Sensitive skin + eczema: Treatment, support, and questions.

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“You been in some fights lately?” a stranger joked as they saw my hands one summer. They were raw, cracked, bleeding, and red. It was summer, too hot for long sleeves, and I weakly joked that yes, I had been brawling.

This was not entirely false- my body and I were indeed at odds with one another. Eczema, which had affected me as a child, went away until I became a stressed-out college student. It mostly stayed on my arms, though, and I accepted its presence as a bother, nothing more.

However, around 2015, my hands were a mess and I struggled with embarrassment and confusion. This was a new, awful form of eczema, replete with tiny clusters of blisters, insanely itchy skin, cracked and bleeding parts, and overall, extreme physical discomfort. I couldn’t do dishes, handle any acidic foods, or do much that would exacerbate my skin.  I found out that I had gotten one lovely variety of eczema that affects solely hands and feet- JOY.

It’s 2018, and I have, for the most part, found peace and (mostly) respite from my eczema. It’s been on my face, made me nervous for dates, kept me sleepless from itching, offered me up to public humiliation, and made me feel ugly and undesirable. I made this post to show affordable products that help me immensely, answer some basic questions, and offer some links I’ve found both helpful and supportive.

The low down: 

Eczema is basically your body’s inability to produce it’s own protective layer over your skin. This results in vulnerable, rashy, often raw skin. Sometimes it’s mild and just a small patch of dry, red skin and sometimes it can take over your body- everybody is different. It affects 30 million Americans, and there are multiple kinds. I have atopic dermatitis and dyshidrotic eczema.

Eczema is a mysterious bastard, and people don’t know exactly why we get it. It’s been theorized it’s an immune reaction or an allergic reaction, but why and how we get it is unsure. People in polluted areas and cities get it more, and people who have other immune issues like asthma also have eczema, and it could also be genetic! So basically…it could be anything, everything, or nothing at all. Trust me, I know this isn’t helpful.

First and foremost if you suspect you might have eczema go to a dermatologist. A good one! They might take photos of your eczema to track any changes, and they can help you find medicine that will work with your lifestyle and the severity of your eczema. If your derm isn’t taking you seriously, tries to put you on steroid creams or steroids over and over again, find somebody who makes you feel heard.

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Products/things I use and love that help: 

-Vitamin D, Vitamin C, fish oil, and Vitamin E supplements. There is some evidence that taking vitamins that help build your skin’s resilience can help with eczema. Your skin is always trying to heal and repair itself and these vitamins may help your body do that. I figure it can’t hurt.

-AQUAPHOR!!! Aquaphor is my favorite thing. Lotion can hurt raw skin, and one thing that eczema needs is protection. I apply Aquaphor to all my patches- on my face, my hands, my arms, where ever. I may apply bandages over the Aquaphor so it can work better. It isn’t a lotion- it’s a cheap but amazing ointment that you can find at any drugstore for around $5. (It also makes an amazing lip balm!) It’s also super safe around your eyes if you’ve got anything there! This is my number one thing in my life, and I don’t know what I would do without it.

-BandAids for protecting my hands. Cheap, easy, and effective. They can help any especially raw parts heal. I do not use antibiotic creams at all, and only use Aquaphor  to protect my skin.

-ProTopic prescription ointment. This is a non-steroid cream that I use only in extreme cases because it burns a lot. I do not use steroid cream because long term use of steroid creams can make your skin thin, sometimes permanently. Since I have had eczema for years and it hasn’t gone away, I got my derm to prescribe me this. There is also a children’s version that has less of the working ingredients to be sensitive to their bodies.

-Aveeno lotion. Aveeno, I find, makes great sensitive-skin lotions. I also adore their baby lotions and bath products, because the ingredients are so gentle. I use this on my hands as soon as I wake up and before I go to bed, and keep a little tube in my work desk and in my car.

-Scent-free and dye-free laundry detergent. If you have ultra-sensitive skin, your sheets and bedding and pillow cases can also aggravate whatever is going on. Using a sensitive-skin friendly laundry detergent is huge! I use some from my natural food bulk store, but Arm & Hammer also makes a detergent I really like.

Aveeno Baby oatmeal bath packets. These are affordable and amazing. Oatmeal helps calm the itch and a warm (not hot!) bath is amazing for relaxing. Oatmeal baths helped me as a child, too, when I couldn’t sleep.

-Lukewarm/cool showers.  Hot water strips your skin of protection and will exacerbate your eczema a lot! If you can’t help but take hot showers, make them short. Get out quickly.

-Gloves for doing dishes and yardwork. These will help protect your hands, which can be areas prone to eczema and irritation. They have saved me, as hot water doing dishes a lot made my hands not only painful but also made my eczema never seem to go away.

As you can see, I use mostly affordable products that after years of experimentation work for me. Everybody is different. It can take time, so be patient and gentle with yourself.

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What about diet? 

There are some theories that eczema, and some other immune issues, may be caused by gut bacteria abscence or imbalance. I don’t know if I buy these 100% (you can find out more online) but I did find that when I consistently ate probiotic foods, avoided sugar, and ate healthier, my eczema was more manageable. That being said, is that real? Or was it placebo effect? I can’t say. I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist, but it did help.

What about (insert other treatment here-wet wrapping, pine tar, bleach baths, etc.) 

I don’t know about anything else, but there is a super helpful sub-Reddit for eczema sufferers where you can ask questions, get feedback, and swap stories. It has not only been an immense source of support, but I’ve also answered lots of questions with my own experiences. If you’re new to everything, also look for answers here at the National Eczema Association. The Internet is one of the most helpful and supportive places I’ve ever found, and lots of people who may feel shy sharing their stories in person are more than happy to help you figure out things like how to help your children if they’ve got eczema, what if your girlfriend/boyfriend/person has eczema, how different meds have helped different people, etc.

What if my girlfriend/boyfriend/child gets diagnosed? 

If you’re asking this question at all that’s a great sign. Do your own research and quietly help your person make changes if they’re an adult. Maybe buy some products on your own as a quiet “I see you” gift- Aquaphor, lotions, oatmeal bath packets, sensitive-skin friendly laundry detergent, etc. and check in with your person if they’re seeing doctors. If you’ve got a child, oatmeal baths and doctors visits may become the norm. There are lots of resources for parents online. I know my parents had a tough time, but ProTopic helped me a lot when I was little.

Secondly, eczema can make your person feel very unsexy. Be gentle, kind, and especially loving. Our body is pretty much betraying us and giving us ugly lizard skin, and it sucks. Let us know we’re still cute, okay?

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That’s all I’ve got for now. I’ll probably update this as time goes on, but please don’t hesitate to leave questions or comments. I’ve had eczema for years, and it’s impacted my life, but it’s something that can be managed and accepted and you’re definitely not alone.

My (affordable, lazy) skincare routine

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I am no skincare product pro. I would like to make that very clear before I go on. There are marvelous humans across the gender spectrum out there who know so much more about beauty products, skincare, etc. much more than me.

However, my skincare routine has been finessed after years and years of frustratingly stubborn acne and dryness. I also have eczema on my face in some small patches (I will be doing a post about skincare specifically for those of us with eczema!) so my skin is a delicate flower in the worst way. And, having finally wrestled my way into a routine that works, I wanted to share!

My focus lies on not using a lot of products and keeping my routine efficient and cheap because I am lazy and poor (hey grad school!). I only use three products every single day all over my face- an astringent, micellar water, and sunscreen (all from the drugstore!). I apply Aveeno lotion to special parts of my face that are especially sensitive at night so that my skin can heal.

Again, I will be doing a post about eczema and what works for me, but eczema literally means that your skin cannot retain moisture the way that normal skin does, so it’s vital for me to always be moisturizing the eczema-prone parts of my face (otherwise I get what I kindly refer to as lizard skin). Now! Let’s begin.

Daily routine! Morning: I pour a little bit of Clean and Clear Deep Cleaning Astringent on a cotton pad and apply it all over my face. Not too much because there’s acid in there, guys.

Then, I apply a more liberal amount of Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water (the waterproof makeup version). I usually brush my teeth or get dressed so that it has time to be on my face before I apply my sunscreen.

After this (you tired yet?) I apply a liberal amount of Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch SPF 30 sunscreen to my face, neck, and chest. I want to be a nice looking old woman and this is the major step in this plan. Decades down the road I cannot wait to look like a fox because I was a nut about sunscreen! I don’t wear any foundation, so I’m ready to go after this! (Lazy, lazy, lazy.)

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Nighttime: I remove all my makeup every single night before I go to bed. Even after a late night out/alcohol/just tired because of humanity! Because seriously my eyelashes are healthier and longer now, and my skin/every part of my face has looked so much better after I became neurotic about this. My nighttime routine is about the same- astringent and micellar water. I do not moisturize before bedtime, which perhaps is a really bad thing (I don’t wear sunscreen at night, and I haven’t found a plain moisturizer I like to wear overnight), but I do use Aveeno sensitive skin lotion/baby lotions for the sensitive (lizard skin) parts of my face.

Bi-weekly and weekly products: 

I use my Mario Badescu Glycolic Foaming Cleanser about 2/3 times a week in the shower. I don’t use anything else in the shower anymore, and this stuff has really made a difference in the evenness of my skin! It can be super drying, though, so if you have sensitive skin don’t go overboard (again, acid y’all). I skip using my astringent at nighttime if I use it that day. A little bottle of this lasts me several months and it’s $16, which is pretty reasonable.

Weekly/Every other week: I use the Mario Badescu Silver Powder. It only has 3 ingredients and is super easy to use- you get a cotton pad or ball damp and dip it into the powder and apply the mask-like mixture to your T-zone. Do be warned: As it dries, it powders off your face, so for the 10 minutes you leave it on I would be somewhere you don’t mind snowing Silver Powder everywhere. Is it a bit weird? Yes. Does it help for pores/blackheads? I think so! It’s also affordable, because you don’t use a lot and at $12 a jar it goes a looonnnggg way.

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There you have it! My affordable, minimal, and easy to use skincare routine. I do want to find a retinol to incorporate into this formula but honest to god since moving to Canada I balk at all the prices for skincare products. (I bring back everything from Target or Ulta when I go home- no way am I paying ridiculous prices plus taxes here!) Until I make a trip to the States again and can get my hands on (bless you Montana!) some tax-free goods I’m sticking with this.

This is my personal beauty regimen, one developed over years of trial and error like most of us. Thank goodness for beauty bloggers who have helped guide me over the years (shoutout to Arabelle Sicardi, that marvelous human!).