Just looking at these photos again causes me great anxiety. I’ve refrained from looking at them because it takes me back to a point and time that I felt so defeated and frustrated. I was officially diagnosed with “eczema” and told that it was just something I would have to “deal with”.
In March of 2016, I started developing little red spots on my legs. They were quite itchy, but, being a fitness instructor and spending a lot of time out in the Texas heat exercising, I just chalked it up to a heat rash or bug bites. By the summer’s end, the spots were growing, becoming more itchy and definitely not going away as I had hoped they would when the heat subsided. When October rolled around and my sweet kitty got sick, that’s when things got really bad. Both legs were covered, both arms were covered, and it was spreading to my stomach and neck. The stress of my baby being sick, then with his passing on November 18th, really seemed to worsen my condition dramatically. I had to sleep with ice packs at night to get any type of relief. I tried every cream and potion under the sun and nothing helped. I would scratch until I had blood running down my legs. Anyone who has never experienced that kind of itch, just doesn’t understand the agony. The burn, the itch, the pain… no sleep at night. It consumes every single part of your day. I hate going to doctors, but in December, I finally gave in and went to see an allergist. He did an allergy test, told me I had a slight response to lanolin and parabens, gave me steroid cream and told me to get rid of anything containing those ingredients. I was SO happy, thinking that he had found my problem and that I would finally get some relief. The ointment did initially work. The rash went away, and I spent a small fortune replacing everything from laundry detergent to shampoo. I spent countless hours reading labels (interestingly enough I found that none of the products I had been using had those ingredients in them anyway) to make for sure that those ingredients were nowhere in our house. When I tapered off the ointment like I was instructed to do, I woke up one morning covered in the rash once again. I just sat on the floor crying… how could it be? I was ok with using the cream short term, but did not want to become dependent on it.
January and February of 2017, I spent so much time researching. What it could be, what I could do for it, why this was happening… I started moving away from the idea that it was something external causing it. I sincerely felt like something internal was signaling an inflammatory response. That February, I decided to try an elimination diet. My sweet husband did it with me. It…Was…HARD! Pureed soups for 3 days, then weeks of a very minimal selection of foods. We followed it diligently, and while I did see some reduction in the severity of the inflammation, it still wasn’t going away. Then, in March, my Dad was diagnosed with Colon Cancer. Naturally, the stress worsened it once again, undoing the progress I had made. Before his surgery, I went to see my GP. He was a little shocked when he saw my condition and he honestly had no idea what it even was. He gave me more cream, antibiotics and steroids, then told me that I would need to see a dermatologist. I reluctantly took what he gave me, just so I could have some relief while my Dad was in the hospital. It did help, but the day after my last steroid pill, it came right back.
I researched Dermatologists, and decided on a clinic about 1.5 hours away. Great reviews, great credentials. I wanted someone who really knew what they were doing. I felt like I was at a spa when I walked in. The facility was beautiful and everyone was so friendly. I felt optimistic that they would fix me. While the Doctor was very sweet and seemingly compassionate, she gave me the answers that I had already read from everyone else’s encounters with doctors and similar conditions. She told me that it was eczema, that it “just happens” sometimes and that we would just have to manage it the best we could. I asked for a skin biopsy, which she did. She sent me home with more cream and told me to come back once the results were in.
I went back a couple of weeks later and was told that it was “Spongiotic Dermatitis with occasional dermal eosinophils”. AKA…eczema of some kind. I asked about whether or not food could possibly be the culprit. I was told “not in her experience” and again, it “just happens” sometimes. She started pushing a brand new injection (only costs $36,000 a year!…WTF?) that could possibly work wonders for me. She didn’t have any experience with it, but some of her colleagues had. Umm, no thank you… I told her that rather than treating the symptoms, I wanted to find what was actually causing it. She sort of found that amusing and funny, but, in my opinion, there’s a cause and effect for everything.
I went back to the allergist and told him of the Dermatologists findings. He was not in agreement with my diagnosis just “being eczema” and he was certainly not in favor of me taking the injections. He did more allergy testing, but with no significant findings. He was puzzled, especially since I never had eczema as a kid… all he could do was send me home with more cream and no answers.
This whole time, after the elimination diet, there was one thing that I never added back. Gluten. My Mom has Celiac Disease and had to give up gluten years ago. Her problems were primarily in her stomach. I never had those kind of problems, so I never thought I might have it too. At every doctor’s appointment, I mentioned this fact, but no one seemed to care or think it might have anything to do with my rash. In my research I had found that gluten sensitivity can cause a condition called Dermatitis Herpetiformis. It’s an itchy rash that is symmetrical. Generally people with DH do not experience intestinal discomfort, and it usually shows up in people between 30-40. Check, check and check… The only treatment is to avoid gluten. Could that be my problem? Who knows because no one would specifically test me for that.
After about 4 months of no gluten, I noticed my skin healing. It was amazing! It was starting to fade, it was becoming less itchy… it was like a miracle. It still wasn’t completely gone, but much more tolerable. Then, in July, me, my husband and both of my parents decided to go Vegan. Animal protein also causes inflammation, so with my skin issues, and my Dad’s cancer and surgery, we figured the less inflammatory triggers the better. After a couple of weeks, I had a pretty bad flare. In all of my research, I had read about the “healing crisis” and how your body is purging toxins and that you’ll get worse before you get better. I kept my fingers crossed and hoped that was the case. I kept going with the Vegan diet, and as I sit here today, my skin…..is….CLEAR!
Every day that goes by without itching, is a day that I am truly thankful and grateful for! I know that there are many of you out there that know exactly what I’m talking about. You’ve felt the agony… you’ve lost sleep… you’re frustrated and depressed… you pray for a day without the incessant itching and pain. You’ve researched and been to doctor after doctor only to be told to use creams and ointments for the rest of your life. You’ve hit dead ends and don’t know what to do anymore. You can’t imagine how to live the rest of your life this way. You’ve spent small fortunes on lotions, creams, supplements, books, websites claiming to have the answers… It’s a lonely place to be because the people around you just don’t understand. I’m not saying that what I’ve done will work for everyone, or that my experiences are the exact same as yours, but, I wanted to share mine in hopes that you will give some things a try to see if it helps you. If my story can help just one person, then I will feel like my journey will not have been in vain.
HOW I CURED MY ECZEMA AND THINGS I LEARNED:
1. YOU HAVE TO STOP SCRATCHING!
This is the hardest part of it all. I hated reading that too, but it’s so very true. Constantly scratching keeps your skin barrier damaged and broken, which will let anything in to the deeper layers of your skin. I kept my nails trimmed, wore pants & a long sleeved shirt to bed to make it harder to reach and used ice packs when I felt like I was going to cave and scratch. I also used Vanicream lotion and several essential oils that really helped on nights I was super itchy. I’ll list those down below.
2. DITCH INFLAMMATORY FOODS
I’m not saying that everyone should go Vegan if that’s not for you. But, there are definitely some things that you should get rid of to help your body.
– DAIRY – I gave this up about 8 years ago because I found that it was causing my debilitating migraines. It is very inflammatory to the body, which is not good for someone with inflamed skin. Almond, coconut, rice and cashew milk are all tasty alternatives. There are also plenty of non-dairy cheeses that taste great too.
– GLUTEN – Even if you aren’t technically sensitive to gluten, the proteins in it does cause an inflammatory response in your gut. I know you think it will be hard giving up bread and pasta, but it’s totally worth it when you get that first night of good sleep with no itching. It’s becoming easier and easier to find gluten free products now, so you really aren’t having to give up anything.
– SUGAR – This is probably the most important thing you can eliminate. Constant sugar intake causes chronic low-grade inflammation throughout the body. When your body is inflamed on a continual basis, it can start attacking things that shouldn’t be attacked. Like your skin, your joints, etc… Any sugar intake should be directly from whole fruits. Ditch any added sugar (this includes artificial sweeteners) and also refrain from drinking fruit juices.
– HIGHLY PROCESSED FOODS – If you’re not on board going the Vegan route, then at least make sure you aren’t eating highly processed meat like bacon and lunch meat. This also goes for anything else highly processed like chips, cookies…pretty much anything found in the center of a grocery store. If its expiration date is 2022, then it’s best to put it back. Nutritious, whole foods are what you’re looking for…specifically a lot of leafy green vegetables.
3. DRINK LOTS OF WATER
You hear that all the time, but it’s something you really should make sure that you’re doing when you have eczema. You’ve got to keep your body hydrated and avoid dehydration at all costs. I shot for at least half of my body weight in ounces every day.
4. CUT OUT ALCOHOL
I know, I know… I hate to be the party pooper. I’m not saying that you can’t ever have it again, but, until your skin is clear and itch free, you’ve got to try your best to avoid it. Alcohol is inflammatory AND it causes dehydration. A double whammy for eczema sufferers. It was worth it to me to give it up for the time being. I’ve now been able to enjoy wine again without any negative skin effects!
5. GET YOUR GUT HEALTH IN CHECK
Most of our immunity comes from our gut. If you’re eating a lot of sugar and gluten filled products, and, if you’ve taken antibiotics in your lifetime, then your gut is probably in need of some attention. If your gut health is bad, then chances are, you’ve got lots of inflammation and your body’s defense system is not up to par. I took two things: Probiotics and L Glutamine. Probiotics replenish your microbiome with good bacteria, which you need, and the L Glutamine is anti-inflammatory and helps repair your gut lining.
6. GO WITH WHAT DOESN’T MAKE IT WORSE
I got into using so many different products, it was hard to tell if they were helping or hurting. Nothing you put on your skin is going to cure your problem. When you’re so desperate, you really want to believe that this special $50 lotion is going to make it all just go away. Then you buy another and another, then you make this special concoction you found on the internet, then you end up with a whole basket full of stuff that hasn’t helped your condition any. I know because I have one of those baskets… If special lotions and potions were actually cures, then no one would be in this boat. What worked for me was to find what didn’t exacerbate the problem and just use that. I found one soap and one lotion that didn’t cause me to itch anymore that I already was and only used those. When you’re trying new products every day in the hopes of finding that miracle cure, chances are you are only inflaming your skin more, and filling yourself with disappointment because none of it worked.
7. TAKE A DEEP BREATH
It’s hard to manage stress, especially when the condition you have is what’s causing the stress to begin with. It’s easier said than done I know, but it will help in the long run. If you can take some time out of your day to do some deep breathing and bring a sense of peace and calm to your mind, it will help tremendously. Stress will wreak havoc in your body and the only way to heal yourself is to learn how to manage it. Yoga and meditation are great tools for that!
8. YOU WILL HAVE SETBACKS
This was the hardest thing for me to get used to. You will think it’s going away and that all your hard work is paying off, then BAM… you feel like you’re back at square one. With eczema, it takes time to heal. Your skin only regenerates every 27 days. Your body purges toxins when you start eating healthier and that’s what you want. GET OUT TOXINS! So, please know that if you have a bad day after having several good ones that it’s completely normal. You may feel defeated and disappointed, but keep trucking along.
9. GET SOME VITAMIN D
I tried to make it a habit to go out in the sun for 15 minutes every day. Vitamin D is crucial for immunity. Your body needs help healing, so give it the tools it needs. Just be sure not to stay out to the point of sunburn!
10. SWITCH TO SHOWERS
Before my eczema ordeal, I was an avid bather. I loved my baths, and only showered when I needed to wash my hair. Sometimes, I would even do that in the bathtub too. After developing eczema, I found that immediately after bath time was usually the itchiest (and also at 3 in the morning 😦 ). I switched to taking exclusively showers and that helped so much. Since your skin is soaking in the water (and chemicals in the water of course), it tends to dry it out. Even now that my skin is clear, I still take showers instead of baths. I’ve gotten used to it, it saves water and there are certain things I just don’t want to get back in the habit of doing. I do NOT want it to EVER come back, so the things that helped me get rid of it that I can deal with, I don’t plan on changing.
11. GET YOURSELF A SUPPORT GROUP
This is really hard to deal with alone. At times, I found myself going inward, trying to ignore it in hopes that it would just go away. That doesn’t work and it only makes things worse. I dealt with it better when I talked about it. My mom and husband were definitely my shoulders I cried on the most often, but, I always felt better mentally and emotionally after I talked about how I was feeling or how frustrated I was. Everything always seems worse when you’re alone and this is no different. Find friends, family members or support groups online that you feel comfortable talking to and let those feelings out!
PRODUCTS I USE:
Vanicream – Find it here on Amazon or at most Targets
Massage Therapy Essential Oil – Edens Garden
Muscle Relief Essential Oil – Edens Garden
Probiotics – Garden of Life Dr. Formulated
L Glutamine – Micro Ingredients
Bodywash – Dr. Woods Raw Black Soap
Laundry Detergent – Simple Truth – here or at any Kroger
For me, I fully believe that ditching gluten and becoming Vegan are what have cleared my skin. To be told that I would have to deal with this and use creams the rest of my life, I feel so empowered that I was able to do it myself through diet and lifestyle changes. If I can, I know you can too! Cut out inflammatory foods and products, build up your immune system and repair your gut health… you’ll see amazing changes!
I hope this can be helpful to you in your journey and welcome any questions. Or, if you just need someone to vent to, I’m here for ya!
Take care and know that you have the power to heal your body, no matter what the doctors say!
Namaste and blessings, ❤ ❤ ❤