I have been following Abby Lai, a registered holistic nutritionist, and the creator of Prime Physique Nutrition for a few years now. I remember first coming across her blog and being flabbergast that there were others who had this annoying condition to similar severities as myself; it made me feel less alone. She also is the creator of the first eczema podcasts.
Since then, her and Jen, the blogger behind Eczema Holistic Healing, have created the Conquerer Eczema Academy, which is an 8-week program they do that offers a wealth of options to the sufferers of eczema.
For those new to the whole eczema issue, they have lots of information about what causes it, common treatments and ways to manage flares, how diet can impact your skin and flares, coping mechanisms, etc in the form of videos. The program includes a private Facebook group so the participants can find community with one another and get questions answered by Abby and Jen. There are weekly group video sessions where everyone can get online and feel the immediate impact of being part of a group and supported, as well as discuss various topics together.
All in all it’s a useful program. As Abby says, you get out of it what you put into it. She also says that the participants who have had the most success are the ones that attend the weekly video sessions.
I have to admit I’ve missed a few since the baby came (they are at 8:30pm for my time zone) but I think they are fine. I tend to not have the ability to sit still through a video chat, which is a personal problem, so I tend to prefer posting on the Facebook group more.
Overall I think it’s a useful program, especially if you are someone who feels you don’t have support or that no one understands what you are going through. The program has people who are at all stages of either TSW or eczema flares and so it is comforting to be able to talk through things with others, and compare where we are while rooting for one another.
Abby also offers individual coaching, though I didn’t try it so I’ve got no info about it.
If you’re interested, the link to the program is here.
One aspect that sucks about eczema is how detrimental it can be for finding love. A large part of our society, for better or worse, may notice visual aspects of a person such as our skin first, and having rashes and redness that many people perceive to be contagious doesn’t help much when you’re on the market. Also, even if people aren’t noticing our skin, we may think they are and be more self conscious or less confident because of our own insecurities and perceptions.
Though it can see hopeless at times, there are many people out there who do suffer from eczema (or other visible skin conditions) that find love and prove that most people do see more than skin-deep.
The National Eczema Association had a post a while back that featured a few individuals sharing their stories about their experience with having eczema and dating, marriage, and intimacy, and how they manage to live happily ever after. The post also mentioned the character traits that the interviewees found most desirable in their partners: “openness, honesty, and authenticity”.
My own experience with eczema and romance has been fairly tame. I didn’t date until I was about 20, and when I first had the global skin flare my junior year of college I just retreated into my room for the most part and focused on how to deal with school rather than focusing on romance. I think at the time I was stressed enough by school in general that dating wasn’t really on my mind, and if it was I assumed my weird personality would be more of a deterrent than my skin. Though, when I was on oral steroids and antibiotics I remember going out a lot more and being a lot more flirty in general because my skin felt better. I think personally I just shifted wildly between hiding when I was flaring badly, to going out and being extremely social when my skin was under control. My skin was a bit bad after I graduated when I was working as a physical therapy aide back in Maryland, but I think I combatted that era of life by eating better and being freakishly active. I went out dancing a lot, but also ran every day and enjoyed hours in the sun. I also generally have an easier time with the visible skin issues in the warmer months, so even though I still slept poorly, I felt more comfortable in public with my skin because I knew it wasn’t as noticeable to others. When I started dating Jake, I remember the first night I stayed over his place I asked him why he kept his socks on all the time (even when the apartment was heated), and he said he had bad eczema that looked really gross. I told him I had eczema too and that he shouldn’t have to hide his feet and made him take off his socks. When my flares inevitably came back and plagued my entire body I did have moments where I felt really insecure I’d flood him with a whole host of questions. Do you want to be with me if I never heal? If I’m always flaky? If I’m always stressed by my skin? If I never want to go out anywhere? If some days I can’t cuddle with you? I’d ask him: why do want to be with someone who’s face was also dry, swollen and puffy? I am not pretty- I don’t even have skin! He always answered that I was beautiful and that my skin wasn’t want made me beautiful, and that yes, he wanted to be with me even if I never healed, we’d just learn to cuddle with sheets between us, and that he believed I would heal and it would just take a while and there would be good days and bad. Eventually I stopped having the insecurities around my skin and our relationship, and generally I don’t worry about that even if my flares are bad, which I think has helped us get much better at handling them. So in my experience, it just takes finding the right person, and eczema doesn’t impact that.
In regards to the experience of others, Abby Lai (of Prime Physique Nutrition) had a post and video a while back about dating when you have eczema that covered a lot of her own personal experience as well as advice to both the person with eczema as well as the partner.
Funny and incredibly genuine. A very caring and intelligent person. Also, hot.
Could you see that I had a visible skin condition? If so, what were your opinions on it?
No but I became aware of your skin history early on.
Did do you know what eczema was?
Yes, I have it.
Do you understand more about eczema now since we’ve been together?
Yes absolutely. We even do research together now.
Has my eczema ever affected me more than physically?
Yes, it is a stressful disorder that has at various times lead to compulsions, fear, chronic sadness, and stress.
What are your opinions on eczema and mental health?
The former can lead to problems with the latter.
Has my eczema ever come in-between our relationship?
Not exactly, though at times it has made some common/everyday things difficult, like prolonged physical contact, temperature control, going out and socializing, and eating.
How does my skin affect you?
It worries me when you aren’t feeling well. I internalize your stress and just want you to feel better. It hurts me to see you in pain.
Have you ever had a bad experience with my skin? If so, what was that and how did you help resolve it?
Yes. During dry out periods the flaking can be extreme and requires diligent house/car cleaning routines. During really bad flares, we need to almost entirely avoid physical contact. Hoodies and blankets help with that!
When I have a bad flare up eczema how does that affect me from your point of view?
It stresses you out and is deeply frustrating to you. It restricts common activity, and makes you worry about causality, especially dietary causes.
Do you think there is enough help out their for sufferers with a skin condition? If not, how do you think this can be changed?
No, there isn’t. The biggest thing that needs to change right now is overprescription of corticosteroids. Doctors almost universally address symptoms and not causes of this disorder. There needs to be an increase in education on the relationship between lifestyle and systemic inflammation. Such a relationship is known to exist and doctors should address the root causes of inflammation long before risking potentially permanent damage via misuse and overuse of prescriptions.
What would your advice be to others who are in a relationship with someone who has eczema (or any other condition)?
It’s important to keep in mind that this is a manageable condition and to be incredibly observant of any behaviors and habits that correlate to flares.
So there’s a taste of what it can feel like for the person on the other side of the eczema curtain.
I’ll leave you with the immortal ever-applicable words of India Arie, “I am not my hair, I am not my skin, I am the voice that lives within”.
Though eczema isn’t the most glamorous of conditions, there is a growing body of representation of people with eczema in various social mediums, which is amazing because the more people that talk about our lives with eczema, the more information, studies, and community are built around it. As I come across more examples, I’ll update this post with the captionNEW.
One of the most notable now is Peter Moffat’s HBO series, The Night Of, which features the character John Stone, who suffers from aggressive eczema on his feet. Throughout the show we see him try various techniques to manage his eczema including bleach baths, Chinese medicines, airing his feet out, slathering Crisco and wrapping his feet in plastic wrap, UV light, etc.
(NEW) There is also a theater production called ECZEMA! created by Maria Fusco that embodies eczema in a creative way through writing, plays, music (including a musical backtrack of the sounds of Fusco scratching). There’s an interesting article written about it here.
(NEW) Briana Banos, a former performer and aerialist has created a documentary called Preventable: Protecting Our Largest Organ, to educate the medical field all about the horror of life with topical steroid withdrawal, and why topical steroids shouldn’t be so freely prescribed.
There are also a handful of personal storytelling books about people’s own experiences with eczema, with the authors all having very diverse backgrounds. For example:
More and more people are also trying to spearhead showcasing diverse bodies, especially in modeling.
Missguided – though not eczema-specific, a new part of their #KeepOnBeingYou movement has models showing off their bodies regards of having “imperfect” skin with the #inyourownskin campaign.
(NEW) Dove DermaSeries – creating a movement to help women “make peace with dry skin”, Dove specifically selected to have models with all sorts of skin conditions to show better representation of skin conditions and subsequently to help women feel comfortable in their skins
So if you are out there feeling like you suffer from a condition that no one gets, or that isn’t really seen in the media, don’t feel alone! There are lots of us out here each expressing ourselves and living with this condition in our own ways, just waiting for you to find us. And many of us are open to people reaching out as well. 🙂
Today I decided to dig a bit more into the world of eczema for us pregnant folk.
I started by watching a podcast done by Abby Lai (of Prime Physique Nutrition) in which she talked with Dr. Peter Lio (he’s done a few National Eczema Association webinars). Link to Abby’s podcast is here.
The major points were:
It’s not really understood why but about 1/2 of pregnant women have worsened symptoms and 1/2 have bettered symptoms. Dr. Lio likened it to how some women get nausea during pregnancy.
You can have a flare in one pregnancy, but not in the next. Also you can have changes in skin between trimesters.
Dr. Lio mentioned a few itching conditions that can occur during pregnancy such as cholestasis (when liver and gall bladder slow down their bile flow which causes a terrible itch), atopic eruption of pregnancy, PUPPP (or pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy which usually occurs during the 3rd trimester).
He and Abby then talked about treatments used during pregnancy including such as:
how topical steroids are okay but not most potent ones. The goal is to keep body surface area that you apply the topical steroids to relatively low (so not WHOLE body), because topical steroids go in blood if they are used long enough or over large surface areas.
wet wraps, icing, moisturizers (see my post on products I’ve tried here)
anti-itch creams in small amounts (such as camphor and menthol)
natural oils like coconut and sunflower seed oil (if not allergic)
dilute bleach baths (he also mentioned a recent paper shows it’s anti-inflammatory and anti-itch directly, as well as being antibacterial)
topical vitamin B 12 (water soluble) – pink magic
The takeaway advice he gave was don’t be afraid to use medicine so long as you have a doctor helping you.
I was having trouble finding full access studies but I did stumble across a PDF from the National Eczema Association about getting pregnancy, skin tips during pregnancy, and after pregnancy advice. It also talked about the likelihood of the baby getting eczema and things to hopefully prevent it. The same PDF also mentioned that avoiding soap can also help decrease the disruption to the skin barrier (which is not something I’ve heard said often; normally it was just to not use antibacterial soap specifically because the bacteria can adapt over time and we’ll be stuck with pathogens that can’t be killed as easily).
In regards to when the mothers are postpartum, such as how there can be challenges with breastfeeding if the mother develops eczema around the area. In that case, the study said low to moderate potency topical steroids can be used so long as they are washed off before the next breastfeeding.
Updated:The National Eczema Association posted a new article May 2018 called Oh baby! Eczema from pregnancy to menopause that goes into more detail about why women may experience more incidences of eczema during pregnancy. It mentions how a researcher at the University of California-San Francisco (Dr. Jenny Murase) found that when a woman is pregnant, her body shifts from Th1-dominant to Th2-dominant immunity in order to protect the fetus (because Th1 attacks foreign material that get into our cells, aka it would attack the fetus since they have half of the father’s cells). Th2-dominant immunity means the mom’s body attacks allergens and whatnot that are flowing around outside her cells, protecting the fetus, but not helping when it comes to eczema. The blog post said that the shift from Th1 to Th2 is driven by the surge of estrogen. Perhaps that is also why women generally have higher rates of eczema than men? Unfortunately I couldn’t find the study that the NEA article cited so I can’t follow up with more, though I did find an abstract from Dr. Murase et al, that mentioned how psoriasis tends to improve during pregnancy correlating with those higher estrogen levels… so maybe one of the immunity-linked causes of eczema and psoriasis are opposite in origin?
My personal experience with being pregnant while having eczema has been that I have to be more mindful about how I treat my eczema relative to general lifestyle changes too. For example, no longer can I go and drink tons of kombucha (due to varying alcohol content and the light risk of bacteria), enjoy whatever random herbs I feel will help me heal, go jump into a hot yoga class unprepared (because getting dizzy affects another being besides myself), eat whatever fish I want whenever (I am a tuna fan and enjoy sushi when not pregnant), run and jump into a hot springs all willy nilly, etc. I have to be more mindful about sharing my body and not just jumping into whatever new protocol or thing I want to try out to help my skin. I can’t decide to just go on a particularly aggressive dietary change that involves caloric restrictions or drastic nutritional adjustments.
That being said, being pregnant has also had a lot of changes that might be helping my skin. In my first trimester I was very sugar and meat adverse, so I ended up eating a lot more veggies. When I wrote this piece in my third trimester I tended to crave veggies as a way to keep my guts feeling good, and to keep indigestion at bay. I also ate smaller meals more frequently, and didn’t really accidentally binge eat big meals mindlessly, which was great because it meant that my body wasn’t overtaxed in digestion (which meant more time to heal the skin!). Pregnancy had me feeling a bit more tired (and much like with a flare, also avoiding high intensity activities), so I tended to stick to lower impact, longer duration activities like going for walks for miles or remembering to get in 100 modified push-ups a day.
Anyway, I’ll stop there and leave you with a current photo of me when I wrote this post. I was about 31 weeks pregnant now and you can see my arms and hands in particular were especially topically-challenged.