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Eczema Diet: Foods To Eat and Foods To Avoid

Medically reviewed by Johna Burdeos, RD
Updated on January 2, 2024

  • In most cases, eczema is generally not linked to the food people eat.
  • Healthy fats and fermented foods may offer skin health benefits.
  • Consult a medical professional before making drastic changes to your diet.

If you have eczema, you may be wondering if a simple change to your diet would help your symptoms go away. Although some cases of eczema are linked to a food allergy or intolerance, not everyone will see a difference in their skin based on what they eat. Nonetheless, some foods may benefit your skin and overall health.

Because the research evidence is mixed, there’s no clear guidance on foods you should avoid to help your eczema symptoms. If you have a food sensitivity or allergy, then eating those foods may affect your eczema symptoms. It’s important to consult with your health care provider or dermatologist before making any changes to your diet for your eczema. Although there are many anecdotal stories of people using diet to help their skin, there isn’t much research evidence to support these practices.

If you’re living with eczema, here are some general tips on getting started to improve your diet for your overall health.

What Kind of Foods Should You Eat?

Although there’s no magic food or diet for eczema, adding more nutritious foods to your diet can help support your overall health. Eating more healthy foods offers a host of benefits, from lowering your risk of disease to supporting healthy muscles and bones and improving immunity. A nutritious diet can be a great way to support your overall health and complement your eczema treatment plan. Here are some nutritious options that may help reduce inflammation and give your body the fuel it needs.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of healthy fat present in fish oil. They can be found in seafood and fatty fish like:

  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Sardines
  • Tuna
  • Herring

Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and help regulate the immune system. As a result, they’ve been studied for the prevention and treatment of atopic dermatitis (the most common type of eczema) with promising results.

While fish oil isn’t enough to “cure” eczema symptoms, studies have shown that supplementation may be beneficial in some cases. Research from the International Journal of Molecular Sciences on the benefits of omega-3s during pregnancy found improvements in the severity of an infant’s eczema in their first year of life. Additionally, infants who consumed breast milk with high levels of saturated fats and low levels of omega-3 fatty acids had a higher likelihood of developing atopic dermatitis.

Evidence on the benefits of omega-3s for adults with chronic inflammatory skin diseases (like eczema) is growing. However, there’s still not enough evidence to say that everyone with eczema should consume additional omega-3s. Nonetheless, many doctors strongly advise incorporating omega-3-rich foods into one’s diet for various reasons, including their contribution to energy levels, eye health, and heart health.

Eating More Omega-3s

Fortunately, you can get these healthy fats through a nutritious diet that includes fatty fish and seafood. Some health care experts recommend two 4-ounce servings of seafood per week. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you can find omega-3s in flaxseed, walnuts, soybeans, chia seeds, and hemp hearts. Grab these healthy nuts and seeds as a snack, sprinkle them in baked goods, or add them to yogurt and smoothies to boost your daily intake.

Fermented Foods

Fermented foods are a staple in many cuisines. However, they tend to be lacking in traditional Western diets. Fermented foods contain live microorganisms associated with beneficial gut bacteria, which is essential for a healthy immune system.

Some examples include:

  • Kimchi — Korean fermented cabbage and vegetables
  • Kombucha — A drink made with tea, sugar, bacteria, and yeast
  • Miso, natto, tempeh, douchi — Different forms of fermented soybeans
  • Sauerkraut — Fermented cabbage, popular in Eastern Europe
  • Yogurt, kefir, cheese, sour cream — Fermented animal milk products

If you’re interested in trying some fermented foods, shop for them online or at your local supermarket.

Which Foods Are Better Avoided?

Many people suspect that foods like gluten, dairy, or sugar may trigger their eczema symptoms. However, scientific research hasn’t found any clear food triggers for eczema. Unless you have a sensitivity or allergy, avoiding certain foods might not have any effect on your skin. For example, although some people see skin improvements when they eliminate gluten from their diets, some research studies have concluded that dietary gluten is not a risk factor for atopic dermatitis in certain groups of people.

Foods That Cause Sensitivity or Allergic Reactions

Atopic dermatitis and food allergies are highly related. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 40 percent of babies and young children with moderate to severe atopic dermatitis have food allergies. The National Eczema Association states that up to 30 percent of people with eczema have food allergies.

Food allergens usually trigger immediate reactions and symptoms like hives and difficulty breathing, as opposed to ongoing skin symptoms seen with eczema. Skin prick tests can identify food allergies. A diagnosis of food allergy requires specific signs and symptoms that occur repeatedly upon exposure.

Food allergies are commonly triggered by foods such as:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Wheat
  • Soy products
  • Peanuts
  • Shellfish

Some people with eczema may have specific food sensitivities or intolerances to ingredients like gluten or dairy. These are different from food allergies and cause different symptoms. Food sensitivities are individualized and may be difficult to pinpoint. To date, there are no specific foods generally recommended to eliminate from the diet to treat atopic dermatitis.

One member of MyEczemaTeam wrote about discovering their food intolerances. “Four years ago, I went for a food intolerance test and found out that my diet included mostly foods I was intolerant to,” they said. “After changing my diet, my flare-ups come down to a change of weather, stress, or tiredness.”

Without a known food allergy or intolerance, cutting out food groups from your diet can needlessly limit your nutrient intake and do more harm than good to your health. Your health care team (including your dermatologist and, potentially, a gastroenterologist, an allergist, or a dietitian) can all work together to help decide if eliminating certain foods is a good idea for you.

Processed Foods

Processed food might be problematic for those with atopic dermatitis and other inflammatory skin conditions. Researchers suspect that these foods are missing important nutrients necessary for healthy skin, and they contain processed fats, sodium, and refined sugar that can promote inflammation in the body.

Members of MyEczemaTeam have shared the changes they found beneficial. “It took me a while to figure out, but by cutting out sugar and some carbs, it seems to help, especially chocolate,” explained one member. However, it’s important to remember that what helped one person with eczema may not work the same for you.

You can start eating a less processed diet by replacing sugary drinks with water and cooking more whole foods from home rather than eating out. Check the ingredients list on the back of the foods you buy. Generally, a shorter list means the food isn’t as processed. Small changes can be easier to stick with. Aim for progress, not perfection, when it comes to improving your diet.

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Are there certain foods that improve your eczema symptoms or make them worse? Share your experiences in the comments below or directly on your Activities page.

Updated on January 2, 2024
All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.

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Johna Burdeos, RD is a registered dietitian and freelance health writer. Learn more about her here
Kimberly McCloskey, R.D.N., L.D.N. is a Philadelphia-based registered and licensed dietitian who specializes in weight management and behavioral change. Learn more about her here

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