Flaking Out: An Eczema Update

In the seven years since I published my first post about eczema, several people have written expressing interest in an update. I’m less inclined to blog about skin issues than I used to be, but since people seem to be itching for follow-up, here’s an update.

In answer to the, “Did it ever go away?” question: Yes! It took a long time and a lot of work, which I’ll talk about below, but it went away.

In answer to the unasked, “Did it stay away?” question: Alas! no. After nearly four years, it came back. But I blame myself, which I’ll talk about below as well.

How it went away:

After two years of trying lotions and potions and contortions with no lasting effect, I found out about the TQI Diet (aka To Quiet Inflammation Diet, aka Abascal Way, aka the Vashon Island Diet). Developed by Kathy Abascal*, it’s a way of eating that’s designed to reduce inflammation in the body. It consists of an initial period of strictly eliminating common inflammatory foods (e.g., dairy, sugar) followed by a testing phase to identify triggers specific to one’s individual body and to help develop a long-range eating plan particular to you and your needs.

One thing I like about the Abascal Way is its flexibility. The cornerstone is proportional eating: at least 2/3 of each meal or snack should be vegetables and/or fruits. What’s in the remaining 1/3 is up to the individual. After the Elimination Phase, you can eat most anything, provided it’s proportional, minimally processed, and works for you.

The Abascal Way didn’t work for me immediately. In fact, for the first several weeks, things got worse. My eczema spread, I was getting migraines weekly, and there were a couple of other symptoms I won’t list here. My spouse asked me why I didn’t quit if it wasn’t working. “I have no other options,” I said, and I stuck with it.

After about two months, it was like a switch got flipped. All of a sudden, everything was better. For the first time in two years, I had no eczema, no migraines. It was brilliant! Except for one day a week when I let myself have popcorn and whiskey, I never came off of the Elimination Phase, but it was well worth it.

That kept up with little indulgences (birthdays, travel) until last year when we moved to San Diego.

How it came back:

This is the sad part of the story, but it’s a sadness of my own creation. During the travel we did before the move followed by the move itself followed by the glee of being in San Diego, I let my Abascal habits slip.

In my defense, Abascal eating during travel is a significant challenge, and I’m weird with travel eating in the best of circumstances (I’m someone who loses weight on vacation, and not in a good way). But once we were in our new place, I didn’t have that excuse. I was still eating a healthy diet—no sweeteners, no gluten, no dairy, and I’d quit drinking alcohol entirely in March of 2017 (which is a topic for a different post)—but I wasn’t focused on proportional eating, and I ate popcorn and gluten-free toast much more often than once a week.

And so the eczema came back. Just a little bit at first, off and on, then more persistently. It was when I had my first migraine since 2015 that I knew I had to get back into the Abascal groove for real, but even with that, it’s been several months of false starts before I recommitted for real.

It’s been a week now of strict Abascal, and the eczema around my right eye has gotten much worse (bad enough that I will not be posting pictures of it, so you’ll have to trust me on this one). But I’m sticking with Abascal in the hopes that, like before, this is the “worse” before the “better.”

And that is my riveting eczema story, complete with cliffhanger ending.

*As far as I know, Kathy Abascal has no idea I’ve been on her diet nor that I’m writing about it now. I purchased all materials related to The Abascal Way, including the book and the cookbook, on my own at retail prices and without discounts. I mention it here only because it’s what I’ve done and what’s helped me. Your results, as they say, may vary.

Is it a hickey…or just eczema?

Although I’m pretty much just tired of thinking about and dealing with eczema, I’m still getting a lot of hits on my Execrable Eczema post from May 2012, so I thought I’d post an update. After this I’ll go back to my regular schedule of photo challenge posts, homeschooling posts, and posts about how I avoided fights in junior high.

First off, all of this is just what I’m doing to treat myself. It’s not a doctor-prescribed regimen, nor is it something I’m suggesting for anyone else. I just thought I’d post about it because I thought people might be interested.

So, the eyelid eczema I wrote about in May 2012 lasted from September 2011 through April 2013, and it was joined in 2012 by a patch of eczema on my neck. I looked like I was a 36-year-old with a large, perpetual hickey. And I assure you, even though hickeys are associated with teenagers, a hickey look-alike does not lend an air of youthfulness any more than adult acne does.

All of the eczema went away in April after I made some changes to my diet and my habits, but the patches on my eyelids started trying to come back again in September. It isn’t too bad right now, though, and I think I’ve narrowed down a few things that help keep it at bay.

First, I’m pretty sure I’ve identified some triggers:

1) Dairy. This is what set off my flare in 2011, and the flare before that happened in 2009 when I did a dairy challenge. I normally avoid dairy, but sometimes I get it accidentally, so now I’m more vigilant.

2) Sugar. Sugar bothers me anyway, so I usually avoid it, but sometimes I just want to have a little something sweet. The current mild flare I’m having started after I ate a bunch of salt-water taffies a friend brought for my kids this fall (and then Halloween happened, and it took me a while to get away from the sugar again).

3) Whatever was in my old facial care products. I’ve gotten migraines from artificial fragrances since I was in junior high, so I always avoid those, but when I switched to using only unscented castille soap and extra virgin coconut oil on my face and body, my eczema improved dramatically.

I don’t think any of these is the root cause of my eczema because avoiding them doesn’t get rid of my eczema entirely, but they do seem to trigger it and/or make it worse.

When my eczema finally went away (for a while) this past April, it coincided with starting an immune-balancing regimen and quitting raw kale. Now, kale is a very healthy, nutrient-dense food, but I’d been eating a LOT of raw kale, and it might have been too much of a good thing. I was consuming 1/2 to 1 bunch of raw kale a day, in addition to 1/2 head of romaine lettuce and 1/2 bunch of cooked kale, collards, or other leafy green. I already have thyroid issues, and I think this was just too much for me.

In April I quit the raw kale—and my eczema went away. Hooray! (I also lost 7 pounds, which would support the idea that it was messing with my thyroid.)

But this fall when the eyelid eczema started coming back, I decided to tweak things again. I decided that I would focus on what I think are the two main causes of my eczema: inflammation and auto-immune reactions. I’ve not been able to get much help with this from my doctor (or, doctors, since I’ve been doctor shopping again), so I’ve been cobbling something together on my own. We’ll see how it works.

In addition to avoiding my triggers, here’s what I’m doing:

-Diet: I’m eating vegan, but with no raw crucifers. (Well, I’m vegan except for special occasions because I’m just not ready to trade turkey for lentil loaf.) I’ve been gluten-free since 2006, and now I’m avoiding all grains (not eliminating them, just eating much less of them). I’m also avoiding refined sweeteners, caffeine, and alcohol.

I went back to eating vegan because it’s the way of eating that most sources agree is the most anti-inflammatory. Personal, possibly TMI, anecdotal evidence of this: I have really painful menstrual cramps when I’m on an omnivorous diet. Like, wake-me-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night cramps. Like, “I gave birth to a nine-pound baby in a tub in my dining room and this is painful” cramps. I’ve been vegan again for a month, and it’s already better. Maybe it’s the anti-inflammatory effect? Whatever it is, I’ll take it.

-Supplements: I’m not super keen on dietary supplements, but there are a few I’m taking to help balance my immune system. I take an herbal immune balancing formula (Chinese mushrooms, vitamin C, vitamin D, selenium, probiotics), cod liver oil, time-release vitamin C, extra vitamin D, and a probiotic blend.

-Exercise: I take a brisk 30-minute walk and do 15-20 minutes of yoga every morning. I try to do other exercise, too, but this is the guaranteed, must-do, rain-or-ice exercise I do every day.

Things I want to add in, but I’m not quite there yet:

-Meditation: I do meditate, but it’s really hit-or-miss. My goal is to meditate for five minutes before lunch and then for 30 minutes in the evening. My sub-goal is to be able to meditate for 30 minutes in the evening without nodding off and then jerking myself awake when I start to teeter on my cushion.

-Essential oils: One immune-balancing protocol I’ve read prescribes specific essential oils at different times of day. I’m doing the morning one (rosemary or lemon, which I put in my morning shower and in the oil I use as a moisturizer), but the lavender at lunchtime and the eucalyptus in the evening aren’t happening regularly just yet.

-Sleep: 8-9 hours a night would be nice. My spouse attended a scientific conference last month where he heard a presentation about circadian rhythms and artificial light. Apparently, artificial light really screws up our circadian rhythms, and LED lights screw them up worst of all. Since the 1950’s, we’ve lost an average of 1.5 hours of sleep per night. While we sleep, our lymph system dilates and works to flush out toxins, like the metabolic byproducts of running our big brains, and if we don’t get adequate sleep, this process is incomplete. I’d like to give my lymphatic system ample time to clean out the junk, but I’m not quite ready to give up my evening quiet time or to read by candlelight, so this one’s going on the back burner.

For now, my eczema is in a holding pattern. My eyelids are itchy and varying shades of red, but it’s not nearly as bad as it was before. So, either what I’m doing is working, or it’s all just a big coincidence and I could actually be eating steaks and cupcakes and wearing eye makeup and it wouldn’t make any difference at all.

Because I like to have an illusion of control, I’m going with the former.

Once again, this is not a doctor-prescribed regimen, nor is it something I’m recommending for other people. It’s just what’s working (or at least what I hope is working) for me, and I’m sharing it because I think some folks might be interested. Please don’t take it as advice because that’s not at all what I intend.

Execrable Eczema

<Begin Rant>

I give up.

Eczema on my EYELIDS since September.

See the swollen, scaly, red portion up near my eyebrow? (It’s maddeningly itchy, too, but you probably can’t see that.) See the cream that got trapped in the creases of my eyelid? See that I really need to have my eyebrows done?

I thought it was triggered by some dairy I accidentally ate and that it was finally going away after I assiduously followed a high-meditation, high-green-vegetable, low-sugar, low-grain, darned-near-vegan diet for months, but it’s BACK with a vengeance.

This despite the assurance of multiple (well, two) doctors that it would go away when the weather warmed up and got more humid, even though I TOLD them I never had this in the 7+ years I lived in the desert (it doesn’t get much less humid than Utah, folks).

Actually, I had it a couple of times in the desert but only when I ate dairy and it always went away within three weeks of going back off the dairy. But they just ignored this piece of information. And this from the so-called “holistic-minded” physicians I saw. Use more lotion, they said. And I say I want my co-pay back.

I would cry, but it would just make the cream I put on my eyelids run into my eyes.

<End Rant>