For many people with eczema or atopic dermatitis, managing symptoms is a daily challenge. Certain triggers — namely, stress — can easily lead to uncomfortable flare-ups, making any stress-reduction technique a valuable tool to keep on hand. And when it comes to stress reduction techniques, few compare to yoga. That’s why if you have atopic dermatitis, you might consider adding yoga to your management plan.
The words eczema and atopic dermatitis are often used interchangeably, but clinically speaking, eczema is an umbrella term for a group of conditions that include atopic dermatitis, and which cause red, itchy, inflamed skin. More than 30 million Americans have some form of eczema, according to the National Eczema Foundation.
Some forms of eczema, like contact dermatitis, are short-term conditions that resolve within days or weeks. Atopic dermatitis, though, is chronic and inflammatory, and often begins during childhood. “Those with atopic dermatitis develop dry, itchy, and scaly skin, usually on skin folds,” says Samer Jaber, MD, a board-certified dermatologist, a member of the American Academy of Dermatology, and the founder of Washington Square Dermatology in New York City.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for atopic dermatitis, though symptoms can be tamed through a variety of approaches. “Using gentle cleansers and moisturizers, as well as avoidance of skin irritants, fragrances, and scented products is helpful,” Jaber says. In addition, anything you can do to reduce stress may help keep flare-ups at bay. This is where yoga can play a role.
What Is Yoga, and How Can It Help Relieve Symptoms of Eczema or Atopic Dermatitis?
Yoga is a mind-body practice that uses meditation, breathing techniques, and physical poses (known as “asanas”) to improve physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being.
For people with atopic dermatitis, yoga may be particularly helpful because of its ability to reduce stress. “We know that stress can influence a lot of skin diseases, particularly eczema or atopic dermatitis,” says Ronald Brancaccio, MD, a member of the American Academy of Dermatology and board-certified dermatologist at the Skin Institute of New York in New York City.
As a form of mindful meditation, yoga has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety in a variety of populations.
Meanwhile, another past study revealed that a controlled-breathing practice known as Sudarshan kriya yoga reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol in participants with alcohol dependence after two weeks.
Yoga May Help You Manage Eczema or Atopic Dermatitis, but More Research Is Needed
Unfortunately, the research on yoga and eczema or atopic dermatitis is lacking: “Given that yoga can improve stress, it can likely be helpful to minimize atopic dermatitis flares, although there have been no scientific studies showing this,” Jaber says.
That said, as research shows that yoga reduces stress and inflammation, it may be worth testing it out for yourself.
How to Start a Yoga Practice to Help Manage Your Skin Condition
If you’re interested in using yoga to manage eczema and atopic dermatitis, look for a yoga style that fits your abilities and preferences. Some styles, like ashtanga and vinyasa, are fluid and fast-moving. Meanwhile, styles like yin yoga and Iyengar are slower and focus on nailing the pose before moving on to the next. Do some research to find the style that speaks to you.
When in doubt, talk with your primary physician or dermatologist about yoga as a potential treatment option. For more information on eczema and atopic dermatitis, visit the American Academy of Dermatology.
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