You’re either blessed or you’re cursed
I’m cursed. From the moment I left the womb I was cursed.
With a grandma who died in her 20s of asthma and a dad who suffers from acute eczema I didn’t stand a chance really.
A disinfected childhood
I inherited the lot – eczema, asthma, hayfever. Allergic to just about anything inside and outside of the house. Washing powder, soap, feathered pillows and duvets, the pet budgie, pollen, dust – it all set me off. It didn’t help that my mum was, and still is a crazy cleaning lunatic who brought my sister and I up in an a house so sterile, it would have put an operating theatre to shame. I’m not sure that she did me any favours keeping everything so disinfected and sterilised but she thought she was doing the right thing at the time.
No to E numbers
Apparently, according to my mum, excessive E numbers are associated with skin conditions such as eczema. My sweet intake was rationed severely as a child and my fizzy drink allowance was restricted to special occasssions. The upshot of this is I have no time for fizzy drinks as an adult, aside from Tonic in my gin and Prosecco of course.
Some of my not so pleasant childhood memories include regular trips to the dermatologist. Being covered in thick white creams. Wearing cotton gloves for bed so that I couldn’t scratch myself stupid in my sleep. I remember my top lip was always chapped and that has resulted in a crazy lifelong obsession with Lypsyl and little tins of Vaseline. If I leave the house without one or both, I am prone to a panic attack. I own about 156 little tubs of Vaseline – everytime I leave the house without one, we have to hot foot it to the nearest Boots for another.
Going for goats milk
Various trial-and-error dairy-free diets also formed part of growing up for me. In the 1980s my mum was ordered by the dermatologist to cut cow’s milk out of my diet for a while. Long before goats milk was a staple in the supermarket my mum would drag me and my sister to a local farm to collect the goats milk. Fresh from the udder of the goat and more often than not, handed over warm. Pretty vile.
There was nothing as exotic as cocoanut or almond milk back in the 80s and 90s. There certainly wasn’t a ‘Free From’ shelf in Morrisons. ‘Free From’ stretched about a far as a packet of rice cakes. I ate a lot of rice cakes. With nothing on them.
A spoon full of evening primrose
In fairness to my mum, she did try. She read a lot of books about my condition, long before one could Google treatments and ideas for alternative therapies. Her findings resulted in me being fed a daily table spoon of evening primrose oil, being bathed twice a day in pints of Oilatum and regular dinners that consisted of a lot of smoked haddock and greens.
Aside from some of these memories that we laugh about today, there were also some harder times. School came with all sorts of problems. I dreaded PE. I was the girl with angry red rashes on the back of her legs and in the creases of her arms. Wearing a gym skirt and short sleeved T shirt exposed the fiery red sores, which inevitably lead to various vile comments from my fellow classmates. Luckily, girls were a lot less critical back then and I had a solid group of girlfriends who never judged me for my skin condition. It was only the boys that had a tendency to be cruel and callous with their comments.
Hot summers brought with them similar problems – no tights, too hot for jumpers, short sleeved shirts and open collars. All of which revealed the parts of me that were most affected by this god awful skin condition, which at 11 years old, was the ultimate curse for any little girl.
Before we discovered boys we discovered ponies. We lived in an area of Yorkshire where riding lessons where part of the course. Some friends were lucky enough to rent a pony from the local stables. I wasn’t (and still aren’t) able to be within five foot of a stable without the need for a nebulizer and half a packet of antihistamines.
Still, I was so eager to ride myself, that I located a dustmask from somewhere. I have no idea from where. After my hack with a dustmask covering my nose and mouth, I’d end up looking like a rabbit with Myxomatosis gasping from breath and having to sleep bolt upright for a few nights until I was able to breathe properly. I still went riding though.
I vividly remember that feeling of how fucking unfair it was that little me, at 12 years old, was the only one that couldn’t just ride that bloody pony without such disastrous consequences.
Pass the pooch
Fast-forward 25 years and I still can’t have pets. Not of the fur or feather variety anyway. Of course I’ve experimented with various pooches. Those of the ‘hypoallergenic’ variety that are oh so popular these days. The Cockapoodle and the Labradoodle are all the rage right now. One of my best friends has two of these hypoallergenic canine companions; whilst I can just about get through one overnight stay at their house, I have to keep my distance, cling to my inhaler at all times, and knocking back large doses of Piratin on the run up to our visit.
Pillows must be synthetic and washing power has to be non-bio. I can’t visit my mother-in-law as she has both dogs and cats. Although some would call that a blessing.
Although I’m still plagued with allergies, my skin is just about under control. Life has been a lot of trial and error, and there are still time when I put myself into a situation that results in skin flare up. It might be a very late night, too much booze or a new moisturiser.
There are also factors of my life that I can’t control such as stress and anxiety; by far the biggest triggers of my eczema. When the temperature outside drops this effects my skin, and if the radiators are too high, I dry out and start to feel like a Riveta. I’ll never have great skin. I have to seriously work at it, but with age, has come a better understanding between me and my membrane. There is no cure, and sadly it seems there are more children than ever before that are prone to this nasty skin condition.
Luckily, touch wood, my daughter seems to have swerved her mother’s skin misfortunes and has the covering of a perfect peach. My son on the other hand, who is nearly six, is very allergic to cats and has recently developed very angry eczema on his left hand that has resulted in his skin breaking at the knuckles. Coincidently, it’s on the forth finger of his left hand – the very finger that is also effected the most by eczema on my hands and prevents me from being able to wear my wedding ring for long periods.
The only saving grace is that my life has been one big experiment and I can use the results of that experiment to help ensure that we keep Ted’s skin under control, should, God forbid, it develop into something more serious. And you know what? However wrong this sounds, from experience, if one of my children is going to have to deal with the effects of eczema, then I would rather in be my son. In the cruel and superficial world that we live in, I believe that as a boy, he is better equipped to face growing up with it, with plenty of love and support from his family.
A few lessons learned from my life-long battle with eczema
- Drink shed loads of water – it keeps you hydrated, which is so important with any skin condition.
- Eat lots of greens – get a NutriBullet and juice – this is the easiest way to get lots of nutrients on board.
- Don’t plaster yourself in loads of creams – this can have the opposite effect – especially on your face. I used to slap expensive eye creams on like they were going out of fashion as my under eyes have always been prone to dry skin. The best thing I did was stop using an eye cream.
- Have an Aloe Vera shot every morning. The difference in my skin since I started knocking back the goo from the green cactus plant is extraordinary.
- Make sure you get a minimum of eight hours sleep a night.
- Don’t be afraid to use steroid creams – I use Boots Hydrocortisone ointment – it’s the only thing that helps when I get a really angry red patch. I try not to use it on my face, but there are times when it’s the only thing that works.
- Stay clear of anything with Lanolin in it – Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream is a big NO for anyone with eczema.
- Don’t eat too many tomatoes. Kiwi fruits always seem to make me itch too.
- Take an antihistamine every other day. If I keep my allergies under control, then I’m keeping my skin under control.
- Do not use feather pillows and duvets.
- Do not let your doctor palm you off with a big bucket of emollient cream. It’s shit. Insist of Aveeno – you can get it on prescription. I do, and I slap it all over my children every night.
- Don’t bath the bambinos every night if you can help it. Water dries their skin out.
- Sudocream is for nappy rash – not for eczema, don’t use it.
- Finally – DON’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT YOUR VASELINE!
Products I couldn’t live without
- Aveeno moisturising cream for everything and everywhere.
- Elemis cleansing milk to remove make-up at night followed by some warm water on a cotton pad.
- Forever facial scrub in the morning.
- Forever Sonya Deep moisturising cream – day and night.
- REN Glycolactic Radiance Renewal Mask.
- Benefit PORE-fessional.
- Benefit Boi-ing concealer for round my eyes. Avoid liquid concealers around the eyes and on other affected areas on your face.
- BareMinerals Bronzer – I use Benefit PORE-fressional and boi-ing concealer to even out my complexion in the areas that need it and then apply a bronzer.I stay away from liquid foundations. Eczema/dry-skin-prone faces need more than an even covering in some areas, and need to be left along in others.
- Elemis pro-collegen hydra-gel eye masks – if your undereyes are looking miserable slap these beauties on for 15 minutes before you go out.
I’d love to hear your recommendations on how best to control eczema and suggested products you just couldn’t live without. Comments below please.