Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that affects 2-10% of adults in the UK1, with symptoms including itching, dryness, redness and soreness of the skin. There may also be a rash present, small raised bumps, swollen or thickened skin and in more severe cases, oozing of the skin.
In Ayurveda, the skin disorder 'Vicharchika' closely correlates with eczema. It is generally considered as a condition that involves an imbalance of all three Doshas (Vata, Pitta and Kapha). Interestingly, two of the main early patriarchs of Ayurveda have different opinions on which of the 3 Doshas predominates in this condition – Charaka states that Kapha predominates, whilst Sushruta opines that Pitta predominates. This difference in opinion does not really matter though, as in practice each person is treated as an individual and the presenting Dosha(s) will thus be worked on.
Involvement of the Doshas
The presence of all 3 Doshas can be observed by the following symptoms of eczema:
- Kapha (with its moist and heavy qualities) is responsible for itchiness and raised or swollen skin.
- Pitta (with its hot and sharp qualities) is responsible for inflammation, redness and burning sensation.
- When Pitta combines with Kapha, it leads to discharge or weeping eczema.
- Vata (with its light and dry qualities) is responsible for dryness, cracks, pain and discolouration or pigmentation.2
Involvement of the Dhatus
The Dhatus are the seven tissues that make up the body. These Dhatus include plasma and lymph, blood, muscle, adipose (fat), bone, bone marrow and reproductive tissues. In diseased states, the imbalanced Doshas impair one or more of the Dhatus.
Eczema involves the impairment of:
- 'Rakta' (blood tissue), leading to symptoms such as burning, itching, inflammation and redness.
- 'Mamsa' (muscle tissue), leading to symptoms such as inflammation, redness and pain.
- 'Rasa' (plasma, lymph and interstitial fluid), leading to discharge or weeping of the eczema.
In addition to these 'Dhatus', there is also a vitiation of the skin ('tvak'), which leads to dryness, cracking and discolouration.2
Ayurvedic treatments for Eczema:
Correction of Digestion
According to Ayurveda, all diseases start with an imbalanced digestive system. Strengthening Agni (the digestive fire) to reduce Ama (immature or undigested food substances in the body due to impaired digestion that clogs the subtle channels and spreads into deeper tissues of the body) and balancing issues such as constipation or loose bowel movements help to address some of the causes of eczema.
Food and Eczema
Eczema sufferers find that certain foods such as dairy, gluten, sugar, alcohol and nightshades can exacerbate their symptoms due to intolerances or by causing inflammation.3
Ayurveda utilises food therapeutically, focusing on flavours that will help balance a specific Dosha. A Pitta pacifying diet is often very helpful in reducing eczema. This diet focuses on counteracting the hot and sharp qualities of Pitta (which is responsible for inflammation and redness) by introducing foods that are cooling and soothing in potency. The tastes that pacify Pitta are Bitter and Astringent (think leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables), and Sweet (think naturally sweet fruits and vegetables). Tastes that increase Pitta and should thus be reduced are Pungent, Salty and Sour.
Pungent Taste and Eczema
In the Ayurvedic model, the Pungent taste (which is present in spicy foods such as chillies, paprika, cayenne etc.) is made up of Fire and Air elements, which aggravate Pitta (because Pitta is already hot) and Vata (because Vata is already light and airy). Another way of understanding this is that spicy food can irritate the stomach lining, leading to inflammation that can inflame the skin.
Salty Taste and Eczema
A recent study proved that high salt intake can lead to the formation of Th2 cells which are involved in eczema conditions. Additionally, it was found that areas of skin affected by eczema contained sodium levels up to 30 times higher than the healthy skin.4
Ayurveda views the salty taste as containing the elements Fire and Water. Fire being hot in nature aggravates Pitta; whereas the Water element aggravates Kapha, thus worsening the symptoms of eczema.
Sour Taste and Eczema
The Sour taste, made up of Fire and Earth elements, aggravates Pitta with its heat and Kapha with its oily heaviness respectively. Sour tastes include alcohol, vinegar, cheese, fermented foods and citrus fruits.
A Citrus allergy, although quite rare, can create skin reactions such as hives, redness, swelling and itching.5 It is no wonder that Ayurveda views citrus fruits as having a heating effect and sees them as inflammatory and Pitta-increasing in nature.
Healing Herbs for Eczema
To treat eczema, Ayurveda focuses on herbs that are 'Raktashodhaka' (blood purifying), 'Kushthaghna' (skin disease curing) and 'Varnya' (complexion enhancing). The herbs befitting these categories are generally Bitter in taste. Bitterness, being made up by the elements of Ether and Air cleanses the subtle channels of the body and is thus purifying and detoxifying in action. In addition, herbs that cleanse blood ('Raktashodhaka') are also cleansing on the liver, as the 'Raktavahasrotas' (or channels of blood) are said in Ayurveda to originate from the liver and spleen.
Herbs that are used for healing eczema include Bitters like Neem, Guduchi, Manjishtha and Turmeric. Guggulu, a gum resin from a small tree, is also a great anti-inflammatory and is combined with different herbs to form Guggulu formulas for specific actions. In treating eczema, the formula 'Kaishore Guggulu' is helpful in drawing out excess Pitta from the skin.
Virechana for skin diseases
Ayurveda also employs deeper Panchakarma (bodily purification processes) to clear toxins and remove excess Doshas. Virechana (purgation therapy) is the treatment of choice for skin diseases with increased Pitta and vitiated Rakta (blood tissue). In this treatment, ghee medicated with bitter herbs are taken in increasing quantities to soften and move toxins, before taking a strong purgative to eliminate the toxins through the digestive tract.
"I had an extreme case of eczema that was affecting my face and ears – my skin was red, itchy, dry, weeping and cracked. With the help of two regular herbal supplements prescribed by Colette and using ayurvedic dietary principles, my skin started to make a rapid recovery. The weeping and split skin started to heal quite soon after beginning the herbs and it just got better from there. I felt less inflamed from within fairly quickly and the outside reflected that. I can't thank Colette enough for helping me feel comfortable in my own skin again." – Calli
1 NICE (2022): Eczema – Atopic: How common is it?, Internet www page at URL: https://cks.nice.org.uk/topics/eczema-atopic/background-information/prevalence/
2 Sanjay, A.D. (2021): A conceptual study on Vicharchika with special reference to Eczema. International Journal of Creative Research Thoughts, 2021 April, 9 (4), 3895-3902
3 Nosrati, A. et al. (2017):Dietary modifications in atopic dermatitis: patient-reported outcomes. Journal of Dermatological Treatment, 2017 Jan, 28 (6), 523-538.
4 Matthias, J. et al. (2019): Sodium chloride is an ionic checkpoint for human TH2 cells and shapes the atopic skin microenvironment. Science Translational Medicine, 2019 Feb, 11 (480).
5 Leonard, J. (2018): What are the symptoms of citrus allergy? Internet www page at URL: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321764