When I was little I had mild eczema, an allergy. My skin was dry and flaky and it didn’t like heat. At six it flared into moderate eczema and did not go down again. I began avoiding mirrors. My inner elbows and knees had scabs about four inches by seven inches, and these would be torn open whenever I stretched a limb, so they never really got to heal up. I wore long sleeves and jeans as often as possible so that no one would see the wounds and because the fabric acted as a sort of bandage if it began oozing. My parents gave me Benadryl at night to help me sleep and put prescription hydrocortisone on my skin, which always burned more than helped.

At 16 my eczema became severe, officially a disease instead of it’s former allergy status. It was severe enough that people thought I was covered in burns or welts, and at that point I never left the house because of stranger’s reactions. I barely slept at all because my skin was so inflamed and agonizing that I couldn’t rest and couldn’t stop tearing at myself. I had scratched off most of my eyebrows.

At 18 I developed dyshidrotic eczema on my feet and between my toes and fingers. New ‘bubbles’ of clear fluid would show up under the skin every day and they would burst quickly. Wherever else the fluid touched that skin would break out in a contact reaction rash, so I made bandages of thin cotton which I was always wrapping around my hands and fingers. My face was raw and swollen, my eyes swollen half open and raw around the edges. My chest was raw as well and seemed never able to heal because the wounds would tear open so easily. My shoulders were a giant wound all the way across and the lichenification on them and my arms grew to be so bad that my friends said it was like “scales from a molting sickly dragon”. Needless to say I did not leave the house unless it was necessary, I was even mortified to have my family look at me. I felt imprisoned in my skin and my room.

At 20 I went on an elimination diet to discover what foods might be contributing to my disease. I discovered that corn syrup and it’s derivatives, all citric acid, and any fish or shell fish make my skin break out. I immediately cut those things from my diet and within two weeks I was getting results; I could sleep at night, I didn’t shed as much, I didn’t burn as much. Over the past six years my skin has cleared up enough that I feel ‘human’. My skin still ‘boils’ and ‘burns’ like it used to but I don’t look the way I did, it’s almost like an ‘invisible’ eczema now, and within the last year I stopped avoiding mirrors.

My eczema has a long list of triggers; some are environmental, some behavioral and some are dietary. If I don’t follow all the items on my personal maintenance list my skin quickly goes back to behaving like it did before. It’s an annoyance, and I’m not high maintenance by nature, so it’s taken me years to make sure that I do these things everyday to maintain the health of my largest organ. I’ve learned that the best ways for me to keep my skin under control are to
– Make sure that I always have a perfectly clean pair of sheets to sleep on (‘perfectly clean’ meaning that if someone with oily or sweaty hands touches my sheets I need to change them)
– Take a shower every night, these usually last 15 minutes since they are painful. Cold showers dry my skin less and are only irritating, but not really an option on cold nights.
– Use Puraderm Hair and Body since I thankfully have no reaction to it.
– Wash all my laundry in Seventh Generation Free & Clear Laundry Detergent, which has no dyes, fragrance or fabric softener
– Avoid consuming any form of corn but especially corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup solids, and glucose syrup.
– Avoid consuming or touching citric acid; tomatoes, lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruit, bell peppers, etc. If someone is peeling an orange within 15 feet of me my face will break out.
– Avoid consuming or touching fish and shellfish.
– Avoid being around people who are stressful to me, in one way or another, since that always brings on a break out
– Avoid hot weather, no matter if it’s dry or wet
– Avoid cold dry weather
– Avoid touching anything that is even slightly greasy; this includes other people’s skin, machine oil, cooking oils, animals, baby oil, petroleum jelly, ointment
– Avoid animal dander. I have three large dogs, two have thick coats and one has eczema, so this is hard. I don’t allow them on my bed, and if I pet them I wash my hands immediately afterwards. Their saliva also makes my skin break out so they don’t usually get to lick me.
– Wash my hands sparingly, avoid chlorinated pools, water fights, and take showers as quickly as I can. The more water touches my skin the more the affected area will break out in a rash.
– Rarely shave my legs since as the hair grows back I have a week long rash. The one effective way I’ve found to shave without my legs turning red and tender is to use a straight edged blade, such as a knife, or old-fashioned razor. It looks more dangerous but I cut myself less, it takes off more dead skin, and my skin is happier afterward.
– Use cosmetics very sparingly if at all. On special days I wear Aveda lip gloss, eye shadow and eyeliner. Although their make up contains fragrance it does not make me break out, I speculate this is because of the natural and not over processed ingredients
– Avoid lotion and scented lotions at all costs – they always bring on a break out
– Take a set of sheets and a pillowcase with me when I travel, since I never know what detergent someone else will be using.
– Use a pair of tweezers to remove large flakes, this minimizes irritation of the skin and doesn’t leave dirt the way scratching does. It does take longer but it’s less painful.