There is no universally effective treatment for eczema. Sometimes, once-effective treatments stop working. Some treatments have their own adverse effects to worry about–topical steroid withdrawal is one.
It isn’t surprising that many patients turn to vitamins and other supplements in search of relief. Google “eczema supplements” or “eczema vitamins,” and you’ll find dozens of products marketed as eczema treatments.
Supplements are not subjected to the same rigorous testing as prescription drugs. Moreover, they’re often sold through multi-level marketing schemes. Sales people in MLMs are often motivated by sales goals or by scientific ignorance to make specious claims–up to and including claims that their product can cure eczema.
This is demonstrably false–but what about their other claims? Can vitamins help with eczema? Which vitamins should I take, and at what dose? Are vitamins safe?
This blog post will explore some of the most common supplements used for treating eczema. We’ll examine their possible benefits, as well as their safety, and see what scientific research has to say about them.
What are vitamins?
Vitamins are so ubiquitous that it’s hard to imagine life without some knowledge of them. However, they are a relatively recent discovery in human history; until 1905, only fats, carbohydrates, proteins, and salt were regarded as vital nutrients. Diseases like rickets, which we now know to be caused by a vitamin D deficiency, were thought to be the result of infection.
It was Dutch physiologist Cornelius Adrianus Pekelharing who discovered that animals could not thrive on fats, carbohydrates, protein, and salts alone. His work did not conclude with the discovery of vitamins, but it shifted the trajectory of research dramatically...
A few years later, in 1911, a Polish-American biochemist named Casimir Funk found that he could cure pigeons of polyneuritis by feeding them concentrated rice shavings. This was good news for pigeons–and great news for humans, as it would turn out.
Funk determined that the beneficial substance in the rice shavings was thiamine (vitamin B1). Thiamine was promptly applied to the treatment beriberi, a potentially deadly disease that causes polyneuritis in humans. It was an immediate triumph against a disease that had baffled physicians for over a millennium.
Funk deduced from this that there were more essential nutrients in foods. He proposed that deficiencies of these nutrients could cause disease–a bold claim for its time. Funk called these nutrients vitamines, a portmanteau of “vital” and “amine.”
Funk’s research revolutionized the treatment of scurvy, rickets and pellagra, saving millions of lives. His “vitamines” changed medicine as we know it.
The first multivitamins were sold in 1934. Today, vitamins are a multibillion-dollar industry.
Vitamins for treating eczema
Many different supplements, including vitamin tablets, oils, and herbs, are sold for the treatment of eczema. We can’t cover all of these in a simple blog article, so we will focus on some of the most prominent supplements. This includes vitamins A, B6, B12, D, and E.
Vitamin A plays an important role in skin health. It stimulates the production of collagen, a protein that helps your skin maintain its firmness and elasticity. This is why retinol and retinoids, which are forms of vitamin A, are used in anti-aging products.
Collagen is also a crucial part of the skin’s barrier system. The skin barrier is compromised in people with eczema; if vitamin A could stimulate production of one of the skin barrier’s key proteins, it seems reasonable to believe that it could be beneficial in treating eczema.
A 2020 study found a strong correlation between vitamin A deficiency and eczema symptoms. In theory, this validates the use of vitamin A as a complementary eczema treatment.
Retinol and retinoids stimulate collagen when applied topically; they are less effective when taken orally. With this in mind, many supplement purveyors began marketing topical vitamin A products to eczema sufferers.
What the science says
Contrary to simple logic, studies found that topical vitamin A has no effect on atopic dermatitis. It neither prevents flares nor relieves severity or duration of symptoms. Oral supplements have not been studied extensively.
Vitamin A is what we call a fat-soluble vitamin. Unlike water-soluble vitamins such as vitamin C, the body cannot flush out excess levels of vitamin A. It can build to toxic levels in the blood, causing symptoms such as loss of appetite, dry eyes and mouth, muscle and bone pain, and mental confusion.
Most people can safely take vitamin A supplements; higher-than-recommended doses, though, can be dangerous, especially over time.
Vitamin A deficiency is strongly linked to atopic dermatitis. Topical applications, however, have proven ineffective in treating eczema. Taking vitamin A orally may be beneficial, but little research has been done. Supplementing at normal doses may possibly help eczema sufferers. High doses of vitamin A, though, should be avoided unless taken under a doctor’s supervision.
The B vitamins are a group of water-soluble vitamins. They help the body make use of energy from nutrients, and deficiencies of these vitamins can lead to lack of energy and prolonged healing times.
Like vitamin A deficiency, deficiencies of B vitamins are strongly associated with atopic dermatitis. These vitamins have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which could be useful in treating inflammatory disorders such as eczema.
What the science says
Most B-group vitamins had no effect on the development, severity, or duration of eczema flares. The exception is B12; in several different studies, topical treatments with B12 appeared to measurably decrease the severity of eczema symptoms. Several doctors, especially those treating eczema in children, recommend topical B12 as part of their treatment regimen.
The vitamins in this group are water-soluble. Excesses will be flushed out of the body. Still, high doses of B6 can cause heart palpitations, flushing, and diuretic effects. At doses greater than 1500 mg per day, B6 can cause liver toxicity.
Allergy to vitamin B12 is possible and can result in anaphylaxis; this occurs more often with injections than with oral supplements. Injections can also cause short-lived breathlessness, dizziness, nausea and headaches. Vitamin B12 is relatively safe, in spite of these potential adverse effects. Nonetheless, you should use B12 injections and therapeutic doses of vitamin B12 only under your doctor’s supervision.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is associated with eczema flares. In most studies, this vitamin seemed to reduce the severity of eczema symptoms. So far, it is the only B vitamin to offer any benefit to eczema sufferers. It is relatively safe, although there is a risk of allergy and anaphylaxis with this vitamin. It can be applied topically and ingested orally.
Vitamin D deficiencies are common in the United States, seen most often in very fair-skinned people who avoid sunlight. In addition to making calcium more available to our bones and muscles, it also has immune modulating effects. It seems to offer greater protection from bacterial illnesses, and it also reduces inflammation.
What the science says
In many studies, vitamin D seems to be useful in preventing eczema flares and reducing severity of symptoms. In others, it seems to have no effect; in still others, it is shown to be effective in treating “extrinsic” atopic dermatitis (that associated with allergy), but not intrinsic AD.
In short, studies have often contradicted each other’s findings, and there is little settled science. Most studies indicate that it has some use, if limited, in treating eczema.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, so levels can build up in the body.This can cause adverse effects, including nausea, vomiting, excessive thirst, and excessive urination.
Using vitamin D to treat eczema is somewhat controversial, with studies yielding conflicting results. However, a vitamin D deficiency isn’t good for you, and it could possibly trigger or worsen your symptoms–especially in winter. It seems to be most effective against eczema related to allergy. While relatively safe, excessive doses can cause toxicity–so supplement under your doctor’s guidance.
For years, vitamin E was touted as the healthy skin vitamin. It is an excellent antioxidant, and it has been shown to reduce blood levels of IgE in patients with allergies. In theory, it should be the perfect supplement for eczema, which is so often atopic.
What the science says
There have been some conflicting studies, but there is wide agreement that vitamin E supplements can improve quality of life and severity of symptoms for eczema sufferers. The best results so far seem to have come from daily oral supplements of 400 IUs. Topical application offered some mild benefit, but less than regular oral supplementation.
At 400 mg daily, vitamin E has few reported adverse effects. It is a fat soluble vitamin, and risk of blood clot and hemorrhagic stroke increases at doses higher than 1000. I
Vitamin E appears to have some use in reducing the severity of eczema symptoms, though this is more pronounced with oral supplements than with topical application. . Most people can safely take therapeutic doses. At safe doses, it is not likely to harm and may possibly help.
Adding it all up
Vitamins A, B6, B12, D, and E are commonly marketed as eczema treatments. Among these, only vitamins B12, D, and E have been proven effective in reducing the severity of eczema symptoms. However, deficient levels of Vitamin A and B6 correlate strongly with the development of eczema.
Vitamins are not a cure for eczema, nor are they completely risk-free. In addition to the potential risks listed here, they can interfere with your medications, making some of them ineffective and potentiating the effects of others. You should always discuss supplementation with your doctor and pharmacist.
Take your power back
Supplements are not a substitute for medication nor other self-care practices. You should continue to follow your eczema management plan.
Regular moisturization remains one of the most important parts of this plan. Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Steve Harlan and his team at HarlanMd recently released Perfect Repair™ moisturizing cream to give this vital part of your skincare routine a welcome power-up.
Rich in ceramides, Perfect Repair™ rehydrates dry skin and prevents moisture loss. This fragrance-free moisturizer uses the healing properties of coconut oil to prevent eczema flares and restore the radiance of damaged skin. Like SmartLotion,Ⓡ HarlanMD’s flagship product, Perfect Repair™ has a prebiotic formula that balances the skin’s microbiome.
Meanwhile, HarlanMD continues to offer SmartLotionⓇ for those seeking relief from out-of-control eczema symptoms. SmartLotionⓇ, an eczema cream, uses a low dose of hydrocortisone (0.75%) to reduce redness and itching without the risk of topical steroid withdrawal or skin atrophy.
Together, SmartLotionⓇ and Perfect Repair™ offer unprecedented control over eczema symptoms. They’ll help you get the maximum benefit from the right vitamin supplement.