A natural ingredient with numerous virtues, nettle is a plant native to the temperate zones of Eurasia. Its proven anti-inflammatory properties confer benefits for alleviating the symptoms of certain skin diseases, including eczema and psoriasis. What is the effect of nettle on eczema?
What exactly is eczema?
Eczema is a chronic inflammatory skin condition characterised by flare-ups. It is considered one of the most common skin diseases, ranking second only to acne. Eczema results from a unique interaction between genetics and environment, and appears upon exposure to allergens such as dust mites, animal fur, or pollens.
When eczema occurs, it causes red patches on the skin, accompanied by intense itching, often affecting the face, back, neck, hands, feet and flexion folds. According to several studies, it is estimated that 50 to 70% of children with eczema have at least one parent who has also been affected by this disease. People suffering from eczema tend to secrete large amounts of immunoglobulin E, specific antibodies, in response to antigens present in their environment.
This atopy is caused by a dysfunction of the skin barrier, due to a lack of sebum, lipid and cell adhesion molecule production, which can no longer fulfil its protective role. Environmental allergens then penetrate the epidermis more easily and cause an inappropriate inflammatory response.
How does nettle work to combat eczema?
Thenettle is a stinging plant used in both the cosmetic and pharmaceutical fields. Its INCI name is Urtica Dioica Leaf Extract or Urtica Dioica Leaf Powder, depending on whether it is in a liquid or solid form. It should be noted that these two types of ingredients differ in their method of obtaining and their concentration of active molecules, with nettle extract being more concentrated than nettle powder. Anti-inflammatory and soothing, nettles are appreciated by people suffering from skin problems such as eczema.
The nettle alleviates redness and inflammation.
Thanks to the quercetin it contains, nettle has the ability to reduce the skin's inflammatory response by acting via several mechanisms. Research has particularly highlighted that nettle has an inhibitory effect on 5-lipoxygenase, an enzyme playing a key role in the metabolism of arachidonic acid. This molecule, in turn, upregulates the production of cyclooxygenases COX-1 and COX-2, molecules catalysing the formation of prostaglandins. It's worth noting that prostaglandins are the pro-inflammatory compounds responsible for the redness and itching observed in cases of eczema.
Furthermore, scientists have demonstrated that nettle has an inhibitory effect on the NF-κB system, which is involved in immune and inflammatory responses. Studies in vitro have also proven that this ingredient downregulates the release of interleukins IL-2 and IL-1β and the tumour necrosis factor TNF-α. These are pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are also involved in painful sensations and itching.
Nettle reduces oxidative stress.
The nettle also possesses antioxidant properties, derived from its rich polyphenol composition. Polyphenols are compounds whose structure includes double bonds. This allows them to stabilise free radicals through an electron donation. Free radicals are unstable species containing an unpaired electron. If they are not stabilised by antioxidants, they can cause peroxidative damage to cell membranes and alter the hydrolipidic film, which is already lacking in atopic skin. Furthermore, oxidative stress is responsible for an upregulation of pro-inflammatory cytokines, involved in the pathogenesis of eczema. By reducing oxidative stress, the nettle thus has a protective effect on the skin.
The nettle promotes the healing of the skin.
The healing process is crucial in managing eczema. Indeed, a damaged skin is more susceptible to bacteria and allergens, thereby triggering more inflammatory reactions. Nettle extract has demonstrated its healing potential in a study conducted on injured rats. Indeed, after applying a gel made from nettle extract and vaseline for ten days using a dressing, the average size of the rats' wounds had significantly decreased more than when using vaseline alone. The researchers concluded that the nettle had helped to stimulate angiogenesis, that is, the formation of new blood vessels from existing ones. This mechanism is essential for healing. Although this study was conducted on rats, a similar action can be assumed in humans and healing effects of nettle extract in cases of eczema.
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ARAGHI S. & al. The Healing Effect of Nettle Extract on Second Degree Burn Wounds. World journal of plastic surgery (2015).
BENMOUSSA A. & al. Mise en valeur du potentiel nutritionnel et thérapeutique de l’ortie dioïque (Urtica dioïca L.). Hegel (2016).