If you’ve ever dealt with eczema, then you know that the itchiness can often seem unbearable, and the irritation that stems from it can be both painful and unsightly. An estimated 35 million Americans are affected by this pesky condition, some chronically, and others on a more occasional basis. Although topical steroid creams and lotions can help lessen your overall discomfort, it’s crucial to take a more functional route when addressing eczema, says Carly Brawner, holistic nutritionist, health coach, and founder of Frolic and Flow.
“Getting rid of eczema means treating the root cause of the problem, which, for most [people], means addressing microbiome imbalances,” Brawner says. “It is often a result of leaky gut, undiscovered food allergies, or out-of-balance gut flora.” There is no simple one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with eczema, but your diet plays a key role in your skin's health and how you fight off the inflammation associated with the condition. Some foods you should load up on are anti-inflammatory foods rich in probiotics, including herbs and spices, omega-3–rich fatty fish, leafy greens, colorful veggies, and zinc-heavy foods like oysters and dark meat from organic poultry. All of these are great for healing skin problems, says Brawner.
Brawner often suggests her clients try a 30-day elimination diet that temporarily removes foods like dairy, gluten, sugar, soy, eggs, and coffee. By slowly reintroducing each food one at a time, people can often see what is contributing to their flare-up. If you don’t want to try an elimination diet but do want eczema-free skin, there are three specific food groups you should likely avoid. (But remember to consider things on a case-by-case basis; all of these foods might not irritate your specific eczema.) Along with Brawner’s help, we’ve rounded up three of the top foods that cause eczema below.
French fries, hot dogs, onion rings, and other fried foods can be some of the top culprits when it comes to eczema, but why is that? Food that is improperly prepared (like fried foods) can cause inflammation in our bodies, and people who have eczema need to specifically decrease their inflammation, Brawner says. Although everyone has different sensitivities and food allergies, fried food does tend to have an inflammatory effect on everyone. “Restaurants fry food in hydrogenated and damaged vegetable oils that are rich in free-radicals,” says Brawner. “These free-radicals damage cells and cause inflammation.”
Many people see the results of their inability to digest and tolerate dairy on their skin, says Brawner. She says those who are lactose intolerant may experience eczema as an allergic reaction to milk, butter, or cheese (after all, dairy is one of the top six allergen foods). Furthermore, modern-day dairy contains synthetic vitamins, growth hormones, and sugar—all things that cause inflammation.
Gluten is a highly reactive protein found in wheat and other grains like farro, bulgur, spelt, kamut, and durum. Many people are sensitive to foods with gluten, says Brawner. A study in the European Journal of Dermatology found that gluten-intolerance—even for those without celiac disease—can be one of the key causes of skin diseases and problems.
Be sure to read about a natural home remedy for eczema, and tell us what you think about these foods that cause eczema in the comments.