Ask the Doctor

Q: Can yoga and/or meditation help eczema?

A: ESC asked dermatologist and eczema expert Dr. Mamta Jhaveri about her thoughts on yoga and meditation as part of eczema care. Dr. Jhaveri is not only a practicing dermatologist and researcher, but she is also a meditation leader and formally trained as a yoga instructor. She shared her perspective on the impact yoga and meditation can have on eczema sufferers.

How can yoga and meditation help?

“I believe that both yoga and meditation can have a positive impact on eczema. Both have been shown to improve sleep, decrease itch, and positively impact the stress and anxiety associated with eczema. Over time, these quality of life improvements could potentially help to improve the eczema severity itself. The first effects my patients see, after starting a yoga or meditation practice, are the quality of life improvements.

Is there any scientific evidence?

“There is some science behind the positive role of yoga and meditation. At a basic level, nerve fibres are usually deep within the skin, but the ones that cause itch are superficial, and located on the surface of the skin. In patients with eczema, persistent and long-term scratching of the skin can damage the nerve fibres. These damaged nerve fibres become oversensitive and can send messages of itch to the spine and brain, when they shouldn’t. The reaction is to scratch the skin, and when we do scratch, we send even more itch signals, and the cycle is set off.

We also know that meditation helps with central processing in the brain. MRI studies have shown that meditation and mindful breathing can deactivate the area of the brain that is the same area that is overstimulated by the itching and scratching. So, while meditation has not been studied in eczema specifically, we have the sense that meditation and yoga could also help patients with itch caused by eczema. The good news is there is very little risk involved in undertaking a yoga and meditation practice as part of eczema care. It is thought that over time, meditation can help re-calibrate the brain. The regular practice of yoga and meditation has been shown to decrease inflammation markers in the body, such as cortisol and interleukin (which has been implicated in eczema flares).

Where can someone get started?

Community-based meditation and yoga can be helpful to get started. Often, there are trained instructors, as well as a community of others also engaging in the yoga or meditation practice who can offer support. Signing up for a class or group also helps to hold us accountable and we are more likely to actually attend if we’ve registered for something.

However, if patients are not comfortable in a group setting, they can use an app or online meditation or yoga program. However, these can be a little harder as they lack the personal guidance and patients may be more likely to give up or quit these types of programs.

Any final advice for patients starting on this journey?

Sometimes patients feel they are doing yoga or meditation wrong – and there is no wrong! Everyone starts somewhere, and any yoga or meditation practice is better than none. Another benefit of yoga is that it’s a gentle exercise with low chance of sweating, which can trigger eczema flares for many patients. The caveat of course would be hot yoga – this is not recommended if you suffer with eczema! The heat and sweating associated with hot yoga can cause or worsen eczema flares.

Patients can google yoga or meditation groups or classes in their area. They can also search “compassion-based meditation” or “loving kindness meditation” and learn more about starting a meditation practice. There are apps called “Headspace” and “Calm” which have made meditation popular and accessible.

Dr. Mamta Jhaveri is a board-certified dermatologist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She specializes in atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis and chronic urticaria. She conducts research focused on integrative medicine in dermatology, including the role of meditation and herbal therapies.