Over the past several months, I have been fighting an increasingly severe case of eczema. I have had eczema in varying degrees on and off for my whole life, but this most recent case started about eight months ago as a small bit on one finger and eventually spread all over my entire hands, around each finger, covering my palms, and even my wrists and the backs of my hands. At first I wasn’t even sure it was eczema because it was unlike anything I had ever had before, but it turns out eczema is just general term for any type of skin condition that becomes inflamed, red, dry and/and itchy. What I later found out I had is called hand eczema, or hand dermatitis and it was a very severe case. By the way, I also have eczema breakouts on my arms, legs, and feet, but not nearly as severe. My hope is in that by sharing this story, maybe I will be able to help other people going through something similar!
The skin on my hands was perpetually red and inflamed, and would form small blisters, itch like mad, flake, and sometimes crack and bleed. It was painful to wash them (or do anything, really) and lotions and moisturizers seemed to do nothing to help. Of course I still used and tried every kind of moisturizer out there. (One of the most annoying questions I get asked when I talk to people about this is, “are you moisturizing?” Like, duh, I hadn’t thought of that!) I plowed through bottles of lotion, expensive creams “designed” for eczema and sensitive skin, over the counter steroid creams, and natural remedies. Nothing could touch it.
It may sound dramatic to say, but this eczema was really becoming debilitating. Think about how many things you use your hands for every day. Pretty much everything. I had to stop bathing my kids every night, something I used to enjoy (don’t worry, my husband took over) because prolonged time with my hands in water only made them worse. He also took over the majority of the dish-doing, bless him, and for the times I had to do it myself, I bought special cotton lined non-rubber gloves for myself. In fact, I bought different types of gloves for basically every household function. Cotton gloves to wear at night with moisturizer and for folding laundry. Thinner non-latex disposable gloves so I could chop fruits and vegetables or just prepare food for my kids in the kitchen. Or I would just get my overly-dry but yet perpetually greasy hands all over whatever I was doing- my steering wheel, my computer, my touch screen phone.
I turned to the dermatologist. I was prescribed a stronger-than-over-the-counter steroid cream and sent on my way. Let me just pause here and explain my problems with steroid creams:
1. They are not intended for long term use as they thin your skin. Even the doctors will warn you of this. So for example, this first one I was perscribed worked well for the two week period I was supposed to be using it for, but as soon as I stopped, the eczema came back worse than ever. But I wasn’t supposed to use it for another solid two weeks, so how could I ever really heal?
2. It’s a steroid. That means you are not supposed to touch your children, prepare food, or eat food for several hours you put it on. Um, how am I supposed to take care of my kids (let alone do anything else) when I need to have this stuff on my hands?!
3. It’s a STEROID! Even when applied to your skin, some amount gets into your bloodstream. And what are the long term repercussions of that? I don’t know, but can’t be good.
4. Even if the steroid cream works, what the heck is causing this reaction on my skin? Unfortunately, eczema is not a well understood condition and there is no one known cause nor is there one known cure. But I for sure believe that our bodies are interconnected and that it had to be something I was putting into my body that was causing it to have this violent external reaction.
Over the years, I have done a few different food cleanses which eliminate common allergens to give the body and immune system a “break.” At various points during this eczema struggle, I tried eliminating some of the most common (dairy, eggs, soy, and gluten) individually and in combination. Again, nothing was helping.
I also generally try to keep products in my house and my beauty routine which are relatively green, free of artificial fragrance, and hypoallergenic. I thought I was doing a pretty good job at it too, but this article I read a while back was both eye-opening and overwhelming at the same time. I still go back and reference it constantly for the wealth of information about what’s in some of the most common products we use every day.
As I was getting no where with trying to change my diet or household products on my own, I finally decided to turn to an allergist. I learned through my increased amount of research that there is a trifecta in medicine in which eczema, allergies, and asthma are all interrelated. In that, if you have one, you most likely have at least one of the the others. Also, it is thought that eczema is often caused by allergies (in other words, eczema can be an allergic reaction itself).
I thought (and found the most information about) food allergies and eczema, but it turns out the link between these two specific things is not well proven in scientific studies (it is more anecdotal). This may be partially because food allergies are difficult to get accurate testing done for. According to my allergist, there is a high rate of false positives in food allergy testing (not so for other types of allergy testing). Additionally, you can be sensitive to a food without having a true allergy. And a “sensitivity” can still cause a severe reaction, even if it doesn’t show up on an allergy test. This is why there is so much information out there about cleanses, food challenges and the like.
So while my dermatologist offered to run a blood panel for food allergies (which came up with only two minimal allergies that did not make a whole lot of sense), my allergist suggested we do a skin prick test for both food and environmental allergens, as well as a skin patch test for chemical allergens.
The results were enlightening. First food. Here I was, a vegan-ish pescatarian, trying to avoid dairy and consequently substituting it with products like almond and coconut milk and getting a good amount of protein source from various nuts and seeds. It turns out I had no reaction to dairy, soy, eggs, or gluten at all but instead was allergic to several tree nuts, peanuts, coconuts, oats, and sesame seeds! The very things I had been eating to avoid things I was not allergic to were making me worse! Oh and I also have a severe shellfish allergy, which I have known for years so I already avoid.
Secondly, environmental. Well, let’s just say my doctor came in with those results and said, “you probably don’t want to hear this from your doctor, but, Wow.” There were very few things I was not allergic too and all those I was allergic to were at a very high level. All types of grass, trees, and weed pollens, molds, dust, and pet danders. She told me if I were not pregnant right now, she would immediately put me on allergy shots.
And finally and perhaps most helpful, the skin patch test. Only three things came up on this test and those were gold (major bummer), and two common preservatives: bronopol (which I learned is actually a type of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen) and methylchloroisothiazolinone aka methylisothiazolinone. Yeah, don’t ask me how to pronounce that last one but I found it some of these products, most of which I was pretty loyal to and I thought were super safe. Basically all over my house!
Now, I don’t want to say that these products are “bad.” Only that they all contain methylchloroisothiazolinone or methylisothiazolinone, which is a synthetic preservative that I personally happen to be highly allergic to. Once I got those products out of my house, the inflamation in my hands immediately went down and I finally felt like I could start healing my thick, damaged skin.
So how do essential oils tie into all of this? I recently got into using essential oils through a friend who has been using Young Living for years. I had been wanting to try it for a while anyway but being at my wit’s end with my eczema, I decided now was as good a time as any to take the plunge. So I ordered my starter kit and started doing some research on eczema therapies with essential oils. I am currently playing around with some of the following ingredients and making my own homemade eczema cream. It is the only thing that really seems to help, and I know exactly what is in it so it therefore contains nothing I am allergic to! Updated: I finally made a version with a good consistency that I love! A word of warning: this stuff IS greasy. However, to properly moisturize overly dry skin, you need an oil based product (not water based like most lotions). This is because once the water in a lotion evaporates, your skin can end up with a net drying effect – making the problem worse! So, apply accordingly, when you don’t have much else to do and avoid contact with clothing.
In a double boiler, combine:
After these solid ingredients are mostly melted, add:
Once all carrier ingredients are completely melted and combinded, remove from heat and add 10 or more drops each (depending on how strong you want it) of the following essential oils:
- lavendar (contact me)
- melaleuca alternifolia (contact me)
- frankinscense (contact me)
Allow to cool slightly, then pour into a glass lidded jar for storage and to finish cooling completely.
For me, it has been a combination of factors that have helped my eczema get better (but not yet completely heal). Avoiding my now known allergens is a big one, but also the above natural remedy and I do sometimes still have to use perscription steroid creams. Bottom line is, if you are suffering as much as I was, and you prefer not to always use steroids from the dermatologist, go see an allergist! Maybe, like me, your allergies are not so common. Or maybe you have an obscene amount of them that combined are overwhelming your system. Information is power. Yes, steroid creams can be helpful and effective, but they are only a bandaid on the problem. You have to get to the root of the problem to be able to give your body a chance to heal naturally.
If you are interested in getting more into essential oils and experimenting with their numerous benefits and healing properties, I highly recommend ordering the Young Living Premium Starter Kit (which includes 10 different essential oils and essential oil blends, as well as a home diffuser, samples, and loads of information about how to use them all). You can do so by using my personal link here to sign up to be wholesale member. You must have a referral from a current member to sign up and to get the wholesale price of $150 for this kit. Additionally, you will get wholesale pricing on all future oil purchases! So in other words, use that link! I also strongly encourage you to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org as it is likely you will have some questions when you are filling out the online form. And I can give you some more resources for how to use the oils and ways connect with other essential oil users. So don’t be shy!
Alternatively, if you would like to try one or two oils that you have heard might help for whatever ails you at the moment, please also contact me through above email address so I can help you figure out and get what you need!