Eczema - My Story & Top Tips
If, like me, you have struggled with eczema your whole life, then you’ll know that it is extremely frustrating, uncomfortable and makes you want to kill someone when they drop the “but have you tried E45?” question. There’s also always going to be someone who asks if it is contagious (please, if you are this person, just google it). And even if eczema isn’t something you’ve had from birth, but developed or if it only flares up occasionally, it can still make you feel very unhappy and be a difficult thing to treat / control. I know firsthand how self conscious you can feel having eczema so I want to start by saying that if it is getting you down then you are certainly not alone.
I think the main thing with eczema, is learning your own body, triggers, factors that make it better, factors that make it worse and to stay away from articles that claim to tell of a ‘miracle cure’. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but from experience, I am saying that your body will do its own thing no matter how hard you try - I ‘grew out’ of my eczema in my teens for a bit (arguably, the more ‘unhealthy’ years of my life) but it has come back and seems to be getting worse and worse into my adult years - I am currently 25, for context. Every body is different, and that is why eczema can be a difficult thing to discuss or give advice on but sharing is caring so let’s give it a shot.
Unfortunately this blog post will not tell you how I have cured my eczema, because I haven’t. But it will share my story with it, for those who are interested or can relate, and it will advise on what has helped me, the products I currently use, what I stay away from, and how I ‘manage’ it. You might want to grab a drink and/or a snack because we might be here for a while. (Don’t worry, I’ll split it into sections to make it more digestible).
MY ECZEMA EXPERIENCE
So eczema is something I have had since I was a child. My dad used to experiment with all sorts of essential oils that are meant to calm and soothe the skin, trying everything to calm it down. And my mum spent a lot of her time telling me not to scratch (especially my eyelids where it was particularly bad and often red raw - see picture below!) and used to tell me it would be okay because it would go away when I grew up. Of course, this was then heartbreaking for her when on my next birthday I woke up extremely excited and asked “Mummy has my eczema gone!?”
I remember being particularly self conscious about it at primary school, especially when a boy in my class asked me why I was wearing lipstick (at this point I had it particularly bad around my lips). I had a pot in my bedroom with a variety of prescribed steroid and emollient creams. And every night it was a serious ritual deciding which one to use where, depending on how bad it was.
As I’ve said, it seemed to clear up as I grew into my teens (hormones!?), only getting patches here and there especially in winter, but now it seems to get more angry and irritated as I get older. My main problem areas include my forearms and elbow creases, and my hands, wrists and fingers. I also occasionally get patches on my legs and in the crease below my bum (this is often in hotter months / on holiday). For the most part, my face is so much better now, but I will occasionally get patches on my forehead in the winter, and sometimes my eyelids although the majority of the time I am able to prevent this (I will explain how later).
CAUSES / TRIGGERS
Weather - this is a huge one and not just cold, winter months but any season change. I love living in England because I love the change in seasons but my skin does not. Warm to cold then mild to hot, windy, rainy, snow in March and then a heatwave in September. It’s all too much and consistency is key when it comes to my eczema. The cold, winter months are probably the worst as your skin will be more dry and my eczema just seems to flare up more in general - especially with going from being cold outside to indoor artificial heating - the same with being hot outside in summer and coming inside to artificial air con.
Similar to weather comes your own body temperature - as a personal trainer, I love working out, going to the gym etc. but it also means I get extremely hot and sweaty (I would say I’m quite a hot person overall and can work up a sweat just from walking down the street). Sweat is not eczema’s friend and can make it extremely aggravated but I’m not about to give the gym up. As well as sweaty workouts, being in a hot country, even just sunbathing can also be a huge trigger - again, mainly due to sweating, and sometimes too much sun can also make my eczema worse. On top of this, when my skin tans, the patches on my arms / legs where I have used steroid cream in the past, turn white. So I look like a very patchy, fake tanned person (always a desirable look).
Skin type - I feel like this is an obvious one but overall I do have sensitive skin (whether this is a cause or a result of eczema is not really important) so I would say a main cause is not necessarily anything you are or aren’t doing but more down to your natural skin type, genetics etc.
Showers - now this one sounds stupid because showers are a pretty essential part of your day (especially post gym) but both the water itself and shower products can really trigger eczema. I try and have a cooler shower, as hot showers or baths make my eczema really angry and I also try to use natural products. Because I struggle with eczema on my hands, even things like rubbing shampoo into my hair etc. can be a nightmare, so I would even suggest wearing gloves in the shower if needed (not cotton ones obviously, but the type hairdressers might use when they’re using bleach..)
Products - whether this is shower products like the above, perfume, hand cream or cleaning products when you’re doing the house work or washing up - these can really irritate the skin - I always wear rubber gloves when washing up and try to when cleaning, I avoid any products on my hands / arms that are heavily perfumed or not suitable for my sin type, and I would never put perfume on my wrists. Also think about your washing powder - the most natural / suitable for sensitive skin is best.
Stress - this is a huge one, whether it’s physical stress on the body like being ill or having a compromised immune system, or mental stress - with work, relationships - anything! My eczema massively flares up when I’m stressed so it’s important to take time out and keep your body and mind as healthy and calm as possible.
Diet - I know that a lot of people claim to have ‘cured’ their eczema with diet alone and there’s no doubt it plays a role but I can’t speak from experience as I haven’t tried them all. I know that for me, a ‘diet’ and cutting certain things out of my life would not be sustainable or enjoyable. Even if it meant I never had eczema again; there’s just some sacrifices I’m not willing to make! However, I do believe that eating natural, fresh foods as much as possible will always help, and staying away from more processed, artificial foods. I do also find that my eczema seems to flare up more when I’ve eaten a lot of dairy (cheese, ice cream etc.) I eat everything in moderation so I usually feel like diet isn’t the biggest factor for me but again, it is different for everyone and maybe if I cut dairy out of my diet completely, it would drastically help (although I do have a friend who struggles with eczema in similar areas to me and she is lactose intolerant so has cut dairy out for years but still has the same eczema issues…)
Dust / pollution - this is quite a vague one and I don’t know for sure if it’s a huge trigger - more so that it’s not ideal for any type of ‘allergy’. But I do try and keep my flat as clean and tidy as possible and make sure you think about any pets you may have that could be irritating your skin (I grew up with Labradors and don’t think this contributed to my eczema but just something to consider).
So occasionally, I can get my skin under control so that it looks like this instead of the above…
But I do know that it’s slightly too good to be true and that it will always come back (I have some quite bad patches at the moment again). It’s also incredibly hard to monitor because there’s so many different factors and products that I use that it’s hard to say exactly what is helping the most.
I also think that having eczema on your hands / fingers is extremely stressful because we use our hands all of the time, so it can be hard to keep cream on and to give them time to heal. I would recommend buying some natural cotton gloves (I get mine on Amazon) to wear at night after you’ve put cream on; to allow any cream to soak in, to protect them and to prevent any scratching in the night.
Here is a breakdown of the products that I use to help manage my eczema, using certain things when it is really bad, and others continuously to help keep it under control!
Cetraben - my emollient cream of choice. I have used many over the years, usually prescribed by doctors, but Cetraben is the one I have found that my skin is the most happy with. I use this as a general moisturiser and use it to manage my eczema - I.e. if I have a flare up, this is not going to treat it very well (in fact, sometimes it can make it more angry) but as an every day cream to help keep eczema patches away, this is my favourite. It doesn’t really have a smell or anything and leaves the skin feeling moisturised but not greasy. I also have travel size ones for trips away. I use Cetraben twice a day on my eyelids as well and this consistency is definitely what has helped me keep any sore eyelids at bay! You can get Cetraben prescribed, over the counter in a pharmacy or online.
Wright’s Traditional Coal Tar Soap - this was recommended to me recently and I often use it to wash my hands, as well as wash my arms in the shower. It is an antiseptic soap and completely natural, so helps prevent any cracked or irritated skin from getting infected, and doesn't aggravate the skin like perfumed soaps can. I would highly recommend - it is very cheap and I got mine from Boots.
Dream Cream - now this is also a new one from 2018, after reading so many amazing reviews. People have said that this cream from Lush has cured their eczema but again, for me, it’s a good one for calming the skin (when it’s not already super angry) and using as a general moisturiser. I would say I use this morning and night and a few other times throughout the day on my hands as needed. It’s super moisturising, is all-natural and has a nice smell of chamomile and lavender so is good at bedtime. I get the self-preserving one and I would recommend it for sensitive skin. (I’m sorry to say that it has not cured my eczema…)
Steroid creams - on to the serious stuff! If you have bad flare ups that you can’t get under control, then sometimes using steroid cream can be your only option. Most steroid creams, like Betnovate, need to be prescribed by your GP, but milder ones, like hydrocortisone, can be bought over the counter in a pharmacy. Steroid creams can cause your skin to thin over time, so you need to be careful with them and as I mentioned before, I often get white patches on my body where the parts of my skin where I have used steroid cream, don’t tan - so be particularly careful in the sun. Sometimes, steroid creams are the only thing that really help calm an angry flare up, and I personally prefer the ointment type (rather than cream) as I feel like they are more moisturising and sink in more. Your doctor will give you all of the information you need on using these creams.
Nivea Hydro Lip Care - I swear by this and have used it for years and years. Important to note that they have recently changed the packaging / formula (I hate it and am devastated) but managed to stock up on lots of the old ones in Wilkos so I’m good for a while. I use this lip care numerous times a day (I’m a bit addicted) and it is definitely the most moisturising one I have found, and is great for sensitive skin/lips. It has definitely helped to keep any eczema around my mouth away which I used to get when I was a child. I would strongly advise to stay away from lip care like Vaseline, which not only do I feel like dries my lips out more over time, but it also means you (and potentially other people) are constantly dipping your fingers in and out of the pot - spreading germs which can cause lip infections. I had Impetigo round my lips in secondary school (feels horrible and embarrassing!) and I’m sure that everyone using my pot of vaseline was the cause.
Uriage - this is quite a new purchase from a recommendation by a friend (I bought it on Amazon) - it was one of the products I was using once or twice a day when I had the flare up in the above pictures, to then clear it up as seen in the other pictures. It does help to soothe the skin and is meant to be great for healing as well.
Aveeno - I wouldn’t say these were products that I couldn't live without - but I have started using the Aveeno shower gel which is really moisturising and definitely feels better for my skin than a standard shower gel. I also use the cream on non angry parts of my skin - for example my legs. If you’re looking for natural products for sensitive skin then these are great.
MY TOP TIPS
Keep your showers / baths cooler and avoid things like hot tubs, saunas where possible as these can cause sensitive skin / eczema to flare up. I also find that swimming pools and even the sea (controversial!) aggravate my skin more.
Be consistent - of course you may need to experiment with products to see what works for your skin best, but stick with them for a few weeks / months as from experience, your skin will adapt and get used to things (the same with the weather) and any changes, whether it’s fabric softener or moisturiser, can cause irritation.
Keep it simple - clean the irritated areas with something natural and antiseptic (like the tar soap!) and then apply a product such as an emollient or dream cream if it’s not too bad, or a steroid cream if you need to get a flare up under control. Don’t overuse on products - the simpler the better.
Stress less - stressing about your skin is only going to make it worse, and don’t worry about what other people think. I’m often doing my thaaang in the gym and then notice my arms / elbow creases are SO red but 1. most people won’t even notice and 2. if they do then their opinion shouldn't even matter! I understand that having eczema can be so uncomfortable and frustrating but just do your best to keep it calm and keep yourself calm - it may be the best thing for it!
Listen to your body - a cliche phrase but only YOU know your own body. Don’t get sucked into everything everyone else is saying or recommending, just because it ‘cured’ someone else’s eczema doesn’t mean it will do anything positive for yours. It’s all about finding something that helps you keep it under control and to live the happiest life possible!
I really hope that this has been helpful for those of you who are struggling with eczema too, or who were interested to find out a little bit more about it. If you have eczema or sensitive skin then hopefully some of the product recommendations will be helpful and I’d love to hear your recommendations too! Please remember that this blog post is based on my experience and advice only and please always consult your GP first. Thank you so much for reading and I am hopeful that when Spring rolls around it will all be a little better for us eczema sufferers! Much love xoxo