard about making specific dietary changes like eating more anti-inflammatory foods, like omega-3 fatty acids, to reduce eczema symptoms. (Here are some top sources of omega-3 fatty acids to try.) While there isn’t solid evidence to show this treats eczema specifically, it’s eating more anti-inflammatory, whole foods is solid general health advice, so it doesn’t hurt to try.