How I Healed And Cured My Eczema + Rebalanced My Skin Microbiome | Part 1
Let me start off by saying that my journey to fully healed skin was a long one. Great strides have been made with lots of effort, patience and perseverance. I've gone from having eczema 24/7 on my face, elbows, knees, arms and hands...to only having small flareups only around my eyes about twice a week... to having no eczema at all! I do get flareups when I get too adventurous with new skin care products. Which I officially am no longer doing! 🤷🏼♀️ The methods I explain in this blog also helped me to heal my acne. I had acne on my back, chest, forehead and along my hairline... and now I get a pimple maybe just three times a month! There is a lot of power in natural healing and using food as medicine.
Healing Eczema Naturally
Healing isn't linear and its quite the learning process! While reading this blog, remember that everyone's body is different. What is best for your skin and health, might not be exactly what was best for my own. This is just my story. Always talk to your healthcare provider before trying new self-care routines.
Why Going on an Eczema Healing Journey is Worth It.
It's hard work, and at times it can feel like a losing battle. However, it is so worth it. For me the four things that motivated me to start working towards naturally curing my own eczema were:
1. Constant skin inflammation can lead to skin cancer.
2. I felt ugly, my confidence was low, and I was living my life around my eczema.
3. Steroid cream is addictive and causes glaucoma... and I had eczema around my eyes. My vision was getting worse every month because all I knew to do for relief from the itching was to use steroid cream on my face like my doctor told me to.
4. While getting my degree in microbiology I fell in love with microbes. Especially the ones making up my body ecosystem. Well, I felt like I was betraying them... and I knew that there had to be a more natural way to cure my eczema forever AND have a healthy skin microbiome. The days of masking symptoms were over.
I'll start off with my story, then dive into some tips to get started on your own eczema healing journey. This is only part one of this blog series and there will be four parts!
My Eczema Story
I've had eczema for as long as I can remember. It was behind my knees, on my elbows, all over my entire upper arms and arm pits, on my face and eyelids, and on the tops of my hands. Every single time I went to the doctor I got the same response: "eczema isn't caused by food, it could be anything your skin is contacting though. Here's some steroid cream." I wish I had pictures of all of my eczema but at the time I never thought I'd be telling this story to people. (There are a few pictures below)!
Well, LOL at the fact that the main thing causing my eczema was, surprise, THE STEROID CREAM... that I put on my body for EIGHT YEARS. I didn't lather myself in steroid cream (thankfully), but I did use a small amount on all of my eczema patches about every two days. I'm baffled by the fact that my doctor KNEW you shouldn't use steroid cream that long but all he did was keep prescribing it... that and cortisone shots. My poor little body... and my poor skin microbiome.
Have you ever read that "discontinue after two weeks of use" statement in microscopic font on the pamphlet inside the steroid cream box you threw away... yeah, that's because your body LITERALLY becomes addicted to the steroid cream if you use it for more than two weeks. I used steroid cream for eight years. Turns out that the eczema all over my body was in large part due to the fact that my skin was like a little addict, feigning for more drugs in the form of steroid cream. I addicted to the topical medication I was being prescribed. So if I went two days without the cream, the eczema came back...it was the sign that my skin was withdrawing and wanting it's fix.
All the chemicals and preservatives in the steroid cream also threw my skin microbiome out of whack, exacerbating my symptoms even more.
One of my first steps towards healing my eczema was when I cultured my own skin microbiome out of curiosity. I took samples from various patches of eczema on my body, grew up the microbes in broth, and isolated them on petri dishes. Guess what? The isolated microbiomes of my eczema patches all had something in common: they were all predominately made up of Staphylococcus aureus. Now let me clarify, I didn't have a staph infection. Staphylococcus aureus had become the most popular part of the normal skin microbiome, especially on all the itchy parts of my skin... all the parts of my skin where I put steroid cream. The chemicals and preservatives in the cream basically wiped out all the sensitive good microbes, leaving my skin mostly colonized with resistant Staph aureus. And it gets worse... did you know Staph aureus bacteria can produce delta toxin, a toxin that causes... you guessed it... eczema/atopic dermatitis.
I started asking so many questions about the root causes of my eczema and started trying to cure myself rather than mask the symptoms. I would spend hours googling, using google scholar to read published papers. I would stay up until 2 am reading about the causes of eczema trying to figure out what things related to my own eczema.
The first thing I concluded: my diet was awful. I was just starting to learn about the human microbiome in depth at LSU... but there was so much not covered in class. The age of microbiome health was just beginning as I was graduating. Luckily I graduated with a skillset in microbiology to understand what was going on in my own body and to understand the complexity and importance of my own microbiome in my eczema.
So the first thing that needed to change was my diet. When I was in college, my roommate and I loved to eat hot wings, pizza, mac and cheese, corn dogs, and bagels after nights of putting away a bottle of wine... obviously not good for skin, gut or mental health. You live and you learn though right? haha
I tried to be healthy during my time in college, but I had a convoluted opinion on what healthy means. On top of the steroid cream and staph on my skin, I was exacerbating my symptoms by eating food I am severely intolerant to (all that gluten and dairy). My bowel movements were never optimal and I didn't want to believe I needed to give up my favorite foods: cheese and bread and hot wings. But I did... over a span of three years. When I graduated college in 2014 I moved into an apartment by myself, and living alone helped me to really dive into my healing. My diet changed in gradual stages and I learned more and more about my body with each passing month. For my diet I tried eliminating things, supplementing things, being classified in certain diet paths. I tried vegan and did it all wrong, then I tried vegan and did it all right. I tried out growing my own food, making my own skin care... and eventually I learned enough about my body to know what I needed to avoid and what my body needed to thrive. (see details about my diet below)!
Besides food, one of the hardest things I had to relearn is what true skin care really is. My main hindsight pro tip: if you'd be poisoned from putting it in your mouth, don't put it on your skin. (Keep reading to find out my skin care routine below!)
After a three year health adventure focusing on diet, gut health, controlling skin inflammation, skin microbiome health, and hormonal balancing (all will be covered in detail in parts 2, 3 and 4 of this blog) I have fully CURED my own eczema.
Three Must-do things to Start healing your eczema:
I'm going to dive into each of these things in detail in parts 2, 3, and 4 of this blog.
Part 2 will be all about a gut healthy diet. I'll go over what I eat in a day, what I do not eat and why, and some foods that I'm always sure to eat daily/weekly to boost skin health.
Part 3 will be all the nitty gritty details on my skin care routine. I'll include everything I tried, everything I did that didn't work for me, and my skin care routine (that I currently use daily) which does work.
Part 4 will be all about my newly adopted fitness routine that has revolutionized the process of healing my eczema. I began the fitness portion of my healing journey this year, and it's definitely been the missing link.
Note: At the beginning of 2017 I quit taking hormonal birth control. This has been a vital element to healing my eczema. I cannot suggest that this be a part of your journey though, because everyone is different with different needs. If you are interested in quitting hormonal birth control, talk to your doctor about your options! Remember everyone is different, listen to your body and you will find a way to heal.
1. Focus on a Gut Healthy Diet & Hydrate:
Figure out what you are intolerant to, eat fermented foods & stay hydrated.
Let's start with what I know for a fact I cannot eat: I'm intolerant to wheat, all gluten containing products, peanuts and especially dairy. All of these foods give me diarrhea, bloating and cramps, which means they inflame my gut and disrupt my microbiome. These are food intolerances that I recently found out run in my family. An Inflamed gut exacerbates skin issues because when your gut is inflamed you cannot properly digest food, absorb nutrients, and expel waste.
update: 8/9/19 I’ve been eczema free for over a year, and I’m reintroducing sourdough bread into my diet and seeing how it goes!
I spent a lot of time guessing what foods I'm intolerant to. Even recently I've suspected multiple foods to be the reason my eczema was returning just on my eyelids. (There are tests for this, but I haven't taken any. idk why, I just haven't). I suspected soy for the past month, but when I cut it out of my diet I still had eczema on my eyelids periodically. I've even suspected the lack of vitamins or the lack of essential amino acids to be the cause, but when I supplemented correctly, I still had eczema periodically.
It turns out that these suspected other food intolerances weren't causing my eczema. It was the new skin care products I was trying out 🙄 (I talk about this more in my skin care routine details below).
The major change in my skin health came after we started Cultured Guru. About half a year into business owning, we started eating our own fermented food products every day with breakfast, lunch and dinner. We wanted to create recipes with our own food products so we had to start getting creative with ways to incorporate fermented foods into almost every meal. This, along with environmental concerns led me to go vegan. I was fully vegan and about 75% raw vegan for a year, while Jon was mostly vegetarian. My intake of fermented foods and raw plants increased ten fold, and my skin health improved ten fold. Being vegan and eating fermented foods every day allowed my intestines and gut microbiome to heal from the damage I inflicted upon them in college.
I now identify my dietary lifestyle as plant based or about 98% vegan. I eat vegan 98% of the time. The other 2% includes small amounts of fish and an occasional cup of bone broth. Sometimes I take a bite of Jon's salmon, and occasionally I eat canned sardines. If you want to follow along with what I eat just follow us on Instagram! I post what Jon and I eat almost every day.
In order to get the full benefits of a healthy diet and to have hydrated skin, you MUST stay hydrated with good ole' water. If your urine is any shade of yellow you need to drink more water. I like to start my day with a quart of lemon water before my first cup of green tea and before eating anything. If you don't have a reusable water bottle, GET ONE NOW! having a S'well bottle has changed my life.
2. Develop a Skin Care Routine
Ditch the Steroid Cream & voluntarily go through withdrawal. Once you find a skin care routine that works, stick to it! There's no need to experiment with new things if you've already found something natural that works for you.
If you've used steroid cream for an extended period of time, you should think about stopping, and talk to your doctor about stopping. Stopping extended use of steroid cream means that you will withdraw from the drug. If you choose to quit the steroid cream and go through withdrawl, prepare to look like a molting lizard... in the driest dessert. Prepare to be so itchy you feel insane, and to be in pain. I broke out in multiple rashes, and had chills. It took about 3 weeks total for the withdrawals to stop. After, I looked like a whole new person. My skin was actually glowing for the first time ever and all of the eczema was gone! Until I got too excited and tried some face serum I never used before. That's when the eczema returned on just my eye lids. I obviously discontinued the use of the face serum and once again I'm eczema free!
Here are some photos of my puffy, inflamed skin and face and my hives during withdrawal. 😭🙈 The worst thing for me was not being able to open my eyes fully. My left eye was always more inflamed than the right and it made me look disproportioned and disfigured.
How did I cope and care for my skin while going through withdrawals? With the most natural skincare products and a lot of self control. I also gave up all makeup for a few months 🙅🏼 I wore no make up at all for about three months, then gradually added back in mascara and my eyebrow pencil. Now I can use Toups and Co. Organics makeup with no problems! ☝🏼Note: none of the products mentioned here are done so as an advertisement. I tried the two main components of my skincare routine by my own will, on suggestions from friends. I love these products and I am a life long customer.
MOISTURIZE!!!! But remember: if you'd have to call poison control if you swallowed some of your moisturize (hypothetically), don't put it on your skin!
I only use Sweet Girl Tallow Balm from Toups and Co. Organics (formerly known as Crunchy Organics). It's all I use on my face and body, and all I will use in the future. This is what saved my skin through the withdrawal process.
Facial Steams, then moisturize
I like to do a facial steam with green tea leaves and hot water. Simply add hot water to a bowl with green tea. Drape a towel over your head and create a mini sauna for your face over the bowl. This opens the pores and allows for better absorption of moisturizer.
Soap in Extreme Moderation... and make sure you use natural, high quality soap!
Use soap to wash your skin only once weekly. While healing, I only washed the necessary body parts with soap (i.e. arm pits, butt, vagina) daily. I rinsed everything else with warm water, and bathed my whole body with soap only once a week (face included). This is super important to rebuild your skin microbiome. The soap I use is from Chagrin Valley Soap and Salve. My favorite is the Adzuki bean soap, which has a lot of ingredients that can help boost the good microbes on your skin. I love this company, and its especially convenient that they have sample sized soaps you can buy to test out!
I use a soft bamboo bristle exfoliating brush in the shower. I used it with just water except for once a week... once a week I used the adzuki bean soap to exfoliate my whole body and face.
3. Exercise at least 4 times a week... Especially strength training exercises, like yoga and HITT workouts.
I do High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) about 4 times a week. Jon and I also walk our dog about two miles every day (when it's sunny this provides a nice dose of vitamin D)! We have been training at the gym consistently for about two months now, and I've never felt better or healthier. Along with all the internal benefits of working out regularly, I think sweating at the gym has helped my skin to heal.