Happy 2020! I got off to a late start ‘cuz I’m a big procrastinator and I sat around on my phone instead of creating blog content. 🤷🏻♀️
Anyway, as well as a severe case of procrastination… I was also in and out of the doctors office trying to get my psycho skin under control.
I was born with eczema. My poor mother and I had to deal with it for 17 years of my life. She had to constantly bring me to the doctor and buy all these creams and lotions and whatever. And ME?! OMG. *I* had to deal with all the teasing and self-consciousness came with having eczema!
Thankfully, it sort of went away in my late teens/early 20s with a few flare ups in the winter. But like clock work, on my 30th bday I woke up and boom eczema — on my arms, behind my knees, in my scalp, on my neck, my eye lids… EV.ERY.WHERE.
I thought it was food allergies, stress, the weather, a bug bite, like... I don't even know.
After 2 months straight of spot treating using Hydrocortisone (to the point where my skin was getting turning white in places!) and going back and forth of whether or not I should see a dermatologist, I finally went and whew its a lot of stuff:
First I would like to preface this with I’m not a medical professional. This is the advice that my doctor gave me. I am sharing with you because I know somewhere out there, someone is going to have all their eczema come back and then try everything and have nothing work and then want to cry.
If you were born with eczema or developed it when you were a little older, it will most def come back. It could come back in the winter. It could come back when you travel. It could come back when you’re stressed. It can happen if you sweat too much. It could happen if you clean too much. Basically a flare up can happen any time.
According to The National Eczema Association (hmm.. who would’ve thought they had their own association?!) your flare ups can happen anytime if you’ve been exposed to or have:
overly dry skin
irritants (cleaning supplies/chemicals/detergents)
weather and sweating
Unfortunately, with the eczema comes the possibility of *gasp* food allergies/sensitivities/intolerances. I know. I know. I read an article on SELF that said food allergies can just happen. Isn't that crazy? Food allergies can just develop out of the blue. You can eat shellfish your entire life, go to sleep, then wake up and suddenly be allergic to shellfish. whaaaat. That's what I thought what happened to me, but The National Eczema Association wrote that 30% of people with eczema have food sensitivity. Food intolerance is not life-threatening. But a food intolerance will send you into a raging itch fit if you have eczema.
This article goes on summarize my exact situation:
I would eat certain foods and then I would have a gnarly eczema flare up on my arms, back of my knees, neck, and scalp. Then I would spot treat, go back to eating terrible food, rinse and repeat. I had both a blood test and a skin prick test for food allergies but everything came back negative. My allergy doctor said,
“you can eat all the dairy, gluten, and meat you want - but you will have perpetual stomach bloat and pain and you will always have your rashes. You can cut it all out if you prefer. Or you can also just have a little bit of these foods at a time and just spot treat your rashes with medicine. Luckily, none of the foods will kill you… You will just be very uncomfortable. Your choice.”
When I was at my Dermatologist's office, she prescribed me some strong ointment (Elomet), gave me a lotion, and left me with a list of suggestions. This is straight from the dermatologists mouth, okay?
1. Always use lotion with ceramide in it. My doctor gave me "Ceradan", a brand and product that was developed locally in Southeast Asia. I’m not sure if Ceradan is sold in the United States. She said the equivalent is "CeraVe". CeraVe is developed by dermatologists and they received rewards from The National Eczema Association. 👍🏼
Doc said that people with eczema are dry from the inside and have very low levels of ceramide. Using skincare products with ceramides in them help create a barrier to keep moisture in and all the irritants out.
2. Watch what you eat. While you may not have a severe reaction (throat closing, hives, throwing up, anaphylactic shock) you will get a reaction. Think foggy brain, headache, eczema flare up, major bloat, a dull stomach ache. I’m not one to restrict myself, but I also don’t want to feel terrible either. I cut out meat gluten, shellfish, eggs, and dairy. 🥵 I occasionally eat foods with eggs or milk in them but its VERY rare. If I do, I make sure to take one digestive enzyme before.
If there is a special occasion like a wedding where I know my options are limited, I’ll just eat whatever is there but I’ll just bring extra digestive enzymes, drink a LOT of water, and throw my ointment in my purse. Digestive enzymes help digestion and decrease any inflammation. While they don’t do anything for rashes, they help with bloat, stomach aches, and gas.
3. Treat your water and take showers that aren’t so hot and so long. We’ve been blessed to live in places where the tap water is safe to drink and bathe in. In order for this water to be safe, it's treated with chlorine to kill all the bacteria and viruses that can make you sick. Some of the left over stuff in water (still deemed “safe”) - the chlorine, the pharmaceuticals, lead, mercury, whatever - can irritate your skin when you shower. My dermatologist said if we had the budget (lol, we don't.) to invest in a whole house water filter to help clean up any stuff left over from the municipal water plant. She also said to take shorter showers that aren’t so hot because you risk damaging your skin and drying it out even more.
4. Get rid of all the chemicals — we’re talking like… change your detergent, change your cleaning supplies, get new make up, change your soap… like, ALL OF THAT and buy more natural products to reduce the chemicals on your skin. I know, its REALLY overwhelming and you’re almost like “ugh, i’ll just deal with the rashes. Its fine.” You don’t have to overhaul all of your stuff at one time, like right now. Whenever you run out of something — just get the clean, non-chemical version of what you were using before. Use non toxic detergent… use all natural soap… etc. I like to use the Environmental Working Group (EWG) website to see how many chemicals are in something. The EWG rates it from 1 to 10, 1 rated the best 10 rated the most toxic.
Our cleaning supplies and detergent popular US brands with a bunch of bleach and harsh chemicals. I plan on making the switch once all those run out. But I did switch up my shower/skincare products and after like, two google searches I kept seeing the same products, so this is what’s working for me:
Shampoo: I use ArtNaturals Argan Oil Shampoo. I have three kids (so the post partum hair thinning is REAL) and I wear my hair naturally wavy because its hot and humid here. I need all the moisture I can get. This shampoo is gentle on my scalp. ArtNaturals Argan Oil Shampoo contains DHT blockers (those nasty hormones that make your hair fall out) and ingredients that stimulate hair growth. ArtNaturals Shampoo is hypoallergenic, sulfate free, and paraben free. I don't know if its really helping with hair growth since I didn't take a before and after picture but the amount of hair I shed in the shower is not that much anymore.
Conditioner: Giovanni Triple Tea Tree Treat Conditioner scores a 4 on the EWG scale - which isn’t bad. Its great on my hair and I never put it on my scalp. The most toxic ingredient was Fragrance but it was from Essential Oil. The Triple Tea Tree Conditioner moisturizes my hair without weighing it down. Its one of those "holy grail" products in the curly girl community.
Body and Hand Soap: By far. THE BEST SOAP I have EVER purchased and used is the Shea Moisture African Black Soap with Shea Butter. I’m going to say it again. THE BEST SOAP I’VE EVER USED WAS SHEA MOISTURE’S AFRICAN BLACK SOAP WITH SHEA BUTTER. My skin is smooth. I don’t have rashes. The website says its “perfect for helping relieve symptoms of eczema or psoriasis” — AND THEY’RE RIGHT. I use the bar as my body soap. We keep a Shea Moisture African Black Soap Bar by every single sink for hand soap. I use it on my kids. My husband uses it. Its the greatest thing ever. I haven't had an eczema flare up in weeks after using the African Black Soap.
Lotion: I use Ceradan. The US equivalent is CeraVe. Remember - people with eczema don’t have as much ceremides in their skin as other people so using a lotion with ceremides will help replenish that skin’s barrier.
Facewash: Pacfica is great because its non toxic, cruelty free, and it doesn't cost a trillion dollars! I use their Sea Foam Complete Face Wash and its strong enough to clean of all my make up, sweat, and dirt for the day but also super gentle that it doesn’t dry my skin out.
Face Moisturizer: Christina Moss Naturals facial moisturizer is light enough that my skin doesn’t feel like there’s anything on it. Its also super hydrating but not so much that I feel like my face is suffocating.
Sun Screen: I use SuperGoop. It is a bit pricey but its a very good mineral sun screen. Its non toxic, light, and doesn’t have any harsh smells or weird texture when you apply it. I don't wear much make up on my face so I don't mind spending a little more on a product like this.
I didn't realize that living and treating eczema flare ups is basically a lifestyle change. I’m still so new this and I’m learning a lot along the way. I will continue to experiment with different brands and google a bunch to see if I get a reaction from them or not.
TLDR; I have eczema and because of this I am sensitive and intolerant (thankfully not allergic) to a lot of things - food, weather, and life, mostly. My dermatologist made me get some tests done (all came back negative), she gave me a lot of ointment (strong steroid cream that worked wonders), and she gave me a list of “should do’s”:
- get ceramide lotion
- limit foods that cause reactions
- use a digestive enzyme if you know you'll eat food that will cause a reaction
- don’t take showers that are too long or too hot
- invest in a whole house water filter if you can
- switch your skincare/beauty products/soaps/detergents/cleaning supplies to non toxic and all natural products
My itchy friend, I hope you know you aren't alone in this and YES OMG its SO frustrating. But there are a lot of things you can do to get some relief when you have an eczema flare up. I hope this helped you a little bit. Keep an eye on this space for more non toxic stuff, ethical/sustainable fashion, planet based deliciousness, and travel!