Archive | August 2011

Eczema in the News: August 2011

There’s been a good share of eczema in the news this month: general tips, “scientific” discoveries (can’t call them scientific unless I quote a journal paper) and interesting tidbits. Take a look at some of the most interesting eczema news stories below!

Eczema News August 2011

1. Great albeit generic tips. Eczema sufferers should have these skin care rules memorized by now!

2. Previous studies claim that crucial antigens that protect against allergies are passed on to newborns through breastmilk. New studies show that might not be the case. Fabulous news, if it’s true, because now I can stop blaming my mom. Mom, I love you but why did you give me eczema?!

3. Britney Spears has eczema too? Is this for real? I did a quick search zero search results returned so I’m not buying this. Filed away as: rumour!

4. A camp for kids with chronic skin conditions! I understand that the camp is for kids with chronic, lethal or terminal skin conditions but I’m glad to see that it’s open to kids with eczema too. This is what kids need , a safe environment where they can have fun and avoid awkward stares. Awesome!

Eczema News August 2011

5. We all know that we should moisturize but can it kill you? Because that’s apparently how Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut died.

6. I find this insulting: eczema does not cause drunk driving and certainly no amount of itching would cause someone to drive INTO the store to seek medical attention.

7. The Beat Eczema program counts as news too? This article reads more like an e-book review or promotion to me. I’m still firmly in the “There’s No Cure for Eczema” camp. If anyone has tried this and it works, please let me know!

8. When it comes to eczema, laundry detergent might be the culprit, or not according to this article. Sure P&G, your studies might say that Tide detergent has no harmful effect on skin but that doesn’t explain why I itch whenever I use it. Sorry, but I’m still sticking with my Woolite.

Happy Wednesday!

P.S. Thanks to Sarah at Sweet Life for posting a tutorial on Picnik collages!


Use Deodorant to Prevent Eczema Flare Ups

2011 August 008 home deo 4

Confession: I never used deodorant until last year.

Seriously, it might sound really gross but anti-perspirants and deodorants are not on the top of drug store lists in Asia (that includes Hong Kong and a bunch of other major cities. Seriously, ask any girl). Restricting perspiration goes against the “natural” Chinese way, which would explain why most women don’t do bikini / brazilian / any-kind-of-down-there waxes. Even Traditional Chinese Medicine dictates it’s healthy to sweat; toxins are carried with sweat and thus released from our bodies (hang on, isn’t that very similar to what Western medicine says…?), so it doesn’t cross our minds to cover up the smell either. I’m not one of those hugely sweaty people anyway. I have extremely dry skin because of eczema and I barely soak a shirt unless I’m working out.

Except my pits.

Which are mildly, mildly damp in the sweltering heat of Hong Kong summers – who doesn’t sweat when it’s 36 degrees and 85% humidity? – but the sweat is odorless and so light, I can just wipe it off with my fingertips, so I never gave my sweaty armpits a thought. Besides, they quickly dry up in the subzero, Artic-like air conditioning that’s in any indoor area, so it’s usually not a big deal for me at all.

Except that my sweaty pits triggered eczema!

My sweaty pits led to the patches on my shoulders, the front and back but not on my pits that you’ve seen pictures of. My pits were mildly damp, so what, I figured. It’s never bothered me before. Except that this time it did. The thin sheen of sweat that stayed on my skin for more than five minutes suddenly led to a small itchy patch. Which I unwisely ignored (note to readers: never ignore even a 1cm-wide rash!). I know that layers of sweat left on skin, even dried layers, can trigger eczema flare ups, so I always try to shower or at least rinse off after playing sport. It didn’t occur to me that a few damp patches would trigger an ecezma flare up.

Unfortunately, as with most eczema patches, the rash grew and spread, and now it’s on the front and back of both armpits. It’s mighty embarrassing, as you can see from the pictures and it means for the most part, going strapless in the summer is a no-no.

Since last year, under the advice of Doc Great Derm, I’ve been using deodorant regularly, especially in the summertime. Deodorant, not anti-perspirant (you can read about the difference here) because I didn’t want to completely clog up my pores, especially with harsh chemicals. The deodorant keeps my pits dry just the same and more importantly, it means there’s no sweat to irritate my skin. I’m currently using Dove’s Original Roll-on Deodorant which really works for me. Here are some tips on how to choose a good one:

Go hypoallergenic and fragrance-free.
As with any creams, lotions and potions we put on our skin, make sure it doesn’t irritate your skin. Floral and fruity fragances smell addictingly lovely, but eczema sufferers know the drill. Fragrance-free please!

Use the roll-on version.
The roll-on kind means you’re only putting on the bare minimum while the spray version covers more area. I’m always iffy about putting anything with chemicals on skin, and that includes make-up, pefumes, you-name-its. Anti-perspirants prevent your pores from releasing sweat, which inherently means some chemical is involved. Using the roll-on to dab on only what you need will ensure only the necessary skin area is in contact with the deodorant.

Go with brands you trust.
That’s just a general rule that I stick with. A bigger, better known brand has better resources for R&D to ensure high-quality products. I know that’s not the case 99% of the time anyways, but call it better marketing and consumer confidence – I probably don’t want a product that was tested in a dinky little lab in some small town with a 10-person population.

Wash it off at night.
If you’re not hopping in the shower at night (eww, I know, but some people do that) at least wipe off that anti-perspirant with a warm wash cloth. You need the deodorant to get the job done but it doesn’t need to be on your skin for longer than absolutely necessary. (But really folks, you should be showering every night before you sleep; clean skin means a clean bed which means fewer eczema flare ups.)

Dove’s Original Roll-on has really worked for me and even though it says fragrance-free, there is a fresh, cotton, baby powder kind of smell to it. In case it’s not available in your area, here are a few others I would pull off the rack and try:

2011 August 008 deo4
Adidas’ Aluminium Free. Nivea’s Pearl Beauty. Dove’s Clinical Protection.

I’m no doctor, but I think using deodorants should cause no problems if your skin is moderately or mildly sensitive like mine. If you have extremely sensitive skin you might want to try a home-made, all-natural option using baking soda. I would love to test it out but I just don’t have the time to whip it together and so far the commercial kind is working just fine for me.

Get Off the Internet and Force Yourself To Rest

Earlier in the month, I talked about how emotional stress makes my eczema worse. It’s not something I paid much attention to until I actually started listening to my body through this blog, paying attention to triggers and improvements. Physical stress does the exact same thing for me, if not worse, and it’s often linked with emotional stress.

2011 August 006 Stress 4
Probably what happens in our heads when we’re stressed. Image via here

I had an insanely busy week last week, working multiple projects simultaneously in the office. I rarely get days where I don’t have even a tiny break to grab water or a stretch, so as soon as the work piled up I was immediately jittery. I felt like I was constantly on edge, and no matter how many lists my inner organising nazi made, I couldn’t calm down. I lost appetite and stopped eating full meals, stopped sleeping before midnight and by mid-week I lost count of the cups of coffee I’d had. These all trigger eczema, I know that. But I just couldn’t seem to stop. I was so fatigued I wasn’t even bothered to moisturise, so I skipped that too, and just quickly slathered on the steroid cream from the doc. I did, however, manage to fit in two sessions of spinning class at the gym; I figured if I wasn’t eating and sleeping the least I could do was let out someo of that excess, nervous / anxious energy on the bike. Exercise is always good for the body anyways.

There isn’t much you can do to calm down if lack of time at your job is the reason for physical stress. There are things that need to be done and deadlines that need to be met. But it’s almost a vicious cycle; the more I feel I’m running out of time, the more anxious and stressed I am. I don’t really know how to calm down and typical self-help techniques (exercise, yoga, jogging) don’t seem to make much difference at all.

But I still have to try and here’s how I’m doing it.

The GOOD 30-Day Challenge: Unplug at 8 from on Vimeo.

One of my favourite sites, GOOD, is encouraging people to switch off the Internet – don’t worry, it’s just for 30 days in the evenings! The rules for August’s 30-Day Challenge: Unplug at 8 are simple: After 8 p.m. on weekdays, you get off the internet. No email, no blogging, you can’t even read There’s a huge article about how the Internet might be making us stupid, or at least changing the way our brain behaves, that’s behind this challenge (which I somewhat agree with), but for me it’s a little bit different. Getting off the Internet is like shutting off from the obligations and distractions, and really giving your mind a good old-fashioned chance to relax, rest, wander and wonder – isn’t that what we used to do as kids in the pre-Internet era anyways? I can’t remember the last time I daydreamed. Unplugging at 8 also means you’re forced to be more efficient during the day because you have to make sure everything is done before your 8pm deadline.

I’m already a little bit late on this challenge (I only started late last week and have had to forego it twice already for work), but already I’m feeling so much more relaxed. I’ve read a little more and watched real-time TV – it’s surprising how much more I enjoy commercials now that I’m watching them again! Even if it’s to make fun of them. I feel like I have my brain and creativity back, like my mind is given a breath of fresh air. Will I stick to it? Probably not. But for the meantime, I’ll take a beat and enjoy this new-found time to do other things:

Finishing books I haven’t had time to get back to.

Making more To-Do lists. These always calm me down.

Cook. I’ve been meaning to find a good pasta salad recipe that I can put in my lunchbox. Image and recipe via Here

Something relaxing. Okay, I realise getting to the above kind of location is impossible after work and in the city, but I’d like to think I’ll be able to one day. Image via

The Weekend, in Snapshots

Saturday Lunch
Lunch at Stanley. Beautiful weather!

Sunday CWB
Only in Hong Kong: costumed dancers outside World Trade Centre.

Saturday Dinner
Family dinner for ghost festival!

Sunday New Apartment
Countdown to moving day: 7!

Sunday Salad
Garden salad at Cafe One.

Sunday Lights Out
Lights out.

:: The weekend was generally a relaxing one (finally, a relaxing one!). I managed to avoid alcohol (which definitely helped the little bit of eczema that’s left) but I couldn’t avoid late nights (which didn’t help the eczema). The sunny weather on Saturday really lifted my mood after what was an incredibly stressful week (I lost 5lbs!). Family dinners always cheer me up, especially when its a full house, with all 15 of us and three generations present!

:: We checked on the progress at the new apartment on Sunday, looks like we’re almost there. My very tiny room is all white so that it’s visually larger. The bed looks mighty high but I’m delighted with all the storage space I have underneath!

:: I got home on Sunday night to find that there was no electricity on the top five floors. I waited downstairs for an hour – because what would be the point of going upstairs and sitting in the heat and dark? – until I was too hot and sleepy to wait any longer. Good thing I found this party candle light (battery operated), which I used to light the shower too. How romantic. Note to self: buy emergency candles and flashlight.

Sunday Arm
Not-itchy, not-pretty eczema rash.

It was a hot, hot 33 degrees over the weekend and I wore this black tank top to a friend’s birthday drinks. We were sitting at a large round table, and one of the girls asked, “Were you out in the sun? You seem a little burnt, there are some marks on your arms.” She was, of course, referring to my eczema. I was so embarrassed as a few heads turned to look my way, and all I could do was lie and say, “Yes, I went to Stanley yesterday and was out in the sun. It was quite hot!”. How else are you supposed to react when you have 12 pairs of eyes looking at your eczema? I guess I didn’t realise how seriously not-pretty it looks until I took this picture.

Burt’s Bees’ Mama Bee Nourishing Body Oil Review

2011 Aug 005 Burt's Bees Nourishing Oil for eczema
Burt’s Bees Mama Bee Nourishing Oil (via Burt’s Bees)

I started adding body oil to my regular moisturising routine a few years ago. I’ve been through a lot of creams in the past 25 years and I still haven’t found one that’s perfect yet. Lotions are usually too runny and provide no moisture relief while creams are usually too thick and leave a greasy film residue.

Using body oil alone or combining it with my moisturiser seems to do the trick. The concoction is just the right consistency, thick enough that my skin feels protected but light enough that it glides on easily when I rub it in.

The first body oil I used was Burt’s Bees’ Mama’s Nourishing Body Oil. It has a lovely smell, with a slight twang of zesty lemon and a hint of sweet honey.

2011 Aug 004 Burts Bees Hand
Mama Bee’s Nourishing Body Oil is quite runny and smells like a zesty lemonade.

On fairly normal, dry skin: Goes on easily and feels soothing. No irritation at all. It’s softening but the moisturising effect doesn’t last long enough for me. An hour later, I’m slightly dry again.
On moderately itchy, eczema skin: Doesn’t work at all, which is not surprising. It’s not a product designed for eczema, so when rashes are present, it doesn’t soothe or moisturise enough. I experienced no further irritation though, which is a plus.
Mixing it with regular moisturiser: I mixed with with my regular moisturiser, Vaseline’s Repair, and the concoction works well on both eczema and eczema-free skin. When used on inflamed skin, it doesn’t ease the itching or irritation but it does keep the skin moisturised much better than the Vaseline moisturiser alone.

Verdict. Even though it doesn’t do much for my eczema, it’s great for dry skin, even when I have mild flare ups. It’s high on my list of body oils and I always have a bottle stocked up.

Would love to hear if Burt’s Bees has worked on your dry skin or eczema!

The Dermatologist Said, You Scratch Because It’s a Habit

Psoriasis on shoulder and eczema on palm Aug 08
The itchy patches on my right shoulder and palm are much, much better than they werelast week. The patch on my palm has almost dried out!

For the past week, I’ve been a relatively good patient. I’ve been using the steroid cream sparingly, and skipped a few days of application because I didn’t have time in the morning and I was so exhausted at night that I completely forgot about it (if I’ve forgotten about it, it’s a sign that the eczema patches are really a lot better!). On a few nights, I also skipped the antihistamines because they made me too drowsy; on one night I took them, I passed out as soon as I hit the bed and completely missed my alarm, making me 45 minutes (45!!!!) late for work.

This morning, I returned to Dr Nice Derm’s office for a check up. The rash on my shoulder has improved significantly and I was finally able to wear a strapless dress to the clinic, baring my shoulder for the world to see! The rash had healed so much that Dr Great Derm was confident enough to say that I do not have psoriasis, and that the rash on my shoulder is also eczema. He also said that having both psoriasis and eczema together is very rare. Although eczema and psoriasis are generally treated the same, psoriasis requires much stronger steroids than what he gave me last week, and it would take much longer to clear up. That’s great news!

Except he also said something utterly idiotic that left me… bewildered (for lack of a better word).

Read More…

A Little Bit of Stress, A Little Bit of Itch

Stress is one factor that’s listed in almost anything that you read about eczema. Honestly, I don’t even know that means. Is it emotional stress, like when something makes you extremely mad or upset? Is it stress on your body, like if you’re having a busy week, functioning on 6-7 hours of sleep a night and eating meals at odd hours? Who knows? And a better question is, how are you supposed to monitor (and therefore control it to prevent future flare ups) if don’t have a clear idea of what “stress” is?

LIVESTRONG and MayoClinic describe the relationship between eczema and stress as:

Stress is common for just about everyone who deals with a job, family and responsibilities. Many stress symptoms are emotional, like excess worry and impaired concentration. But stress can manifest itself physically, too. Most have reactions like rapid breathing and heart rate, tense muscles, sweating and trembling. Stress can also affect you internally, triggering hormone releases and suppressing the immune response. It can even cause outbreaks of a skin problem called eczema.

Stress and other emotional disorders can worsen atopic dermatitis, but they don’t cause it.
– from MayoClinic

August 2011 00301 Eczema Stress
Bleach spots on one of my favourite summer dresses.

I had a minor incident on one of my favourite dresses today. The cleaning lady in the ladies’ room decided to use bleach on the counter top and as I leaned in a little closer to wash my hands, I got a few drops of bleach water on my dress. I didn’t even see it, or come to the conclusion of how it all happened until I saw white, white, white spots on the front of my fuchsia-colored dress. I was shocked for about five minutes, then extremely upset for 30 seconds, and then angry. So incredibly angry. No one should be using bleach on the counter tops anyways – bleach is only used on the floors (I checked with building management on this one). I obviously complained to the HR department, who said this isn’t the first time it has happened. I also mentioned that it’s hazardous to anyone who is allergic to and came into with the bleach, and that they needed to take care of it immediately.

But this blog post isn’t about how incredibly mad I was about my dress. It’s about what happened after. The old eczema rash on my inner elbow started itching. I’ve been more aware and observant about changes in my body since I started this blog, and as soon as I realised I was itchy, I quickly looked to see if the itchy patch was red (and whether a picture would be needed). It looked fine though, the same faded colour as it has been for the past few days, but it was definitely itchy. I was unconsciously gently scratching it too. I was still shooting steam when HR called and we had a chat with the building management together, who took a picture of the damage. I returned to my desk, still very angry but a little calmer. And my arm had stopped itching. It seemed like my emotional state was having an effect on my eczema. Could this be (emotional) stress?

Do you notice a link between stress levels and your eczema?

Stop the Itch! Vicks VapoRub and Carmex Lip Balm

2011 August 0204 Vicks vs Carmex
Image via Vicks and Carmex. (Sorry the image is a bit blurry, I’ll try and upload another one later when I have time.

Before I gave in and scheduled an appointment with the dermatologist last week, I was itching like crazy. Some nights I literally could not sleep. I would head to bed around 11pm, and wake up around 1 or 2am from the itching. I couldn’t stand it! I stumbled across a few forums where people said that Vicks Vaporub helped their intense itch. I didn’t have any Vicks at home (I stopped using it after I started high school), I decided to slather some Carmex lip balm on it instead (when you’re desperately itching, you’ll try anything as long as it doesn’t kill you). I use their lip balm (which is amazing by the way, I get soft, smooth, moisturized lips every time), and it has roughly the same main ingredients as Vicks Vaporub. It helped my itching a little bit and I finally caught a few more hours of quality sleep, but didn’t clear up the eczema (which was also what was pointed out in the forums).

Has anyone ever tried this? Did it make your itching / eczema better or worse?

Happy things

So far, all I’ve written about is eczema, but one of the reasons I started this blog was to remind me that eczema doesn’t consume my whole life (even though sometimes the intense itching makes it seem so), and that there’s a lot more going on. I wanted the blog to be about a life with eczema, not a life led by eczema, so I also want to include other things in my life. (As a girl, shopping plays a big part!) Read More…