How I deal with Eczema

& my tops tips to manage the condition …..

I have wanted to share a post about my experience with my chronic skin disease for a while. Between full-time work, study, personal relationships there never seems to be the time. Sometimes I’m simply overly frustrated trying to manage a skin disease day to day. So the thought of taking hours to think about it more for the sake of a blog post, well …. You get the idea. I think its important however because it is a huge part of ME. Dealing with some of the conditions that come with a comprised immune system has made me an incredibly patient and tenacious person, that has translated into other areas of my life. The limitations of a skin condition have also made me appreciate and embrace my natural beauty, which is something I struggled with as a teen/20 something year old.

My hand & wrist recently

The reason this blog is so important to share is because I owe it to others. There is power in comradery ! As mentioned on The Irish Skin Foundation website ‘Eczema affects approximately 1 in 5 children and 1 in 12 adults in Ireland‘. Chances are you possibly have Eczema yourself. If not, the chances are you know somebody who does; your child, partner, best friend, work colleague ? I’m celebrating my 31st birthday next month and I can honestly say that I am an EXPERT ! I’m not a Doctor or a Dermatologist but I have almost 31 years of life experience with eczema. Remember you cannot cure Eczema, its a genetic condition. Its about managing it and you can be sure I do my very best every single day. I’ve made all the mistakes in the book, and I really want to share my tips with you today. Especially because I have had a positive spell of late with my Eczema.


What is Eczema ?

Eczema / Photo from NHS Uk

Definition by The Irish Skin Foundation – For more information and support follow the link to their website here https://irishskin.ie

The word eczema (which comes from the Greek word meaning ‘to boil’) and dermatitis (meaning inflammation of the skin) are often used interchangeably to describe several conditions that cause the skin to become dry, itchy, inflamed or irritated.

There are a number of different types of eczema but the term is most often used to refer to atopic eczema (also called atopic dermatitis).

The word atopic refers to hypersensitivity reactions to something in the environment.

Atopic eczema is a very common, non-contagious, chronic (long-term) inflammatory skin condition. If you have atopic eczema, your skin barrier function (which prevents water loss and protects against allergens and irritants) is impaired or weakened. This makes the skin dry out and become more vulnerable to infections by bacteria and viruses.


My life with Eczema

ME VS THE ITCH

Lets start with the negatives; Eczema has been part of my life since I was a baby, through childhood and into my teenage years. Its has also accompanied me throughout my 20s and into my present day. As most people with the condition will know that Eczema has a mind of its own, it comes and it goes. The breakouts can be identified by something I’ve done and then other times there is no reason at all. It usually appears at the most unwanted times; huge life events, parties, exams, your first date etc.

Eczema has a way of making you feel different, especially when you are younger. You can’t wear the same fake tan that all your friends are wearing to the disco. The makeup you purchased for a big night out causes a skin eruption like Mt Vesuvius. Even when you don’t do anything at all, it decides to flare up and you cant see because your eyes have swollen (and you better not cry, because boy will it burn like hell)

Sometimes its dry and flaky, sometimes it weeps and oozes, sometimes its tight and painful, other times its red and aggressive.

A breakout over the last two years. I can suffer really bad around the eyes, which is so painful.

The strangest thing I’ve personally discovered about my Eczema is that it has changed over the years. You can become such an expert and find a routine that just works and then the next thing you know; its different, its changed. The best way I can describe this ‘change’ – The rash appears in a new and different location that it has never been before. The rash texture has changed. The level of sensitivity is different. The product that once worked no longer does. You have to be so patient and adaptable.

The great and positive news about living with Eczema is that your not alone, there is great support out there, you can manage it and there are times when your skin is perfect (which means the world). With the right routine there can be more goods than bad days, after 30 years you can trust me on that.

Here are MY personal top tips for any one with Eczema from my own experience.

The number one piece of advise I could give you above all else; Your Eczema is unique to you. What works for one person may not work for you. Its all about trial and error, finding a routine that works specifically for you. Even the advise here that works for me; may not work for you. Always be sceptical.

Eczema and your home –

  • Use hypoallergenic washing powder/liquid/fabric softener
  • Where possible sleep on cotton sheets and change them very regularly
  • Avoid duck feather pillows and sheets
  • Keep nails short and clean
  • Avoid carpets in your house and opt for floorboard’s that you can keep clean
  • Dust, dirt, cigarette smoke and dander are not your friends = clean and fresh is best.

Words & phrases I’ve come to embrace as my best friends when shopping for products

  • Hypoallergenic
  • For Sensitive Skin
  • Eczema friendly
  • Designed for skin conditions such as …. Eczema etc

Things you HAVE to avoid, trust me –

  • Showering daily – This just causes drying and aggravation. I find every third day works best for me. You obviously don’t have to sacrifice hygiene with this.
  • Any product that has fragrances/perfume as an ingredient (even if it says organic)
  • Scrubs, peels and exfoliation
  • Itchy materials
  • Don’t trust online article’s, newspaper wonder products or blogger’s (unless they are from a credible source, have Chronic Eczema, a Doctor or Dermatologist), I’ve learned the hard way with this.
  • Taking advise from people who don’t have the condition – We get a lot of ‘have you ever tried’ It usually comes from a good place and people simply want to help.
  • Product trends that are just not designed for highly sensitive skin
  • If possible avoid Fake Tan – Especially as a regular occurrence. I gave up tan about four years back and embraced my natural Irish skin, all to support the maintenance of my skin condition. I only wear tan for wedding events when I REALLY must. Ill discuss in products in another separate blog post.
  • Wear makeup very rarely and only when needed
  • Skincare products designed for other skin groups – ie Moisture, Dry, Combination etc. Only ever use sensitive or hypoallergenic. This is VERY important. You may also experience acne or pimples, so you might lean on a combination product but just don’t. Stick with Sensitive product ONLY.
  • Skincare products with Retinol or any other strong acid. Harsh products don’t work for Eczema.
  • I hate food rules and don’t believe anyone should ‘Give up’ food groups but an excess of anything is never good. I find personally staying healthy is fundamental to managing this condition and that applies to my eating habits too.

I personally find that I have to avoid all Toners and even MOST Sensitive Cleansers don’t work for me (The ones that do work for me I’ve mentioned below) Again Eczema Is very personal and this may not apply to you.

Eczema, emotions and your mental health

  • Stay optimistic if possible, every breakout has an end
  • Get support – Local GP, Dermatologist, Irish Skin Foundation
  • Talk about it ! Managing stress and anxiety is so important with Eczema. Sometimes its important to say ‘This is shit’. Talk to your family, friends or maybe find a counsellor you can reach out to when your going through a hard time with your skin.
  • Do nice things for yourself when your struggling, get a new book, hang out with real friends etc.
  • Be willing to role with the punches, literally. Eczema is a rollercoaster, it is crucial to work with the condition and to be adaptable because every day is different.

Random but helpful tips

  • Expensive products don’t mean better for those with chronic skin conditions. If you see something your interested in trying get a sample first before committing. Many brands offer free or very cheap samples, just reach out.
  • Organic doesn’t mean its suitable for sensitive skin
  • Drink loads of water, being dehydrated wont help the battle.
  • Having a poor diet may not help the situation. Again unique for each person but i find excessive bad eating or alcohol exacerbates my skin.
  • Find YOUR triggers, its about self exploration.

My current skincare routine; after MUCH trial and error

The more simple the better !!! I also want to mention that I am a fairly stubborn consumer and really spend a lot of time and care selecting products for me. Not just because i suffer with Eczema but because I believe In ethical products. Cruelty Free is something that is really important for me, and almost 100% of the products i use are absolutely not tested on animals and Leaping Bunny or PETA certified. The odd product will not be tested on animals but however the brand may be owned by a larger company who sell products that do not have ethical practises. I will very specifically identify those products for transparency.

Face

During my journey with eczema I’ve come to learn that most children grow out of Eczema and for those adults who continue to suffer with Eczema, the condition tends to travel up the body towards the face, which is just like mine. I struggle more with my face and neck these days than the past which included the backs of my legs, arms etc (My Dermatologist shared this bit of info with me) Most of my focus lately is directed towards my face and décolletage.

Morning

Most cleansers tend to be very drying. I have spent hundreds if not more on products like cleansers designed specifically for Eczema that just didn’t work. After years of trial and error I always return to the most simple and most recommended cleanser for Eczema prone skin.

Step 1 is Cleanse; I use Ovelle Baby Aqueous Cream – I love to use this as i know it works. It is an Emollient cream that is recommended for washing, both on body and face. Emollients are an ESSENTIAL with Eczema and they are so affordable. I mostly stick with the Ovelle Baby Aqueous Cream when my skin is dry, flared or rashy. Most days however (when my skin is doing somewhat well) I use Sensitive Elave Hydrating Cream Cleanser and like to do a double cleanse with this using luke warm water. I wear very heavy creams in bed and think its important to have this cleaning step to avoid bacteria build up and pimples. I also use a very soft Organic Cotton Cloth when washing my face. Keeping everything very gentle and kind.

Shop both products here


Ovelle Baby Aqueous Cream – The most important thing to know with this specific Aqueous Cream is that it is Sulfate Free, Organic and Cruelty Free (Do not test on Animals) It is both cleansing and moisturising.
This Irish product is available across pharmacy’s nationwide. Shop online here now – https://www.elaveskincare.com/collections/emollient-creams/products/baby-aqueous-cream-250ml

Elave Sensitive Hydrating Cream Cleanser – Enriched with Vitamin B5, Vitamin E & Aloe Vera. Clinically proven to be kind and mild to skin
Dermatologically approved. Suitable for Vegans & PETA approved product (Cruelty free & do not test on animals) This Irish product is available across pharmacy’s nationwide. Shop online here now – https://www.elaveskincare.com/collections/emollient-creams/products/baby-aqueous-cream-250ml


Step 2 is Moisture; I like to keep my day moisture quite light as I find it uncomfortable to have heavy creams constantly throughout the day, even though my skin loves heavy/thick cream. I like to keep the heavy products to night-time. The funny thing is that the average person with normal skin may not find these products ‘light’. I use First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream https://www.lookfantastic.com/first-aid-beauty-ultra-repair-cream-56.7g/11054496.html which I usually purchase from either Look Fantastic or Cloud 10.

€13.95 Ultra Repair Cream by First Aid Beauty. This product is specifically for Sensitive Skin. It is also Vegan friendly and cruelty free. It is also free From Alcohol, Artificial Colorants, Artificial Fragrance, Sulfates and more …
Shop here now – https://www.lookfantastic.com/first-aid-beauty-ultra-repair-cream-56.7g/11054496.html

Step 3 is Sun Protection; I have only recently discovered the importance of sun protection. Something I wish I had of prioritized in my 20s and have only started adding in. Again like most product’s I found it hard to find a good one for Sensitive Skin. This was part of the reason I avoided SPF but its simply fundamental. Here is two Sunscreens that ACTUALLY work really well and I love, I’ve never had irritation or a break out with either.

Jason Facial Sunscreen Broad-spectrum SPF 20 – An ultra sheer, hypoallergenic, oil-free formula absorbs easily to help protect skin from the sun which could result in premature aging. Vegan product, Certified Organic & Cruelty Free. Buy product here https://www.jasonnaturalcare.co.uk/natural-sunscreen

Elave Sensitive Skin daily Defence Broad spectrum SPF45 – Award winning Irish product and featured in Vogue. Cruelty Free & Vegan. For Sensitive Skin and enriched with Vitamins B5, C & E. Available across Ireland and online here https://www.elaveskincare.com/products/daily-skin-defence


Night

My routine really depends on how my skin is that day, again being adaptable. My skin may be more dry, sensitive or have more prominent rashes than usual, I will adapt based on those needs.

Step 1 is Cleanse; The exact same step and products as the morning using either Ovelle Baby Aqueous Cream when skin is very bad and Elave Sensitive Hydrating Cleansing Cream when its less severe.

Step 2 is Heavy Moisture;

Night for me is all about heavy, thick, greasy and moisturising. Whether my skin is bad or good, I like to maintain this routine. Remember Eczema is a condition of management. Just because your skin is well doesn’t mean taking your foot off the accelerator. We want to create a strong skin barrier and consistent moisture is key. Here are my two night products, I use both interchangeably. They are basically the same product, just different brands. I’m including both as your local chemist may only have one version.

Elave Sensitive Intensive Ointment Vegan product, cruelty free and designed to replace skin oils and forms a waterproof barrier to prevent water loss. Very greasy product which my face ADORES. Can be used anywhere on the body also. Buy in lots of chemists across Ireland and online here https://www.elaveskincare.com/products/intensive-ointment?_pos=1&_sid=11e73042e&_ss=r

Ovelle Soft White Paraffin or Paraffin Gel – Exact same description as above product. Purchase across Ireland or online here https://www.elaveskincare.com/products/paraffin-gel?_pos=1&_sid=5848817b4&_ss=r


Body

Baths – Are so important with Eczema and it is something you should do once a week. I know baths are not that environmentally friendly, but they are an essential step in Eczema management. It sounds like a bit of a random concoction of products but they work really well for me personally. This is the only holistic approach I really take with my skin condition but it has been backed with a lot of research which I will include and all have then be tested by me.

Organic Sunflower Seed Oil – 1 Large TBSP of the oil into your luke-warm water bath. People think all oils are good for skin condition’s, dry skin or Eczema. I actually find a lot of oils are quite irritating and Itchy. However there has been some interesting SCIENTIFIC studies to support Organic Sunflower Seed Oil and other plant seed oils in the management of Eczema. They support the skin barrier and the result after a bath when using is absolutely silky and gorgeous. Using this product would be considered a alternative/holistic approach. Here is some evidence to back up my recommendation https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5796020/

Buy the product here https://www.evergreen.ie/meridian-organic-sunflower-oil/

Ovelle Silcock’s Base – Large handful into your bath. This product is probably the most well known of all Eczema products when it comes Eczema. There are so many brands out there and you will find them in EVERY chemist. I like Ovelle because they are Irish and do not test on animals. I use this product every single week and particularly like it in the bath rather than a moisturiser. It can however be used as a body moisturiser daily.

Silcock’s Base is available in every chemist and pharmacy globally. Buy the Ovelle product here – https://www.elaveskincare.com/products/silcocks-base-250ml?_pos=1&_sid=4860d8388&_ss=r


Shower – Every few days is fine but definitely not every day. I find two showers and one bath per week is best for me. Be mindful with Shampoo also, because people forget this product will carry down your back.

I like to use both Ovelle Silicock’s Base and Elave Sensitive Shower Gel. Again both product’s are Cruelty-Free and don’t test on animals. They have been specifically designed for Sensitive Skin. I will usually use the Silcocks Base more when things are bad. Product link for Silcock’s Base is mentioned above in bath section and you can purchase Elave Sensitive Shower Gel here https://www.elaveskincare.com/search?q=shower+Gel


Moisture – Find something that works for you and use it twice daily. Even when your skin looks good. Consistency is king with moisture on your body. I like both of these products below and use them both constantly.

Vaseline Intensive Care Advanced Repair – I actually really like this product as its is fragrance free and quite light, which makes a nice daily body moisturiser. I also mentioned it because its available EVERYWHERE like Tesco, Dunnes and most beauty stores. Its extremely cheap like most products ive included in this blog piece. Here is the only catch Vaseline is owned by Unilever, a company that tests on animals https://www.boots.ie/vaseline-intensive-care-body-lotion-advanced-repair-400ml-10183074

Elave Sensitive Intensive Cream – I love this product and use it daily. It is considered an emollient which is the holy grail of creams for Eczema. It comes in a large pump dispenser which stays sterile longer. Cruelty Free, Vegan and made with a rich formula contains White Soft Paraffin & Fractionated Coconut Oil. Available in lots of Irish chemists https://www.elaveskincare.com/collections/body-care/products/elave-intensive-cream

My current skin following my routine that I’ve described in detail on this blog post

2020 – Recently I’ve been battling against a new experience with Eczema; remember how ive said Eczema changes. Well lately a skin bacteria called Malassezia has been a factor in my flare up (A Yeast Bacteria of the skin). As mentioned above my skin disease is always changing and I’m constantly adapting to these. Over the last few years I’ve found it really hard to get on top of a very severe breakout, none of the ‘usual’ protocol’s were healing the most aggressive and unforgiving breakout I’ve ever experienced. It has been going on since 2015 and I’ve found it emotionally very difficult, and my confidence challenged daily. I decided to seek professional help with The Irish Skin Foundation and then a visit to a local dermatologist based in Tallaght Hospital. Below I will discuss what I am currently taking to manage this but be mindful It is under the supervision of my Dermatologist and specific to my current breakout. I was recently recommended some medication called Sporanox also which is an Itraconazole. This helps to fight the fungal build up on the skin which can cause your Eczema further issues. I’ve also been recommended some management tips, a lot of which I do anyway. Specifics below …

A recent breakout, very painful and oozing

When things are really bad

So this section is specifically for when I am struggling more than usual with very bad redness, tightness, open, raw skin etc. This is not my normal day to day routine and does need to be surprised by your GP or Dermatologist. I would advise to seek medical support when things are out of control. When things are particularly bad my usual routine is left behind and I ONLY use the below products until I’m back to a manageable level.

My last big breakout which became infected. My entire face was severely raw and painful, medical intervention was needed.

Hydrocortisone

What is Hydrocortisone ? Hydrocortisone creams, ointments and lotions contain a type of medicine known as a corticosteroid or ‘steroid’. Corticosteroids are not the same as anabolic steroids.

Hydrocortisone creams are used on the skin to treat swelling, itching and irritation. They can help with skin problems such as:

Most hydrocortisone skin products are mild. You can buy them from pharmacies to use for certain health problems.

There is a stronger hydrocortisone cream called hydrocortisone butyrate. This is only available on prescription.

Sometimes hydrocortisone is mixed with antimicrobials (chemicals which kill germs) to treat skin problems caused by bacterial or fungal infections.

Other types of hydrocortisone

There are other types of hydrocortisone, including tablets, injections and foam.

Personal Tip – I’ve been using Hydrocortisone for 30 years and its handy because its available without a prescription. Be careful because there are side effects from over use, which I have experienced . The major one to consider is severe thinning of the skin or stretch marks. I use on both face and body when conditions have become heightened and only use for up to a week.

Please follow the link here to access more medical information on Hydrocortisone. I have referenced some information here which is mentioned here from The NHS UK – https://www.nhs.uk/medicines/hydrocortisone-skin-cream/

Emollient Therapy

Emollients are an essential part of daily life with Eczema. When things are flared up fairly badly for me I typically ONLY use Emollients for bathing, showering and moisturising (Face & Body) I will also crank things up and do it more regularly. There are loads of different brands and types of emollients, the important thing is finding which works for you ! Here is some extra information about Emollients which a great video https://irishskin.ie/the-importance-of-emollient-treatment-in-eczema/

Potent Topical Steroids

As mentioned above there are topical treatments called Corticosteroids, which come in a variety of types. I am currently takin two different types including Elecon (Body) and Eumovate (Face). There is a huge list depending on your personal needs and severity. These are usually your last bus stop when nothing else works and needs to be taken under strict supervision, I would recommend a Medical Dermatologist over a GP. This comes from my own experience of past GP’s over prescribing the wrong type. My Dermatologist got it one ! Which means using it for a shorter period and less side effects. Obviously meeting with your GP could however be the first step in linking with a Dermatologist, so they are an important pathway.

Medication

Again this is another step in guidance with a medical professional as it is VERY personal. They could range from Antihistamines, Oral Corticosteroid or in my case tablets to maintain Fungal issues on the skin.


Summary

Eczema can be a very difficult condition to live with. As somebody who also suffers chronically with Eczema I want to express my understanding, sympathy and love to you. If you are struggling with the condition or feeling alone and frustrated, I’m with you and others are too.
Remember that there is LOTS of help out there
– Your local GP
– The Irish Skin Foundation
– Medical Dermatologist’s
– Counsellors & Psychologist’s to talk with


From 30 years of Eczema my best advise is to be consistent with your skincare, doing the right things every single day, whether your skin is good or bad. Stick with simple products that ACTUALLY work for Eczema. It may not be as exciting or luxurious as the experience of those with normal glowing skin but you will benefit. Don’t take advise from bad sources and remember that your skin is unique to you. Also use steroids SPARINGLY as you will see more wrinkles than you like at a later date (sometimes this cant be avoided in the management of Eczema) and the more you work on creating a good skin routine that protects your skin barrier the less reliant you will be on them.
Here’s me enjoying Covid-19 Lockdown with clear skin – April 2020 .. Its taken a lot of work, time and patience to get here.

You will all be glad to know that I’m currently having more good skin days lately. Its been a very long time since I’ve had this good of a run with clear skin and I’m enjoying every day to the max. If you would like more Eczema related content message me on Instagram or Twitter @Itskellydonegan

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There is no advertising within this article all products are used by me and have been selected to support those with Eczema. Several reference websites have been used including HSE, NHS & The Irish Skin Foundation. I want to thank The Irish Skin Foundation specifically, when I needed help they were there. 

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