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Eczema Research

Evaluation of Aromatherapy to help treat childhood eczema


Childhood eczema is becoming an increasingly common condition affecting . According to the National Eczema Society (UK), up to one fifth of all children of school age in the UK have eczema, along with about one in twelve of the adult population. The severity of the disease can vary. In mild forms the skin is dry, hot and itchy, whilst in more severe forms the skin can become broken, raw and bleeding. Although it can sometimes look unpleasant, eczema is not contagious. With treatment the inflammation of eczema can be reduced, though the skin will always be sensitive to flare-ups and need extra care.


However, apart from it being irritating to the child, eczema can cause sleepless nights for the parents as well as the child, and this can lead to relationship difficulties in the home and affect the parents' employment. For this reason, researchers are continually reviewing treatments which can help help childhood eczema. One solution recently considered by the School of Applied Science, South Bank University, London, UK was Aromatherapy - therapeutic massage incorporating a blend of aromatherapy essential oils.


A group of eight children, all born to professional working mothers, were studied to test the hypothesis that aromatherapy, used as a complementary therapy in conjunction with normal medical treatment, would help to alleviate the symptoms of childhood atopic eczema.


The children were randomly assigned to one of two groups; the first group received aromatherapy (massagewith essential oils). The essential oils, chosen by the mothers for their child, from 36 commonly used aromatherapy oils, were: sweet -marjoram, frankinsence, German chamomile, myrrh, thyme, benzoin, spike lavender and Litsea cubeba.


The second group was used as a control and these children received the counseling and massage without essential oils. Both groups received counseling and a massage by the therapist once a week and the mother every day for a period of 8 weeks.


The treatments were evaluated by daily day-time irritation scores and night time disturbance scores, determined by the mother before and during the treatment. General improvement scores were allocated two weeks after the treatment by the therapist, the general practitioner and the mother.


The results showed a significant improvement in the eczema in both of the groups of children following therapy, but there was no significant difference in improvement shown between the aromatherapy massage and massage only group. The report therefore concluded that 'there is evidence that tactile contact between mother and child benefits the symptoms of atopic eczema but there is no proof that adding essential oils is more beneficial than massage alone'.


Further studies on the essential oil massage group showed a deterioration in the eczematous condition after two further 8 week periods of therapy, following a period of rest after the initial period of contact. This may have been due to a decline in the novelty of the treatment, or, possibly allergic contact dermatitis provoked by the essential oils themselves. The researchers conclude that prolonged studies with aromatherapy essential oils are needed as short-term beneficial results could be overturned by adverse effects after repeated usage.


Another point that this study highlights is that people who wish to use aromatherapy essential oils should consult a professionally trained aromatherapist rather than self-prescribe, as these oils can cause harm if used incorrectly.


Phytother Res 2000 Sep;14(6):452-456Evaluation of Aromatherapy to help treat childhood eczema
Anderson C, Lis-Balchin M, Kirk-Smith M

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