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The Eczema Files: Diary of a recovering reptile

April 8th 2015 / Ali Hunter / 4 comments

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Eczema and acne at the same time? It happened to Ali Hunter...

It all started during those heady teenage years when acne was the skin disorder du jour. So I trotted off to the dermatologist and gulped down an eight-month course of Isotretinoin. The NHS guidelines state: “Isotretinoin may make the skin all over your body more fragile or sensitive. Your skin may be more easily damaged during treatment with Isotretinoin and for some time after treatment has stopped.” And so it was: as my acne was tamed my skin made the transition from volcanic craters to sandpaper…

A few weeks in, I began to notice patches of dry skin developing around my eyes and mouth. I was assured that dry skin was a standard side effect of the strong acne treatment, so I soldiered on and grew a thick (albeit slightly flaky) skin. I got through several dozen pots of Carmex and slapped on the extra rich Neutrogena like there was no tomorrow. However, even post-acne-purge my skin continued to perfect its imitation of a discarded snakeskin and six years on the eczema is still going strong.

The perils of being a lizard

Here are a few eczemples (sorry) of my daily dermatological disasters:

Makeup flare-ups: I haven’t worn eye makeup for 3 years. No sooty smudge of liner, no silky sweep of shadow, not even a flick of mascara, has been near my perforated peepers for far too long. This is because my dry skin makes any eye makeup look more grated that glittered. I won’t go into the gritty details (at least not this time), but suffice to say I go for the lips every time. Last week a friend of mine complimented me on my rosy eyeshadow, perhaps prompted by Mary Greenwell’s one product makeover video (see Step 1). Unlike Mary, I don’t even need one product for this season’s pink paupières: it’s just my raw flesh.

No, that’s not a lovebite: One of my first and most persistent patches of eczema is a circle on my neck that looks unfortunately like a hickey. My sister first saw it when she visited me at university and I had a challenge convincing her it was a skin disorder rather than a badge from my extra-curricular activities.

Feel the burn: exercise hurts. I know that a workout is supposed to push you to your physical limits, “no pain, no gain” and all that. However, when that pain consists of your skin stinging as if sweat were battery acid, you don’t have much chance of holding your plank long enough to tone those abs. Yes, I am blaming my lack of model physique on my eczema.

Caution – irritant: I work in the crusty underbelly of the theatre, where dust, WD40 and mystery solvents make up 90% of the atmosphere. A leathery-skinned elephant would find it hard not to get a little itchy when wading through such high concentrations of gloss paint and wood shavings, so my scaly epidermis has no hope. And after a hard day’s work, I want to come home, have a relaxing bath and slather on a luxurious moisturiser. In reality, it seems that the contents of my bathroom are as hazardous as all those bottles with the adorable little skull and cross-bones symbol. I guess lukewarm water and a tub of greasy emollient will have to do.

The itchy and scratchy show: At university we kept a spray bottle for a friend who had bad eczema to deter her from scratching. Harsh, but surprisingly effective. I am yet to earn my own spray bottle but my friends will automatically swat my hand away and tut disapprovingly if I give in to an eczema flare up. At its worst my eczema keeps me up at night and makes me generally very irritable. It’s a bit like being in a sandstorm: flailing around trying to get rid of countless dull grainy particles.

So there you go, welcome to my life as a lizard. Stay tuned for part two when I embark on fixing it...

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  • Beth G
  • April 9th 2015

Thanks for writing this Ali, I've suffered with moderate-severe eczema since I was a child and it's nice to know I'm not alone as everyone seems to think it's something you can or should grow out of as an adult!! Have you tried Dermatique? It's the only thing (steroid free) that reduces my eczema now I use it on my face as a primer to go under makeup and it makes sure I stay hydrated all day and non-flakey! It's only online but it's worth ordering Dermatique.co.uk

  • Annie Geraghty
  • April 9th 2015

Brilliant article....written as only someone can, who has suffered from either/both problems-best I've come across.
I can definitely empathise re the itchy and scratchy and the 'red eye' syndrome too!
I do a bright red lip to try and detract from the eyes-can't wait to read what solutions Ali has found useful......

  • katie field
  • April 9th 2015

Great to see a feature on this, like Fiona I'm looking forward to reading about the treatments you try. I always despair come spring when I have to ditch the gloves and reveal my crocodile claws to the world! I'm a big advocate of the Eau Thermale Avène products, in particular the Xera Calm Lipid-Replenishing Balm has been a saviour.

  • Fiona Knight
  • April 9th 2015

I look forward to hearing about the fixing! I've been trying and failing to perfect the scaly-but-stylish look for years (psoriasis has been keeping me looking less than polished. Quite literally!)
Good luck with it - desperate to hear of any non-irritating beauty products/make up. I'm currently trialling the Kiehl's Skin Rescuer and Centella Recovery Skin-Salve alongside the Chantecaille Magnolia, Jasmine and Lily Healing Emulsion. Kiehl's definitely winning....

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