Eczema -- a chronic inflammatory skin condition -- can cause intense itching; in severe cases, your skin may thicken and crack. Doctors often treat eczema with medications, including corticosteroids, antihistamines and immunomodulating drugs. Natural healers sometimes recommend vitamin E to alleviate eczema. Scientific research supports the benefits of a diet high in vitamin E in preventing eczema. In addition, vitamin E's antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects may also help alleviate eczema when applied topically. Consult your doctor before taking vitamin E for eczema.
Eczema -- also called atopic dermatitis -- usually affects your hands and feet, insides of elbows, backs of knees, wrists, upper chest, neck and face. Doctors aren't sure exactly what causes eczema but believe an immune system malfunction may be to blame. The severity of the disease can range from very mild and barely noticeable to disfiguring, painful and debilitating; symptoms may subside and then flare unpredictably. In addition to itching, symptoms may include patches of reddish-brown or grayish-brown skin; small, fluid-filled blisters may form and "weep" -- or ooze fluid -- and then crust over. Dry skin, stress, solvents, harsh detergents and wool fabrics can all exacerbate eczema. If your eczema is very painful or infected or interferes with your sleep or daily routine, see your doctor.
Vitamin E is the collective name for a group of related fat-soluble compounds that possess antioxidant activity. Alpha-tocopherol is a natural form of vitamin E obtained through diet. In addition to its antioxidant properties, vitamin E plays an important role in immune system function and the formation of red blood cells. It also inhibits platelet aggregation, in which platelets stick together and cause artery-clogging plaque that can lead to atherosclerosis. According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, adults need 14 mg of vitamin E a day, with breastfeeding women requiring 19 mg.
Vitamin E for Eczema
Topical applications of vitamin E have long been recommended by natural healers to promote healing of the inflamed skin that can accompany dermatitis. The Whole Health Center endorses lotions containing vitamin E as a natural remedy to help soothe eczema. Although cases of allergic dermatitis resulting from use of topical vitamin E have been reported, these are rare. In a scientific review published in 2010 in "Dermatitis," the authors concluded that allergic dermatitis from vitamin E is extremely uncommon. Noting topical vitamin E's beneficial effects, the authors recommended that it remain an ingredient in skin-care products.
Dietary vitamin E may also help prevent eczema from developing. In a study of 396 Japanese schoolchildren published in 2006 in "Pediatric Allergy and Immunology," researchers found that children with the highest level of tocopherols -- or vitamin E-related compounds -- in their blood experienced 67 percent less risk of eczema and asthma than children with the lowest levels.
Dietary Sources and Supplements
You can amp up your levels of dietary vitamin E by eating tocopherol-rich nuts, seeds and green leafy vegetables. Vegetable oils and fortified cereals also contain vitamin E. Wheat germ oil -- with 1 tbsp. providing 20.3 mg -- is an excellent source of vitamin E, providing more than 100 percent of the daily value for adults. Sunflower seeds, at 7.4 mg per ounce, provide healthy amounts as well; peanut butter, with 2.9 mg in every 2 tbsp, is also a good bet. The 1.9 mg of vitamin E in a tablespoon of corn oil may seem a modest amount, but it still constitutes well over 10 percent of the recommended daily value.
University of Maryland Medical Center reports that the usual dosage for vitamin E supplementation in adults is 400 to 800 international units a day. However, experts recommend getting your vitamin E from dietary sources. Consult your doctor before taking supplementary vitamin E.