Emollients, which soften and smooth the skin, can be effective in improving the skin barrier, according to a recent study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences. The study also explored the use of plant oils as emollients.

The study indicated these plant oils have therapeutic benefits that could apply to eczema. Many of the oils, including olive oil, were shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects and promote wound healing.

Read on to find out what the research says and what other oils might be good for treating eczema.

Although olive oil provides some skin benefits, a 2012 study showed that topical application of olive oil may result in mild superficial reddening of the skin.

The study also found that the oil may cause a significant reduction in the integrity of the outer layer of the skin, called the stratum corneum.

A compromised skin barrier is a universal issue for people with eczema. Moisturizers are commonly used to treat eczema symptoms and support the skin barrier by protecting against irritants, allergens, and infectious agents.

A 2013 article published in Practical Dermatology mentions that the ratio of oleic acid to linoleic acid dictates how effective a natural oil is in hydrating and protecting the skin.

Oils with low oleic acid and high linoleic acid ratios are the most effective. Linoleic acid, in particular, has been shown to hydrate and protect the skin, as well as reduce skin irritation and inflammation.

Olive oil has a relatively low linoleic acid and oleic acid ratio. As a result, topical use of the oil can damage the skin barrier and worsen eczema symptoms, according to the article.

While olive oil appears to have little benefit when it comes to treating eczema, research suggests other natural oils show promise.

A 2012 study found that sunflower seed oil preserves the integrity of the outer layer of the skin while improving hydration.

A recent study found that some natural oils improve skin barrier function by restoring hydration in the outer layer of skin while reducing water loss through the skin.

These natural oils include:

Some of these oils also have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.

While olive oil might not be the best natural treatment for eczema, there are many other natural oils that can provide symptom relief.

Often, people with eczema look for alternative treatments to manage their symptoms. It can take some trial and error to find the right treatment to relieve symptoms.

There have been no clinical trials about natural oils and eczema. More research is needed to better understand the potential benefits and risks.

Before trying a natural or alternative treatment for eczema, consider what triggers your eczema and if you have any known allergies. It’s also important to speak with your doctor or dermatologist about which treatments may be the most effective for you.