Eczema Is The Worst, But Loving Your Skin Is Still Necessary
I learned what eczema was in high school, when a patch of skin on my left wrist would have little blasts of “OUCH! I’m red and itchy! GAHHH!” whenever I would get stressed out or panicky. It was never my favorite thing, but it was fairly small. Insignificant to my overall wellbeing, and really just a way to measure my anxiety. A little thermometer for stress, if you will. Handy, one could argue.
Moving through college, my wrist eczema came and went, never growing, but also never truly healing. Small potatoes, no biggy!
Then I decided to move to the arctic tundra and Little Miss Eczema reared her ugly head, all hell breaking loose. My first winter in New York was met with red, bumpy patches all over my body. ALL over, y’all. Finally, going to the dermatologist the week of Thanksgiving, I was met with an “OH MY GOSH this is bad” from the dear ole doc.
It’s nice to know I wasn’t overreacting.
My eczema had spread quickly enough to prove itself a problem that would outlast the current season. To kickstart a recover, the doctor prescribed a steroid cream, one for my body and one for the patches around my eyes. An antibiotic was also involved. It was very intense.
Since New York tends to snow in April (from my lovely experience), I realized that eczema and I were going to have to get it together, and fast. I couldn’t do naked 360s in front of a dermatologist every month, and I couldn’t put my body through steroids each winter! I had to learn how to cope with my eczema.
Winter number two on the East Coast is going much better, thanks for asking.
While eczema is still incredibly present (and itchy!) in my life, there are a few things I’ve learned that help keep it under control.
1. Your mental health is your biggest priority
When your body freaks out, chances are high your brain starts to join in. A domino effect that nobody enjoys. Eczema, or other skin conditions that can inflame, can increase anxiety and depression, even if that’s something you don’t usually struggle with. To make matters worse, that increased anxiety and depression can then cause more eczema.
This vicious cycle means you MUST prioritize your mental health. Check in with your doctors, talk to your friends, and do not allow yourself to wallow by yourself in a room. Take care of your brain so your body gets the hint.
2. Dairy and gluten may not be your BFF
While a grilled cheese sandwich is the ultimate winter comfort food, it is not the best meal to eat while you’re struggling to get your eczema under control. Dairy and gluten are irritants for many conditions, eczema being one of them. Even if you aren’t going to go gluten-free or cut out cheese entirely, keeping your dairy and gluten to a minimum is a good idea. Instead of a bagel for breakfast, try overnight oats, and keep the fruit and veggies coming!
3. You’ve got to sleep
If your body is fighting itself, you need to rest up to give yourself the best chance of getting better. Winter is already a hard time of year, so sleeping a little more is totally acceptable. If you have eczema, sleeping may not be as easy as it should be - waking up, scratching subconsciously is normal, uncomfortable, and makes getting a decent night’s sleep a true challenge. This doesn’t mean you can cheat your body of sleep, though. Create a routine, don’t drink caffeine in the afternoons/evening, and moisturize right before you go to bed. Set yourself up for success!
4. Keep all your cleaning supplies as simple as it comes
If you find yourself breaking out with eczema, it may be time to purge your cleaning supplies. The last thing you want is to clean the bathroom and be worse for wear! I rely heavily on the cleaning supplies section at Trader Joe’s - their products are cleaner and better for your skin than other brands. For laundry, I switched to All Free Clear laundry detergent, and no longer use dryer sheets.
Things that are scented are more likely to have chemicals that could irritate your skin, which is why my cleaning supplies and laundry products are very “plain Jane.” I also made sure to switch my soap - I bought a box of Dove Sensitive Skin Beauty Bars. Similar to scented cleaning supplies, scented soaps easily irritate already touchy skin.
5. That goes for beauty products, too
If you’re concerned about what soap you’re washing your hands with, shouldn’t you also be concerned about what you’re putting on your face? Making sure that your beauty products are “eczema safe” is another key step in helping your skin. I’m no makeup guru, so this was fairly easy for me. I use Aveeno Active Naturals Daily Moisturizing Lotion. During bad days, every inch of skin gets coated with the stuff. Yet even during good seasons, it’s a great (safe!!) face moisturizer.
While you’re in the middle of this closet clean-out, make sure your deodorant is up to snuff, as well. Tom’s Unscented Deodorant is a great option for skin irritation (armpits are easy targets for eczema, in case you were wondering) and it’s aluminum free.
Check the rest of your makeup and beauty products as well - eyeshadow, lipstick, perfume, and anything else that comes in contact with your skin. Check with your doctor for chemicals to keep an eye out for.
6. If you’ve got to itch, take a hot shower
Like a little kid with chicken pox, it’s hard to refrain from itching when you know you’re not supposed to. Trust me when I say that scratching your eczema makes your life SO much more difficult. The bumps just get bumpier, folks.
What you can do is take a nice hot shower. It relieves the need to itch. Disclaimer, it’s still not good for you. But from one eczema gal to another, it’s soothing. I generally take a shower at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day when I get home - not only does it help me wash off toxins that I’ve interacted with throughout the day, but it’s a nice mental routine as well.
7. Try exercises that don’t “sweat” too much
Sweat is an irritant for skin that already has eczema. I was shocked when I would go to spin class in a long sleeve shirt and come out worse for wear! If you are doing cardio, keep your workout clothes loose and breezy. If you can take a break from your runner’s high, try yoga, Pilates, or other forms of working out that won’t result in red concern.
Don’t give up on working out just because there are more factors to consider - those happy endorphins really do come in handy.
8. MOISTURE, YOU FOOL!
Keep a mini lotion (that Aveeno is gold, y’all) on you AT ALL TIMES. Keep one in your desk drawer. Keep a giant tub at home. Moisturize like you’ve never moisturized before. Set an alarm to stay on schedule. Don’t cheat yourself of healthy skin just because you don’t like taking two minutes to give your arms a little love.
9. You can’t give in to “why do I look like this?” moments
Here’s the thing, folks. When your skin has been blistered and burned and is bump mania, you begin to feel like a 21st Century leper. Last winter was a low point. Getting dressed in the morning was a nightmare, specially reserved for turtlenecks. I didn’t even consider a short sleeve blouse, no matter how cute it was. My arms were shameful. The longer I spent thinking about how atrocious my skin looked, the more glum I became.
The fact of the matter is, eczema, while a terrible condition, is never your defining factor. I wrote affirmations, doodled in gratitude journals, and kept myself busy in order to avoid too much time with self-deprecating thoughts. Don’t allow your eczema to overwhelm your life.
10. Don’t wait too long to go to the doctor
My biggest mistake was thinking that I could cure my eczema without medical assistance. Nope, WRONGO! If your eczema is getting bad, you wake up itching, and your mental health is down the drain, go see someone. Sometimes the best way to help yourself is by seeing someone else.
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