I’m so proud of one of my readers, Sophia. She’s been on a long journey and has seen several practitioners before she discovered something that worked for her skin.
Finding the cause of your eczema can be very difficult and discouraging sometimes, but I just want to encourage you that you can eventually find a way to heal.
I hope that Sophia’s story will serve as a source of encouragement for you today.
Sophia’s eczema healing story
“I never knew it was possible to not be itchy—I always figured it was a habit that would take a whole lot of willpower to kick, especially since I had occasional flare-ups of true itchiness. Now, with each new day I realize with amazement that even when I think about itching, I don’t feel the urge to itch. To top it off, I’m not dependent on my moisturizers and I’m not embarrassed to go out in public without makeup or a scarf to distract from visible rash. I wanted to tell you my happy ending up front. ????
My journey of battling eczema began when I was very little, and some phases of my life were worse than others. My high school years were the worst that my skin has ever been, and though it calmed down by the time I got to college, I lived with fear that I might face that debilitating struggle again, especially when I had occasional outbreaks. Ten years later, it returned.
I knew it was more than just an outbreak because I started dreading going to bed knowing that I had an 80% chance of waking up with swollen eyelids, I started seeing strange patches of red bumps in new and weird places all over my body, I felt uncontrollably itchy way more often than I typically did, it seemed to snow white flakes of skin every time I changed my clothes, showers became painful, and I wanted to do nothing other than sit at home away from anyone who could see me on the heat vent where the hot air distracted my desire to scratch.
There was no way that I would let myself live with the misery of ten years prior that I still remembered all too well…the days when I avoided direct sunlight because the weepy parts of my face would shine. So, I went to the doctor and I started searching the internet for ideas.
My doctor agreed that my skin was “angry” and she promptly referred me to the dermatologist. She explained that I could get medicated cream that would heal the rash. I’d done this before though and I knew it was a temporary fix (with many potential long-term side effects).
Would the dermatologist also be able to help me figure out what’s causing this sudden outbreak? She admitted that this is one of the limitations of Western medicine, and noted that my insurance doesn’t cover naturopathic care—though that may be the route I’d like to take. She even gave me some resources of the cheapest naturopath care in my region. I have so much respect for this doctor because of this gesture and she remains my Primary Care Provider today. I set up an appointment with a naturopath who specialized in eczema.
The naturopathic doctor (ND) I saw suggested borage oil supplements, showering less frequently, and using Cerave cream. She said not to worry about my diet for the time being because I seemed to eat pretty healthy already (oatmeal every morning, peppers and boiled eggs with rice crackers and an apple for lunch every day, and whole wheat pasta with spinach for most dinners occasionally served with meat).
I purchased the cream and the borage oil on my way home from that appointment, knowing that there was no way I’d shower less than daily because I have to wear my curly hair down so that it hides the rash on my face and neck. Hair as curly as mine is difficult to look good down unless it’s fresh.
Plus, I knew from experience that not showering makes me even itchier anyway. Before taking the borage oil supplement, I looked into any potential downsides and became fearful. The bottle I purchased did not say “PA Free” and I’d purchased one of the most expensive ones at Whole Foods. I’d specifically asked if there was anything I should look for when selecting the best one and the ND had said no! The Cervae cream felt okay on my skin….but when I read about some of the potential side effects of some of the ingredients after trying it, I ended up throwing out the rest. I didn’t return to this ND.
The vegan diet
My next plan was a vegan diet. I stuck to it diligently for three weeks. My rash never got better—in fact some days it got worse, like right after eating homemade vegan flatbread. When my hair started falling out, I decided to bring back my animal products.
Trying acupuncture for the first time was eye opening. The inside of my arms almost always responded immediately to the healing sessions. The redness would fade and they wouldn’t feel as itchy. My neck was stubborn though, and I went enough times that my acupuncturist eventually suggested that I see a naturopath that she worked closely with. So I set up an appointment with ND #2.
Researching for healing
In the meantime, I continued to search the internet for ideas and possible solutions. I found videos, articles, books, and podcasts by Prime Physique Nutrition, PurelyTwins, Healthful Pursuit, The PaleoMom, Dr. Terry Wahls, and an ever-increasing list of inspirational and knowledgeable people.
One morning in September when I woke up with extreme redness on my face, uneven swollen eyes, and lesions in my cheeks, I decided at that moment to adopt an autoimmune diet that incorporated much of what I’d learned from these resources. I had to go to work that morning, and I didn’t want to ever have to go to work feeling so embarrassed and uncomfortable again.
ND #2 impressed me from the start. She helped me get basic bloodwork done so that I had a starting point to work with. She also approved of the diet I was trying, advising that I cut out a few additional potentially inflammatory foods to start off with. She also suggested that I treat it as an elimination diet, which meant that after I healed, I would reintroduce each food on its own slowly so that I could learn for myself exactly which foods I was sensitive to in a much more accurate way than any allergy test.
Cutting out foods
I cut out gluten, dairy, grains including oats and corn, seeds, nightshade vegetables including spices like paprika, eggs, seafood, strawberries, chocolate, coffee, citrus, alcohol, food preservatives, and food coloring. I was already allergic to nuts, legumes, and soy all along, but those would have otherwise been “cut” too.
When I read the possibility of sugar including fructose causing issues, I began limiting my fruit and starchy vegetables too. I ended up eating some (high quality) meat, some (organic) vegetables, and select fats.
Since technology had developed quite a bit over the past decade, I felt comfort in the fact that this time around I had the benefit of seeing and interacting with other people who were dealing with the same issues.
Little by little, I developed strategies, snacks, safe restaurant suggestions, and short phrases that I leaned on to deal with my strange way of eating while around other people who didn’t need to hear my whole story.
I didn’t tell them that I lost my physical energy and could barely make it through one Zumba class (when I used to do 3-4 in a row), my hair started falling out again, or that I spent a significant amount of time planning how I would explain to people what I was or wasn’t eating without making a huge deal about it.
My stretchy workout pants became baggy. My massage therapist told me that I felt like my muscles were being eaten. Nausea came in waves every few days during this time even though I’ve never been one to even have motion sickness.
One night I couldn’t fall asleep until I actually did throw up. All I wanted was oatmeal in that moment, but my diet didn’t allow it. In hindsight, I’ve learned that there are ways that I probably could have avoided some of those symptoms…but what made it worth dealing with all of these crazy issues on top of having an identity crisis as an ex-foodie?
The eczema healing process
My skin was finally beginning to heal and without even thinking about it, I’d stopped scratching.
The first food that I added back in was rice at a special work lunch event about three months after starting the diet. I remember that while my co-workers were complaining of their food comas that afternoon, I was feeling the best I’d felt in months.
I distinctly remember riding the bus home from work that day, scrolling through Instagram pictures of food like always, and feeling the difference in my brain—I enjoyed looking at the pictures of what I couldn’t yet eat, but the deep and obsessive longing that I’d felt for that food just that morning on the way to work was gone. I felt calm, alert, and satisfied. My body needed that rice.
Each food got its own 4 days of reintroduction, where I would eat it multiple times per day without changing anything else before trying another food. If I had a reaction, I wasn’t allowed to try another food until my skin got better again. I learned that rice is okay for me. Shrimp is not. Other starches and even oatmeal cause some itching after 3 days of eating them in a row.
I also learned that there are sometimes other factors that could be contributing to a reaction despite my strict adherence to the guidelines (ie: paint fumes in my work building, accidentally overeating because that rice pasta tasted so good and I was missing out on traditional Christmas cookies, etc.), so there were a lot of reasons to slow down the reintroductions until I was very sure.
Blood tests revealed a slight thyroid issue, a liver problem, slightly low vitamin D, and an otherwise healthy body. I started taking a probiotic, fish oil, extra vitamin D, and a thyroid supplement. I went off birth control. My liver levels settled as I brought back in more foods. I started gaining muscle and energy back too.
I reintroduced dairy and gluten last because they tend to be the worst offenders for people in general. Dairy seemed fine, and gluten made me itchy after 3 days like the other starches did. Fine enough. I’d made it through my elimination diet! It took 6 months and it turned out that big bad gluten merely made me a little itchy! So I added some sauerkraut to my dinner because I read that its probiotic properties were amazing and I figured it would help kick the residual itch.
Within 30 minutes of eating the sauerkraut though, my right eyelid grew a bubble. By the next morning, my entire face and both eyes were swollen. Two days later, a rash had formed from my cheeks to my chest. Three days later, my neck had turned purple and I was incredibly itchy. Just like rice is not kind to other people’s bodies, I learned that sauerkraut is not kind to mine. My food journal and some additional research revealed that this is likely also why I am sensitive to vinegar and pepperoncini’s.
I’m still figuring out whether it’s a yeast intolerance, a histamine intolerance, or something else, but like several of Abby’s posts have indicated, I’ve got to be thankful that my body is able to speak to me with such clarity. I’m also thankful that I’m so much more informed, so much more in control, and so much more myself since embarking on this irreplaceable journey.
I strongly believe that taking the time to teach ourselves how to nourish our unique bodies is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves. It is possible to heal!”
Thanks for reading! Did Sophia’s story encourage you and can you relate to how difficult the journey to healing eczema can be? If so, comment below!
- Healing Eczema: Why Dieting Is Not Enough
- The Power of Thoughts: How Mindset Shifts Can Help Eliminate Eczema
- My Detailed Eczema Healing Treatment Plan
Abby is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist who helps clients achieve optimal health. She is passionate about seeing people use health and nutrition to transform lives. She hopes that her experiences and knowledge can help educate others on natural remedies that will help eczema. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, orYouTube for more updates!
Disclaimer: All the information found on this website should be used for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace proper medical advice. Always consult a qualified health care provider before embarking on a health or supplement plan.