Now, as a self-proclaimed kimchi queen and someone struggling with eczema, I have to explore this point further. To better understand if—and how—kimchi really does protect against eczema, I asked my dermatologist and nutritionist.
Can kimchi really help prevent eczema flare-ups?
In a word: yes! As Bianca Tamburello, RDN, explains, kimchi’s ability to protect the skin can be attributed to its ability to positively affect the gut-skin axis.
“When harmful gut bacteria are present, the immune system can respond with an inflammatory response, which can contribute to the rash and itching symptoms of eczema,” she explains. According to a 2021 review published in the peer-reviewed journal microorganismTamburello summarizes: “People with eczema typically have higher numbers of bad gut bacteria, lower levels of good gut bacteria, and less diverse gut bacteria overall. Because kimchi is rich in different strains of beneficial bacteria, she notes that adding more of these to your diet can reduce eczema symptoms by improving overall gut health.
Board-certified dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD, concurs. “Kimchi and other fermented foods contain probiotics, such as lactic acid and vitamins from fermentation that are known to have immune-stimulating effects,” she explains. “These effects help prevent bad bacteria in the digestive tract and promote good bacteria, which can help fight infectious diseases and allergies.” Dr. Engelman adds that the lactic acid bacteria in kimchi are also anti-inflammatory, thus reducing the risk of an itchy and uncomfortable eczema flare-up.)
There’s also some solid research demonstrating kimchi’s ability to fight eczema. First, Tamburello cites a 2021 study published in the journal Preventive nutrition and food science. “Researchers have found that six strains of lactic acid bacteria in kimchi help reduce eczema symptoms in mice,” she said. More importantly, though another study published in 2017 in the journal Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition saw promising results in 7,222 participants between the ages of 19 and 49. The researchers found that consuming 85 to 158 grams of kimchi per day “was significantly associated with decreased form of AD”, also known as atopic dermatitis (the most common type of eczema). ). In fact, kimchi eaters in this range had a 32% lower presence of AD than those who ate less than 36 grams of kimchi per day or ate none at all.
For reference, 150 grams of kimchi equates to about one cup, so try to aim for more than half of that per day (minimum) if you’re hoping to eat your way to eczema relief. However, Dr. Engelman mentions that more is better. “Consuming multiple servings of kimchi per day is associated with a protective effect against eczema and a reduced incidence of eczema development,” she said.
In addition, Tamburello outlines some important information when buying the best kimchi to support your gut as well as your skin. “Be sure to look for raw and unpasteurized kimchi for maximum probiotic benefits and to fight eczema, like Cleveland Kitchen’s Mild Kimchi and Classic Kimchi. She explains that heat kills the beneficial bacteria in kimchi, so pasteurized, shelf-stable kimchi won’t have the same effect against eczema.
Additional dermatologically approved tips to ease eczema
In addition to adding more kimchi to your plate, Dr. Engelman shares a few more tips you’ll want to follow on your journey to curbing eczema symptoms.
First, she recommends using a lotion or moisturizer with lactic acid, as it turns out this powerful ingredient works wonders for eczema-prone skin in the diet. and topical medications. She explains: “Lactic acid acts as a gentle exfoliator and humectant, removing dead skin cells and retaining moisture in the skin. She suggests regularly applying these moisturizers and anti-itch creams to prevent irritation and inflammation.
From there, Dr. Engelman notes that winter especially affects people prone to eczema because the air is cold and dry—this is even worse if you’re indoors with the heater running throughout the day. In this case, she suggests investing in a humidifier. “A humidifier helps keep the air at an optimal humidity level, helping sensitive skin to retain water so that itching, irritation, and flaking are reduced or absent,” says dermatology. Her personal favorite is the Canopy Humidifier: “It uses no mist—just filtered and hydrated air—so the moisture in the air stays clean.” (FWIW, it also received the Team Well + Good seal of approval.)
For more tips on how to relieve dry, itchy skin this winter, watch the video below.