How I got rid of my chronic eczema
I have had eczema on my hands for about 26 years. Right after birth up until I managed to heal it myself. How? By making the right nutrition and lifestyle choices for my body. It’s not a magic cure and no quick fix solution - but it’s worked for me and I’d like to share what I’ve learned with you. So read on if you or somebody you know suffers from this terrible skin problem, too!
What is eczema?
It’s a nasty inflammatory skin condition that’s also often called dermatitis. It’s sadly pretty common- about 1 in 5 children and 1 in 12 adults are affected in the UK. It’s a chronic condition and often develops in the first few weeks or months of life but then often disappears as children grow older. Sadly, it never went on its own in my case and it would still be here if it wasn't for the dietary and lifestyle changes that I have made.
The main characteristics of eczema are red blotchy rashes with itchy, dry and inflamed skin. The itching can be very intense and one cannot help but to scratch. And the scratching can lead to your skin splitting and bleeding. And the wound healing can then hurt, too. Ouch!
It can keep you awake at night, make you feel very hot and irritable, and it looks unsightly so can really affect your self confidence. If you’ve got it on your hands then it’s also pretty limiting day to day in other ways: you think twice about putting your hands into anything that’s wet, and you can’t use all sorts of cleaning products or soaps, creams etc.
Growing up, I often put on steroid creams when my skin was particulary bad. They did provide almost overnight improvements, but as soon as I’ve stopped, the itching returned immediately. Topical steroids (the ones you put on your skin) come with side effects including thinning of the skin, bruising, stretch marks and discolouration to name a few. Doctors always warned me not to use too much of it and particularly not to use it for too long. It’s powerful stuff in that it suppresses the itching, but in the end it’s a cream meaning it doesn’t deal with the deeper issues underlying the eczema.
So I got into my twenties and still had eczema... doctors at the time told me I might always have it and wow, I felt so frustrated! Why couldn’t I just have normal skin like others?
Luckily, everything changed when I spotted a book about nutritional therapy in my husband’s bookshelf. What a light-bulb moment that was! There was somebody suggesting that my skin problems may actually exist for a reason, and more importantly that I might be able to do something about it! This seems so simple now, but back then I never really thought about WHY I had eczema. It was just simply a condition that I had - and felt very unlucky about. I never really questioned it. I never thought it was down to something that I was eating and to how I was living.
So there we go, I suddenly awoke to the realization that having eczema wasn’t some fault of my body. Rather, my body was actually trying to heal my skin itself on a daily basis but my diet and lifestyle weren’t supporting it to do so. This concept of the body trying to heal itself is one of the main thoughts of naturopathy. It can somewhat clash with Western medicine beliefs but when you’ve experienced it for yourself you won’t question it anymore.
So, what did I do to heal my eczema?
As you’ll see there’s quite a lot that I do to keep eczema at arms length. The most crucial one for me is down to what I eat but our health depends on balance of various factors, namely diet, movement, relaxation and sleep. For chronic health conditions there’s often a need for healing remedies, such as supplements or herbal remedies, too.
Please note though that eczema can have different causes in different people, and that my healing steps might not work 100% for you. You'd need to take into account what other symptoms/conditions you are dealing with and what medications you might be taking before making big changes.
Anyway, here's what I did and still do:
- A main focus of my diet is to avoid blood sugar spikes that would follow from eating too much sugar. Eating the right carbs and balancing them with protein and fats at all meals and ideally snacks, too, is very important for good health. If you haven't read my recent blog post on sugar and its effect on our bodies then make sure you do. Truly important to know about!
- I eat a wide range of vegetables and make sure that about half of my plate at meal times is covered by colourful vegetables. Lots and lots of greens. It doesn’t have to be fancy- a simple salad with a nice homemade dressing does not take long to prepare.
- I eat oily fish for the healthy omega 3 fatty acids and try to do so two to three times a week.
- I stay away from processed foods as much as possible. There is little nutrition in those- instead they are empty calories that simply fill you up and then prevent you from eating other, healthier foods.
- I removed dairy and gluten from my diet for a month and then reintroduced it to see if there were any reactions. And there certainly were! In fact, not eating dairy and gluten are fundamental to healthy skin for me. If I eat it, my skin itches the following day. Occasionally I can eat a little dairy or gluten and be fine - it depends on other factors, but I mostly avoid it 100%.
- I have always been allergic to latex and realised after many, many years that there are certain foods that cross react with the proteins in latex. That was quite a revelation and helped explain why I react to random foods! So some of those cross reactive foods I cannot eat without experiencing itching the next day, such as avocados and bananas.
- I looked at my gut health and even though I don’t experience any direct symptoms, I started taking supplements to help with the breakdown of my foods. A lot of reactions to food can be down to insufficient breakdown of these, so making sure that my digestion is efficient was/is one important factor in my healing journey.
- I also started taking a probiotic supplement to help provide my gut with beneficial bacteria. These friendly bacteria are an extremely important part of our health (so important that I’ll be writing a blog post on them soon!).
- And then there’s homemade bone broth. I don’t believe in “super foods” except perhaps for this one. It is extremely healthy (and delicious) and helps to heal the lining in your gut which can be a very important factor to look at if you’re reacting to lots of foods in your diet.
- I try to move throughout the day. Humans weren’t designed to live sedentary lives which is exactly what I did in my late teens/early twenties and it felt pretty strange at first to put on the lycra and go running, but it soon became a habit. If I go for a run two to three times a week it really pays off in healthier skin.
Regular exercise reduces inflammation (unless, of course, you’re injured) and gets your lymphatic system moving. This system is vital for removing toxins from your body, and unlike the circulatory system with its heart as the pump the lymphatic system does not have a pump to move lymph around your body- it depends on you moving your body! If I don’t exercise regularly I get cranky and my skin gets worse again. The key is to make it a habit.
- I try to sleep around 8 hours at night. Luckily, sleep has never been an issue for me and my three year old sleeps pretty well herself now- phew! Sleep is paramount to good health.
- When I get stressed I use various techniques to help me stay grounded and calm, such as cognitive behavioural techniques, mindfulness/awareness and positive psychology. Or I go for a run, have a bath, go outside, talk to a friend etc.
Stress is a huge topic in itself and could easily fill plenty of blog posts. The biggest lessons I’ve learned around stress management probably came indirectly from silent meditation retreats I’ve attended in the past. So much of our perceived stress is actually just in our heads- either ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. Thoughts just come and go, so I try not to take them too seriously. And sometimes I find that it's best to carry whatever it is that I'm feeling with me and to do whatever I need to do anyway- even if I don't feel like it (of course that's a lot harder than it sounds!).
- I play. I make sure to have lots of fun during the week and try not to let work reign in my life. The worst my skin has ever been was in my early twenties when I was under significants amount of stress. The eczema started spreading from my hands onto my arms, legs and worst of all my face started showing signs of it, too. All because of stress! Back then I also got sharp hip pains that were at times really debilitating and I generally felt really low and very tired. I was getting pretty desperate about the state of my health, and that's when I started to change my diet, my mental outlook and slowly my exercise routine, too. Hitting rock bottom is a huge motivator for a lot of people as it was for me. It’s obviously best if you don’t let it get that far...
Supplements and other products
- I take supplements to help lower inflammation in the body. Natural but powerful!
- I am pretty picky about what I put on my skin. The most important thing for me really is to stay away from harsh chemicals and to go for natural products with ideally as few ingredients as possible. Even better if you can understand the ingredient list! Finding out which products work for you and which ones just make your skin problems worse is a bit of a trial and error process. Do get in touch if you'd like to find out which soaps/shampoos/creams and cleaning products I'm using.
So there we go- my skin depends on the health of my entire body. Move away from a sole focus on your skin and instead look at what your entire body requires to heal and to flourish.
When I now look at my skin and there's no sign of eczema I still sometimes cannot quite believe it. It delights me but also makes me feel very powerful as the result of eczema-free skin is down to MY day to day choices. Healing chronic conditions is very much a journey and unique to every individual. It's not always easy and requires great discipline and perseverance at times- but it does get a lot easier with the right support behind you, new routines and habits, and most importantly, when you get to see your health improving.
I don't want to claim that all conditions can be fully overcome. Sometimes it's about managing your condition better than before. But as for eczema there definitely is hope. I cannot go back to how I ate and lived before, but I can make all these day to day choices that keep the eczema away. Amazing! And with all these healthy choices I don't just support my skin but the health of my entire body, and with that it very much feels that an investment in my future health.
There is no greater wealth than health.
Are you struggling with eczema?
I know how incredibly frustrating it is to suffer from this condition. You don't know what's causing it and there's little that you feel can be done to improve it.
As a trained nutritional therapist I can help you on your journey towards better skin. Together we will find out what might be underlying your skin problem, and we'll come up with a plan to help heal your body. And then I'll help you to stick to the plan!
You've got the power to provide your body with what it needs to heal itself!