While it's easy to think of our epidermis as an opaque barrier, the skin is actually more like a window into our internal ecosystem. Sudden hives, mysterious rashes or chronic inflammation like eczema are often signs from the body that something is awry. 

Our skin serves as the functional border between us and the world. While this outer layer is incredibly resilient, an imbalance in our internal or external environment can easily manifest in a disruption to the epidermis. Skin irritation is extremely common, and identifying the root of the issue will help you determine the proper treatment and prevent further incidents.

COMMON CAUSES OF SKIN IRRITATION 

The most frequent causes of skin irritation are food allergens or sensitivities, contact with an external irritant, harsh climates or sudden environment changes, microbial infections, and stress. Below I've outlined some of the differentiating factors and advice for remediating each etiology.

Causes of Irritated Skin
1. FOOD ALLERGENS & SENSITIVITIES
Food allergens or sensitivities often manifest as acute hives if the allergy is severe or contact dermatitis (eczema) for less severe allergies. Many cases of eczema are caused or exacerbated by digestive sensitivities. This means that flare ups can often be traced back to foods that trigger an inflammatory response in the gut. A person does not need to be 'allergic' to a food to have a sensitivity to it, meaning the body's response is more tempered but can still be systemic.

Some of the most common allergens or sensitivities are dairy, nuts, shellfish, eggs, wheat, and soy. If you or a loved one is suffering from chronic eczema, reevaluating the diet to remove food triggers is one of the best ways to address the root cause. Symptoms like bloating, gas, stomach pains, acid reflux, loose stools or constipation either immediately or within 24 hours of eating a meal are all signs of an inflammatory response in the gut. Make a list of foods that are potentially problematic, and remove them one at a time for a week to see if you notice an improvement in symptoms.

For more detailed guidance on how to go about an elimination diet with journaling for optimal results, download our free Guide to Gut Health

2. EXTERNAL IRRITANTS
External irritants usually cause hives or an acute dermatitis rash that may be red, itchy, and characterized by small vesicles with fluid inside (or weeping). Long term exposure to a mild allergen can also cause eczema, while repeated contact with harsh chemicals may be associated with more severe conditions like psoriasis. 

Culprits may include soaps, body products or harsh chemicals (whether industrial or in the home cleaning solutions). Because many skin care and cleaning products contain a lengthy roster of caustic ingredients, replacing the items you use regularly with more natural alternatives can provide a great deal of solace ~ check out MamaSuds for some great options. If you work with chemicals for your job, shield your skin as much as you can (with gloves, protective clothing, etc.) and make sure to take especially good care of yourself when your off the clock.

Remedies for Irritated Skin
3. HARSH CLIMATES
Harsh climates can irritate the skin, and sudden changes in the environment, such as going from a damp hot place to a cold one, can cause a flare up of chronic eczema or dermatitis. Dry air, especially in arid locations or from air conditioning and heating units, exacerbates skin chapping, cracking and rawness, while humid conditions worsen damp-type skin issues like weeping rashes. While there is little we can do to control the weather, taking precautions for seasonal cycles and travel can make a huge difference.

If your skin has a tendency to react to environmental shifts, be sure to shield yourself from harsh elements with breathable natural fiber clothing like cotton, linen or hemp. Shade tents & umbrellas also provide excellent sun protection that won't negatively affect your skin. Apply topical occlusives like beeswax-based salves before stepping outside ~ Seven Seeds & Solve All Salve work great for this.

4. MICROBIAL INFECTIONS
A microbial infection is a rash caused by a bacteria, fungus or virus. While all types of microbes are present on healthy skin, an infection is a sign of dysbiosis, or an imbalance in our skin microbiome. They may arise in various ways, such as coming into contact with a pathogen (like ringworm, a fungus that causes itchy rings on the skin), or normal activity that disrupted our epidermis (like shaving causing bacterial folliculitis, an infected hair follicle), or an internal pathogen causing an external outbreak (like viral herpes or shingles).

Microbial infections typically can appear suddenly as an itchy or painful rash that may be white or red, irritated or inflamed, and possibly weeping or spreading to other areas. They can be difficult to get rid of. If you suspect a microbial infection that worsens quickly or does not improve within a few days, see a specialist. Targeted treatment may be required, especially for more severe infections.

Elixirs for Irritated Skin
5. STRESS
Stress can show up in many ways on the skin, from hives to eczema flare ups to shingles outbreaks. We are typically most vulnerable to stress-related skin conditions when we're already running on empty, such as after jet-lagged traveling or a spell of too much takeout food. A topical manifestation of stress is a cry for help from the body, asking us to tune in and take better care of ourselves.

If you notice a tendency toward skin issues when your stress levels are through the roof, start integrating stress management practices into your daily rituals. Try to spend at least 30 minutes per day engaged in an activity that helps shift your nervous system from a sympathetic ('fight or flight', aka stressed) to a parasympathetic ('rest & digest,' aka relaxed) state. This can include walking outside, stretching or gentle yoga, breath work or meditation, journaling or reading a relaxing book, or taking a hot bath. While it's easy to push all of these things to the back of our to-do list, cultivating habits that decrease stress levels will ultimately lead to better health and resiliency overall!

ELIXIRS FOR IRRITATED SKIN
1. Savior Salve ~ for large or chronically inflamed areas of eczema or other skin irritation marked by dryness, rawness or chapping on the face, body or scalp 

2. Magic Mender ~ for exceptionally itchy spots caused by inflammation or dry-type rashes, as well as discomfort from varicosities such as hemorrhoids or varicose veins 

3. Solve All Salve ~ for relief from minor chapping, rawness, itchiness or irritation 

4. Seven Seeds ~ for very dry, raw or chapped skin and to use as protection in extreme climates 

5. Whipped Love Butter ~ all purpose moisturizer for skin that tends more toward dryness & chapping than inflammation 

Elixirs for Irritated Skin