Eczema and me
Throughout my teenage years I always considered myself blessed to have inherited my Dad’s olive skin and rarely had any skin problems other than the odd hormone related spot. However, this all changed when I turned 27, and the next three years marked a complete changearound as I battled with eczema on my eyelids. Eczema is a condition that arises when allergens are absorbed into, and irritate the skin. The skin becomes incredibly itchy, red, sore, and often results in bleeding. I wanted to document my problems here in the hope that it might one day help someone else with the same problem.
How it started…
It all started with a little bit of flaky skin on one eyelid. No big deal, a little bit itchy, but nothing too unsightly. In a short space of time though, this had escalated into flaky skin on both eyelids and the skin below the eye, red skin and red eyes from the inadvertent rubbing, and a constant itching that was impossible to ignore. The eyelid eczema was impossible to cover up with makeup, and I soon stopped wearing makeup altogether as it simply irritated my skin even more. For someone who found it impossible to leave the house without a quick smudge of eyeliner and lipstick this was a big step! It progressed to the point where it was no longer just flaky skin, there were deep cuts in my eyelids and my eyes looked constantly sore and it was having a significant impact on my day to day life – I didn’t want to go out, I was stressed, I couldn’t exercise as any sweat on the skin made it worse; all in all, I was in a bad way.
Visits to the doctor about this problem offered little in the way of a solution. Initially the problem was misdiagnosed as blepharitis, and then I worked my way through various prescription 0.5% hydrocortisone creams (a different one each time I went back and complained that the previous one hadn’t worked). I was worried about the effects this fairly long term use might have on thinning the skin on my eyelids, but continued to use them in the hope that they might resolve the issue, but it quickly became clear that these had no effect.
I spent endless hours trawling internet forums for eczema advice, and spent a small fortune on trying all manner of creams recommended – E45, Aqueous Cream, Elidel, Elizabeth Arden 8 Hour Cream, Vaseline (to name just a small selection) all of which did nothing to improve the skin (particularly E45 and Aqueous Cream which made the problem far worse). I would read forum posts from other people suffering similar problems with eyelid eczema and immediately try anything that they recommended, mostly to no avail. I did find two products which did offer some relief and which I would highly recommend to all eczema sufferers – Liz Earle’s 3-step Cleanse and Polish cleansing system and Aveeno body moisturising lotion (now endorsed by Jennifer Aniston). Both of these were fabulously soothing and did appear to improve the problem initially (and are still products I use on a daily basis now), but neither managed to solve the problem long term. I became convinced that the eczema was some form of allergy and that I needed to identify what the allergy was to move forward.
I decided to keep a diary of products I was using and foods I was eating, in the hope of pinpointing what it might be that was causing these flare ups. I would try to eliminate one product each week and see what affect that had on my skin. If you’re planning on doing this, it’s important to be as specific as possible – include every product you use, including washing powders, washing up liquid, clothes or jewellery you’re wearing, things you’re eating – there are so many things that could potentially be causing the problem that it’s important to list everything and eliminate items one by one.
I was amazed when I read a mention of an ingredient that was a known allergen and which often manifested itself in eyelid eczema. Cocamidopropyl Betaine is a foaming agent used widely in shampoos, shower gels, hand washes, soaps – basically anything that lathers up nicely. It appears to have become widely used as a replacement for Cocamide DEA, after it was discovered a few years back that this could potentially cause cancer in humans. As soon as I read this I instinctively thought that my eyelid eczema was all down to an allergy to Cocamidopropyl Betaine. I studied the ingredients list on any product in my house and stopped using anything that contained Cocamidoproyl Betaine. The improvement in my skin was immediately noticeable and it became clear that this was the underlying issue.
I was thrilled to have finally worked out what was causing my problem and set off on trying to find products without this ingredient in. Easier said than done, as if you start to scan ingredients lists you’ll see Cocamidopropyl Betaine popping up all over the place! The biggest problems were finding shampoos and shower gels – I think I spent just as much time researching shampoo and skincare products as I did researching eczema in the first place. And as a beauty junkie it was difficult to be so limited in the range of products that I could use, but this was a small price to pay to improve the flaky eye situation and over the years I’ve managed to find products which I love.
Products for Eczema Sufferers
The downside of shampoos without a foaming agent in is that (duh!) they don’t tend to foam up as much (if at all) and therefore often don’t seem to leave your hair feeling particularly clean. There are some specialist shampoos out there, and L’occitane do a lemon one that I used for a while, but the best place I’ve found for shampoos not containing nasties is Lush – not all of their shampoos are without it, but their sea salt shampoo Big and coconut shampoo Curly Wurly are both free from it. Big shampoo is my favourite of the two – it contains huge crystals of sea salt, seaweed infusion, and lemon and lime juices thrown in to give it a nice zingy smell. Big does have a little bit of foam to it, and really does leave my hair feeling squeaky clean in a way that no other Cocamidopropyl Betaine free shampoo manages to do. In fact, I’d even rate it as a wonder product compared to ‘normal’ shampoos, my hair feels so clean. It also does wonders for body and volume, as well as smoothing down the frizz. I actually used it long before the eczema flare up and loved it then, so I was absolutely delighted when I ‘re’-discovered it.
Lush also do one (!) shower gel which I can use – the Happy Hippy is crammed with Pink Grapefruit juice, Grapefruit oil, Bergamot and Frankincense essential oils – it smells divine and is perfect for waking me up in the morning after a rough night with the baby.
I think that’s one of the things I love about Lush – they seem to be aware that different people have sensitivities to a variety of different ingredients and use a variety of different ingredients across their range. I’m conscious that both products I love do contain Sodium Laureth Sulfate which I know is a huge irritant for many, but they also produce many SLS free products, so everyone should be able to find something in their range that they can use.
I do still find that in times of stress, or during the cold winter months, my eyelid eczema can flare up again, but it’s nothing like the level that it was (makeup is still wearable, hurrah!). Although my eczema is controllable by using a good skincare routine, keeping well hydrated, and taking note of changes in the weather, I’m now always conscious of the ingredients in the products we use in our daily life, and how just a small ingredient change can have major implications.
If you’re suffering with eczema, you have my deepest sympathies – it’s such a nasty condition that can really affect your day to day life. Do you have any recommendations for sensitive skin sufferers? I’d love to hear your must-have products.