Anyone who suffers from eczema knows just how debilitating it can be. Much more than just ‘itchy skin’, it can make you feel stressed, miserable and like hiding away from the rest of the world.
And I should know. I’ve had eczema since I was six, and I have strong memories of being slathered in Sudocrem and wrapped in bandages. I asked my grandad if I was ugly, and he reassured me “You won’t have it forever.”
The little girl in me believed him. But sadly, more than two decades later, I’m still living with eczema.
But, in that time, I’ve been through something of a metamorphoses. At the age of 21, I was hospitalised with eczema. My head had swelled to the size of a football, my skin was raw and bleeding, and my eczema was covering my entire body. I felt awful, I looked awful… for me, this was rock bottom.
I was given anti-inflammatories to reduce the swelling. Then I was given something worse. The news from a doctor that as I hadn’t outgrown my eczema, my only option now was to manage it using steroids and anti-depressants.
I did know there were other ways. When I was about 15, I started investigating natural methods to manage my eczema. For me, this became an obsession which turned unhealthy in itself. I was cutting out so many foods – tomatoes, oranges, gluten, dairy – that I was making myself too thin. At university, I would eat alone, so I didn’t have to keep explaining myself to my curious peers.
After my hospitalisation, I knew something had to give, otherwise I would end up isolating myself forever, sitting alone with my ‘allowed’ foods and afraid to show myself to the world. The love and support of my friends and family showed me the importance of a support network. And something in my mindset shifted. I might have eczema for the rest of my life, but I was going to show it who was boss. ME!
Over the years, I have developed my own understandings of how to keep my skin healthy and glowing. I’ve also learned that flare-ups will still happen, but do you know what? I deal with them and I move on. I’ve even started up my own business to help others to see that eczema really is only skin deep. It doesn’t need to control us or dictate what we can and can’t do.
I’d like to share a few of my tips with you here:
Please bear with me, as at first I couldn’t get to grips with this. It was something my mum had suggested, and I was a bit offended. My condition was real, and the notion I could control it with my mind seemed ridiculous. Before my appointment, my mum got me to write down ten things I was grateful for. Okay… but it actually worked and started me thinking more positively. Then at the appointment, everything came flooding out. My practitioner then worked with me to ‘rewire’ how I felt, putting a positive angle on every single negative judgement I had. And, to this day, I still say daily gratitudes and affirmations. They really do work, please give them a go.
Eating and supplements
I’m not going to pretend that food and nutrition don’t have a part to play. The trick is to enjoy what you eat, rather than give yourself a huge list of what to deprive yourself of. I now follow a mainly plant-based diet and avoid gluten and dairy, but the latest wellness trends make this pretty easy. There are vegan cafés everywhere and healthy options on menus, plus I love playing around with food and recipes. I even trained as a natural chef at the College of Naturopathic Medicine. I find taking a probiotic and a prebiotic also helps with my gut health. But really, it’s about working out what works for you, with your lifestyle.
Over time, I’ve learnt that managing eczema isn’t really about clearing up your skin. It’s about learning what can trigger a flare-up and addressing that. Stress is one of the most common factors behind an eczema flare-up so it makes sense that reducing stress is a good long-term solution. Easier said than done? Remember, stress isn’t always a bad thing, and in fact we all need it in small doses. But when it becomes chronic then it’s a problem. Walking in the fresh air, deep breathing and meditation can all help. I also find journalling a good way to reduce stress, by putting all my thoughts on paper. For me, mindfulness is also very helpful. I acknowledge my fears and try to reframe all negativities in a more positive way.
Getting enough sleep
Lack of sleep can be a cause of stress, so it stands to reason a good night’s sleep will go a long way. I have developed my own bedtime routine. I love a bath with Dead Sea salts, then I moisturise myself from head to toe. My phone is firmly switched off, and I try to be in bed before midnight. Sipping camomile tea or another non caffeinated drink is also a great way to wind down.
This is another great way to de-stress. I love to mix my exercises up so I don’t get bored. A long walk in the great outdoors is brilliant, and I also love to run. After some convincing, I’ve also taken up yoga. I always thought it was too slow-paced, but I’ve discovered Vinyasa yoga, which is relaxing but also fast paced. Most of my mornings now start with a yoga flow.
It’s amazing the difference supportive relationships make to your overall wellbeing. By this, I don’t just mean a romantic relationship, although this counts too! But having supportive friends, family and people around you is a real boost. For years I kept myself bottled up, but as soon as I started opening up to people about how my eczema made me feel it was like a new world opened up. Where I’d always been ashamed, I now felt empowered. So don’t be afraid to turn to the people in your life. You are there for them, and they are there for you.
In the same way, it’s important to be your own champion, too. It may sound strange, but if I have an eczema flare-up now, I treat it with gratitude. As I massage and moisturise my skin, I thank it for reminding me it’s time to slow down and treat myself with kindness. It’s all about reframing how you see things. I’ve learnt I can’t just make my eczema go away. But now instead of hating it, I embrace it.
I hope these tips will give you some food for thought if you suffer from eczema. While creams and pills can help you to soothe your skin, it’s important to look at the reasons you’re getting flare-ups and tackle them from within. For me, a massive mental overhaul means I can now look at negative situations completely differently, which makes a huge difference to my stress levels.