How I Turned the Lemons We Call ECZEMA into Lemonade

eczema the allergistaby: JENNIFER aka “THE ALLERGISTA”

June 1st, 2010: “I’ve developed severe eczema (atopic dermatitis) and it is wreaking havoc on my entire body…I don’t want to go out in public. It’s not pretty, folks. Plus, the sun hurts it. I’m not posting a photo because I’m not at a point where I’d be comfortable with that. Instead, I think this photo of a “freak show” suits me now…
…I think I might like to be around other people who wouldn’t judge me and I could also make a living at the same time.”

To say eczema has been annoying would be a major understatement. There’s a dark side to eczema that most perfectly healthy people never see.

Eczema (aka atopic dermatitis) is very common and has a rainbow of reactions from dry skin to inches of oozing, itchy, extremely painful skin. It’s no joke. I lived a pretty normal life until age 26, only four years ago. It started with a cut not healing and ending up as a full blown staph infection. I had itchy, oozing, red bumps covering my elbows, arms, and legs. I saw a team of doctors who prescribed antibiotics, creams, and even oral and topical steroids. NOTHING was getting rid of it and if anything…it got worse. I was terrified.

At first, I didn’t think much of it. “Oh”, I thought, “ I’ll go to the doctor, get a prescription, and it’ll be gone. They must make SOMETHING to make it go away.” If only it were that easy. After biopsies, various tests, and appointment after appointment (at one point I was in one of my doctor’s offices weekly), I was finally diagnosed with severe allergic contact dermatitis, a form of eczema. There are several different types of eczema: contact dermatitis, nummular dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis and dyshidrotic dermatitis. My skin reacts by being exposed to my allergens. It was a mess.

My biggest offenders were nickel, which I react to like poison ivy, and various chemicals — many of them unfortunately in my body and hair products. Shortly after, I had a bad reaction to some polyester sheets, plastic pens, and even synthetic countertops. Most recently, I’ve been diagnosed with lactose intolerance and vitamin D deficiency. It’s been…a journey.

I’m happy to say that my skin is now 95% clear most of time. My secret? Avoiding my allergens, finding the right products, and never giving up.

It’s better to accept that life is a “work in progress” and that it will get better. It’s just a matter of figuring out what works best for you. There will be bad days, there will be good days. And there will be days when all you want is to go back in time or be somebody else. But hang in there…because as allergies and eczema can be developed at seemingly any time, they can also disappear. It’s important to stay positive.

I’m happy to say that my skin is now 95% clear most of time. My secret? Avoiding my allergens, finding the right products, and never giving up.

The most important test I had done was an extensive allergy patch test. There are a handful of specialists in the United States, but they’re few and far between. I happen to be lucky enough to live near one of them. The patches covered my back completely, from top to bottom. At the end of the process, we learned that I’m allergic to several common ingredients in my beauty products: propylene glycol, sodium benzoate, benzoic acid, and hydrogenated oil. Not only that, but propylene glycol is hidden in many botanical extracts. And when I say these ingredients are common, I mean very common. This is an estimate, but I’d say 99% of the deodorants on the typical merchandise shelf contain propylene glycol (aka PG) and the other 1% doesn’t work at all, so they’re pointless to use.

However, there are wonderful companies out there such as VMV Hypoallergenics, who make products that actually work. I had to throw out all of the products in my bathroom — it was like a funeral. I had to find new hair products, lotions, make-up, sunscreen, and more. My biggest challenge was deodorant. I was pitifully using baby powder and had to clean myself up twice throughout the day with hypoallergenic baby wipes and re-apply the powder. It was far from ideal.

But it’s a new day, people! I use VMV’s <a href=”https://www.vmvhypoallergenics.com/collections/antiperspirant”>Hypoallergenic Antiperspirant</a> and I LOVE it. I team it up with Dessert Essence’s lavender deodorant and it’s a match made in heaven. Before I found out about these products, I was considering surgery. Luckily, I never ended up being able to afford the surgery. I’m incredibly happy to have found this solution before it came to that…AND I swear to you that this combo works better than anything else I’ve ever used in my whole life. I know that sounds terribly gimmick-y, but it’s true.

Other tips I can offer to other who have developed skin issues:

When bathing: Use lukewarm water and pat yourself dry — do not rub.

Wear 100% Cotton.

Take the time to think about alternatives. Have a business trip coming up? Write down all of the potential problem situations and think of solutions one by one.

Allergen avoidance: Sometimes it’s all too overwhelming because allergens seem to be everywhere. Carry a note pad around with you and jot down your annoyances as they arise. Look back at the end of the week and see what ideas you can come up with.

Read labels and ask questions. This is SO important. And don’t feel guilty about asking questions. You owe it to yourself. The amount of chemicals in our products these days is disgusting. You’ll be doing yourself a favor.
Carry a kit with you: In mine, a bar of soap, The Eczema Company’s Calendulis Cream, Muprocin antibiotic ointment, and Desoximetasone topical steroid ointment. That last one is only for extreme emergency break-outs.
Take time for yourself. Stress makes your skin worse; that’s a well-known fact.

Exercise. This is also a great stress buster.

Do lots of research and be your own advocate. I can’t stress this enough!

The internet is also a great place to go. When I created my blog, The Allergista, I didn’t have anywhere to discuss my allergy and eczema problems. The Allergista has allowed me to talk to many other people out there with similar problems and it has created a platform for allergy and eczema sufferers to connect with each other. It’s been incredibly rewarding to watch others reach out, to learn from my readers, to help share their stories, and also to contribute solutions that have helped improve my life.

Eczema and allergies have turned my life upside down, but to everybody out there: I promise you there is hope. It just takes time. There’s a quote I saw online that I believe we should all remember every day: “There is always, always, always, something to be thankful for.” Cheers to that!

the-allergista-sqHelp somebody else who is looking for tips, guidance, and empathy.

Head on over to my “share your story” page to share your allergy- or eczema-related story — no matter how insignificant you might think it is.



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