Q. I am a 51-year-old female who has been plagued with persistent eczema. The skin on my hands was always red, itchy, cracked and often bleeding. My hands were always covered with bandages or gauze.

Dermatologists prescribed cortisone creams of increasing strength. None was helpful over the long term. Hand cream for dry skin was totally useless.

Five years ago I went to an allergist for an unrelated problem. When he saw my hands, he was concerned that the open sores put me at risk of infection. He suggested taking borage oil since it had helped many of his patients.

I tried it, taking one capsule of borage oil after breakfast and one before bed. Within a few months the eczema on my hands had disappeared completely and the condition is now only a minor annoyance. My dry skin is controlled with ordinary hand cream. I hope this tip will help others.

A. Borage oil is rich in a fatty acid called GLA (gamma-linolenic acid). The oil comes from the plant Borago officinalis, also known as star flower. We are delighted that you got such relief, but not everyone will benefit.

A placebo-controlled study published in the British Medical Journal (Dec 13, 2003) suggests that borage oil is ineffective for eczema. The researchers conclude that, “it seems unlikely that dietary supplementation with gamma linolenic acid is beneficial in management of atopic dermatitis.”

Others have told us that they have seen benefit from drinking oolong tea, taking cod liver oil, brewers yeast, hemp seed oil or probiotics. We also like to remind visitors that a sponsor of our radio show, Redex Industries, makes a wonderful moisturizer that is amazingly affordable called Udder Cream.

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  1. Beth

    I just want to warn those of you using steroid creams of the dangers of Topical Steroid Addiction and Withdrawal. It’s real, and I’ve been going through it since January. I have had life-long eczema and always treated it with OTC or prescription steroids from the doctor. If your eczema increases when you use steroid creams, spreads, burns, and weeps, you might have TSA/TSW. Please visit ITSAN for more information. http://www.itsan.org

  2. K.B.

    My son eczema since childhood. We have tried creams for years but nothing really has worked. We had even used steroid shots which I hated to resort to but after watching son suffer I decided to get the shot on occasion. However the steroid shot only cleared skin for 3months if that.
    I had been praying for an answer and never was confident in supplements or natural remedies but was told to try borage oil. We tried it and within 2 days his skin was no longer flaking or peeling!! I am so happy and want everyone to know who may be suffering that it worked for my son who is 16 yrs. old! After all these yrs we finally found a simple answer!!

  3. CatherinaLucy

    Homeopathy and many other alternative treatments are worthless. However, medical science and its practitioners are far from perfect.

  4. Mjolnira

    I turned up with 3 little bumps on the palm of my hands that in five months spread to the other hand. the would develop tiny blisters or fluid filled lesions just under the skin, then pop and crack and peel… it was driving me nuts and after 5 months of trying various stuff (steroid cream, hydrocortizone, silver sulfide, antibiotics, anti-fungal–>all doctor prescribed… I tried tea tree oil, bleach, hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol… even burning the area at one point).
    I was at my wit’s end & my doc was sick of seeing me (4 visits). I had been applying thermazene cream and it was managing to keep things just barely in check & was wearing cotton gloves, when I went over to my brother’s to work on my bike. He always uses nitrile gloves and because my hands were cracked & hurt & O didn’t want 2 mess up my cotton gloves I put on a pair… I went over & used his gloves 3 days in a row & noticed that my hands were finally healing!!! I have no idea what was wrong with my hands, my doc was clueless as well… but I am convinced that something in those nitrile gloves fixed my problem… it’s so weird, or maybe it was the gloves & the thermazene cream. I don’t know… but I sincerely hopes this helps someone else, because if anyone has what i had it really really sucks. Peace!!!

  5. Jenny

    I use calendula cream on my children. It is made in a natural pharmacy. Both my daughters have eczema, and unfortunately I started with my Dr.’s recommendation of cortisone cream, which I have since quite using, since it didn’t work anyway. And it has changed their skin coloring, which you won’t see right away, but will show up even a year or so later. It took me years to discover their eczema was caused from a wheat intolerance. And now with no wheat in our diet, they have completely cleared up.

  6. EG

    I have had eczema for about 3 yrs. I am 78 yrs old and pretty active. It appears to get worse if I go into warm pool water or when I sit in padded chairs too long. I have been treated w/steroids and various skin creams to no avail. My skin is very dry all over. It seems to me that Borage Oil might help. Please send me some info on it and the cost, etc. I read about People’s Pharmacy in my local Stuart, FL newspaper

  7. Kirsten D.

    My son had eczema as an infant and would scratch himself behind his ears until he bled. A friend (a famous pediatrician’s wife) told me that most often they find that it is caused by dairy in the diet. I was breastfeeding exclusively, and she told me to remove ALL dairy from my diet: milk, butter, cheese, ice cream, yogurt, anything with casein or whey or any milk ingredients. I did so and within a week or so, the eczema disappeared completely.
    After two months, I ate some dairy to test the theory. Bang! Eczema. I kept myself and my son dairy free for a long time. Now (8) he can handle some dairy, but I know when he’s getting too much because he starts to get dry patches on his face. I’ve noticed that his younger sister who is now 3 develops eczema on her legs, torso and groin area when she has a significant amount of dairy or some dairy over a few days. It’s worth a shot to eliminate it and see what happens.

  8. Paul H.

    I am a 56 year old who has suffered from horrible eczema on my hands and feet since I was a child. For many years I was treated with injections of Kenalog and steroid creams. In my early 30s somebody told me about Borage oil.
    I started taking one capsule in the morning and one before I went to bed and the condition completely disappeared within three weeks. I know it works because if I miss a few days it comes back. What a godsend that stuff is!

  9. Pam

    I am 29 years old and I have had eczema since I was 13 years old. I am not sure of what triggered my eczema but I have been battling it since. I have been to allergist, numerous dermatologist, I have tried home remedies, and so much more. When I get myself clear, it always seems to come back during the spring and fall months. The only suggestion I have is to use unscented dove soap, a good moisturizer, a good eating regime (low acidic foods, high fatty acid foods-omega 3), and to get a topical steroid to stop the flare ups as soon as they come.
    If you catch the eczema as soon as it starts you can control it better. Also, stay away from perfumes in your laundry soap, bath soaps, and lotions. I know no one wanted to use steroids, but that is the only consistent thing that helps me control my eczema during flare ups. I want try more home remedies, like the oil treatments internally and externally.

  10. margarita

    After suffering on and off with eczema in the ears and a drier than normal body skin all my life, a few weeks ago tried Starflower Oil capsules (190mgGLA) 1 a day, and applied Infant Starflower Cream directly onto the ears, 3 to 4 times daily.
    Much improved, the extreme itch has gone, constant flaking reduced, no leaking. Just a few times esp in the morning needing to scratch a tiny bit. Was so inflamed previously when I smiled my ears would ache, the inflammation seems to have all but gone and smiling is pain free!
    I’m going to increase the oil intake to 2 capsules per day to see if there is more improvement. Well, just had to share this, as for me it works. p.s. noticed scratches I got during gardening on my hands seemed to heal really quickly too, or is that my imagination?

  11. JW

    I love this site and your radio show. I have had eczema since I was a baby, on my ears, in the elbows. It went away from grade school through adulthood. Now I’m 52 and “it’s baaaaaccccckkkkk” It started in the corners of my eyes, now on my eyelids and in symmetrical spots on my face.
    These weeping “hotspots” appear for a few weeks, then go away, pop up somewhere else.

  12. Colleen

    I am 55 and covered in Eczema from head to toe. Started on my feet 3 years ago just on the tops of my feet. Then my ears…. back to my feet. Eventually my legs, arms, stomach, buttocks, tops and bottoms of my hands, and back of my neck. Could you tell me how you manage stress…. I have plenty of it…. and what you do to distract yourself from the itch?

  13. alli

    My son has horrible eczema and we would like to try natural or homeopathic treatments. We just started with Borage oil. He is almost 5 years old. Any advice on anything natural we would greatly appreciate. We want to steer clear of steroids, if possible. Thank you!

  14. Aniela

    eczema is horrible don’t wish it on any one, and yes omega fats do help a little.

  15. slm

    I am 69 yrs old, I suffered from eczema for about 4 years, especially on my hand and feet, the omega fats help, but the thing that helped most was replacement hormones, I take these maybe one or two months at a time, I have not had an attack for over a year. I used to spend a lot of time with the gauze bandages and I bought the white gauze gloves 5 or 6 doz at a time.. also don’t use over the counter cremes like neosporin.

  16. PB

    I too had cracked hands and finger tips for years. Nothing seemed to help. I finally tried footlogic dry skin foam.. within a week my hands were healed.. now I just keep them in check by using hand creams.

  17. MLee

    I am 62 & was on a restricted diet at 4 months of age for atopic dermatitis and went to university clinics and dermatologists all my life. My stomach and butt were less affected, but I was covered with red, broken-out skin all over, often bleeding. I got quarterly cortisone injections until 7 years ago when I learned how dangerous it was. I have osteoporosis because of that. I went to Duke in 2009 and was started on an immune-suppressant. After months it cleared me up, and I am still clear. I have to use topical cortisone rarely. I take 2 tbs of olive oil a day, and that decreases the dryness to a great degree. Possibly any oil would. I firmly believe it is easier to stay clear than to get clear. Best of luck to you all.

  18. Clara

    I second Mark H.’s comment. There is definitely a high correlation with eczema and stress. In my case, I found out that I tend to scratch a lot more when I’m stressed, which results in exacerbating my existing condition. Learning to manage my stress has definitely helped, as well as knowing how to distract myself when I feel an itch coming.

  19. AdamK

    I suffered from really bad dry, cracking and peeling skin on my fingertips for over 2 years. The fingertips would get really dry, thick, crack then start peeling and the skin below would be raw & sometimes bleed. This cycle would repeat every 2 weeks. Being an aircraft mechanic, I work with my hands all the time. To avoid the chemicals & getting my hands dirty I always wear nitrile gloves and I am not allergic to the gloves.
    My dermatologist gave me steroidal cream for 2 weeks and discouraged continued long term use. She also recommended Eucerin Cream. I did not get any positive results. So I tried Pentaxyl which is supposed to work for scarring and it healed my fingers within a couple of weeks.

  20. Mark H.

    I battled eczema for years, starting as a teenager. First on the tops of my feet (thought it was something in the tongues of my shoes), then it moved to the bottoms. My hands, behind my ears and my groin.
    Many theories, tests, creams, ointments, pus that would fill my shoes — all the same stories…
    I finally had good success treating the *symptoms* with Temovate gel (prescription), but it wasn’t until I created peace in my life and I learned to manage my stress levels that I actually *Became symptom-FREE*. It was one of the best things that my divorce helped to bring to me (my ex-wife was just wearing me out!)…
    I have actually found a correlation over the years to increasing stress and mild flare-ups – I use it now as a diagnostic to take better (mental/emotional) care of myself.

  21. ALD

    I had eczema for many years, It started when I was a baby. When in grade school it was in the bend of my arms that I had to wear bandages on it because it weeped so badly that anything stuck to it. When I would get home I would have to sock my arms in boric acid water until the bandages could be pulled lose with out bleeding. After I was married my hands broke out so bad I lost all my fingernails except one thumbnail.
    I really don’t know what helped my eczema but as I aged it got better. I am 78 years old and still have to be careful with having my hands in water too much or flour or any cream with lanolin. I could not use any baby lotions on my babies and I couldn’t even wash my own hair for many years. ald

  22. Cindy B.

    I am going to save this account of borage oil helping eczema for my son. Not because he has eczema but because he has faith ONLY in what science can prove by its ‘double blind studies’. Not all of us are the same. ~

  23. T Allyn

    I have eczema and 5 different types of psoriasis. When the worst type of psoriasis is flared I use hydrous lanolin (nothing added) with occlusion of my hands and feet. However, to keep eczema dormant and the layers of dry skin from the psoriasis moisturized, I use raw (unrefined with nothing added) shea butter directly from Ghana which I order thru a VA importer. The raw shea butter soaks in quickly and has no lingering smell – plus it works. I had eczema so bad in places that it was raised on the surface of my skin. With use of the the shea butter, the eczema has disappeared completely.

  24. JV

    I had a horrible case of eczema, including under my fingernails, for years while my children were young. It went away when I took antibiotics (for another reason) and when I was pregnant, but always returned with a vengeance. My doctor suggested that because it was just on my hands, to become a detective and see if it was something I came in contact with like soap. (I remember him mentioning that one of his patients had a similar eczema on her hands that turned out to be an allergy to her salad bowl, made out of some exotic wood??)
    Anyway, in short order, it turned out that Ivory soap was the trigger. I thought that was the soap I was supposed to use on my babies, and because it was “so mild” I used Ivory Dishwashing liquid in the kitchen. When I switched to more of a “beauty bar” soap, and Joy dish-washing liquid at the sink, it went away.
    Several years later, I had to stop using the Joy, the formulation must have changed and the eczema returned. For the last many years, I have used first the white SunLight Ultra for Sensitive Skin, and when I was no longer able to find that, started using the white Dawn Hand Renewal with Olay. I am many years past hand eczema.
    Somewhat related, about 5 years ago I developed scalp eczema. It went away when I treated it with Scalp Oil (prescription) but was back within a month. The prescription Capex? shampoo did nothing. Thinking again that the soap (shampoo) was the trigger, I tried many different brands. Finally someone suggested that I try Kiehls Olive Fruit Oil Shampoo and it got better. When I added the Kiehls Olive Fruit Oil Conditioner, it totally went away and has not returned.
    I remember reading on a patient eczema website that perhaps dryness was the root cause of scalp eczema, and I believe that proved accurate in my case.

  25. Noah T.

    Keep me posted on this one. I have had this since infancy. Thanks.

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